Parents and students are often surprised to find out that a college major is not as important as they think it is when it comes to getting a desired job. This article debunks this myth with evidence and it also points out just what it is that employers are looking for when they hire students out of college.
One of the frequent conversations I have is with a parent of a student I am working with who is disappointed in the college major their child wants to pursue. These conversations usually come from a noble motive: parents are concerned that they will invest all of this money in a college education and their college graduate will end up living in their basement until age 35, while they wait tables or work at Starbucks. Some of the majors that cause the most angst for parents are: psychology, sociology, history, English, theater, political science, and other social science, arts, and humanities degrees.
There is no disputing the fact that certain jobs look almost exclusively for students who have the technical training that certain majors offer. Some examples of these professions are: nursing, engineering, computer science, and architecture. However, the vast majority of employers are very open to hiring recent college graduates from a wide range of different majors.
From personal experience, I have seen how my psychology degree has not been a hindrance to me being employed in Christian ministry, professional sales, as a director of annual giving, in college and boarding school admissions, or in school placement and counseling. I have also seen my clients and former students with liberal arts and humanities degrees be hired and excel in positions the general public would never think their degrees could have been a springboard for such unique opportunities.
Economics of Education Review, a scholarly academic journal, conducted a survey to find out how often students end up working in a job related to their major. The results were compelling: only 55 percent of the time are students hired in their field of study.
It is not correct to say that one’s college major is immaterial to one’s job prospects. It is undeniably “a factor.” It is just not the main factor. Michael Sherman is a 25-year veteran of staffing and recruitment. He was responsible for staffing and recruitment globally for Bank of America. He had 600 people under him and offices in 43 countries. They hired over 5000 recent college grads. Michael is passionate about the fact that your major is one component of what his company looks for, but it is not the most important factor. If you listen to Michael, you will hear him repeat over and over, “companies hire people. They don’t hire majors.”
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) agrees with Sherman. They conducted an extensive survey and found that nearly all the hiring managers surveyed (93 percent) say that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”
Sherman talks about the importance of what I like to refer to as “your compelling narrative” in what employers look for. In a radio interview on February 22, 2018, here is how Sherman put it: “It’s the story you are able to tell about what makes you you, what makes you unique, [that] is critical to your candidacy. Companies don’t want to hire everyone who acts the same, looks the same, or thinks the same; it is not good for your business”
If you have a non-traditional major for the job you are interviewing for, it is essential that you use the “clubs you join, the volunteer opportunities you involve yourself in, and most importantly, the internships” (paid or unpaid) you select to utilize, hone, and develop your skill sets in the areas employers are looking for. It is then up to you to make the case in the interview that you have the compelling narrative and skill set that employers are looking for.