Choosing an academic major might not be as important as you think

   It’s a stressful time of year, especially for transfer students who haven’t yet decided what major they plan to study at their four-year institution. Many students feel a lot of pressure to pick “the right major.” The pressure leads to panicky thoughts about what career they want to have “for the rest of their lives,” because the major determines their career path. Right?

Not necessarily.

Take a look at the following list of very different majors. Can you figure out what they all have in common?

·History                                ·Psychology                       ·Accounting

·Literature                           ·Chemistry                         ·Sports broadcasting

The answer? They’re academic majors pursued by movie, sports and television celebrities. Actors Will Farrell and Jake Gyllenhaal took very different college courses but ultimately ended up in the same line of work.

The celebrity analogy might seem like a stretch, but the point is still valid. It’s not solely your choice of major that’s going to determine your career path.

When you’re daydreaming about possible career options, consider the following:

Career paths rarely follow a straight line. Ask an established professional about their career history, and you’ll likely hear about different jobs in different industries. Ask the person what she studied in college and she’ll probably talk about an academic major that seems very different from the job she’s working in today.

You won’t be the same person in 10, 20 or 30 years.  Interests inevitably change over time. So do roles. Think back to who you were 10 years ago. Can you imagine yourself in that same role, enjoying the same  interests?

The world of work is changing every day.  New job titles are surfacing every day. Ten years ago no one would be applying for jobs as app designers, social media managers or sustainability experts – because they didn’t exist!

Skills are just as important as studies. Very often employers may list particular degrees in a job posting, but also indicate an interest in talking to applicants from other majors. When employers are surveyed to ask what qualifications they seek in applicants, they focus on skills – which can be developed in a variety of majors.

Career-related experience is critical. Whether through an internship, co-op, job or volunteer position, the importance of gaining related experience prior to graduating can’t be overstated. Consider the following candidates who apply for a marketing position:

Candidate A: Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

Candidate B: Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Completed an internship in the marketing department at a local bank. Was involved in the college’s student activities office and helped promote campus events.

Candidate A may have picked “the right major” but isn’t necessarily the right choice for the job. Skills and hands-on experience go a long way.

So now you might be wondering why your choice of major is important at all?

Certain degrees are required for certain industries. There are degree-specific professions (engineering, accounting and pharmacy for example). If you plan to work in an industry requiring a certain knowledge base, pursuing the appropriate degree is necessary.

Interest fuels solid grades. Students struggle in classes that don’t hold their interest. You’ll be studying courses in your major for at least two years. Don’t you want to enjoy the topics you’re learning about?

Different degrees develop different skills sets. Students majoring in English or history have the potential to develop strong writing skills, whereas students studying biology or math are more likely to use quantitative and research skills. Which skills do you want to use in a job? Which major(s) might better develop those skills?

At the end of the day, research is key when selecting your academic major. Choose a major that appeals to your skills and interests at this particular time. Learn about career options that compliment your current focus. Plan accordingly but be open to the idea that your professional future may take unexpected turns. For most of us, it usually does.







What’s a skill? Do you have the skills employers look for?

Skills are talents or abilities that you possess. They’re also what employers focus on when considering your application. Bottom line, do you have the skills to do the job?

What’s the difference between hard skills and soft skills? 

Hard skills are very specific, teachable abilities, usually based in fact, easier to measure or quantify and often involve technology or equipment. Examples of hard skills:

  • Speaking a foreign language
  • Writing skills
  • Typing speed, operating office equipment
  • Computer knowledge
  • Machine operation
  • Specific certificates or diplomas in specialty areas

Soft skills, also referred to as “people skills,” involve your ability to interact with others. Examples could include:

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Time management
  • Problem solving
  • Working under pressure

Which is more important to employers? 

Hard and soft skills are both important to employers. Many hard skills are industry specific. Accounting graduates should be skilled in Peachtree and QuickBooks accounting software. Culinary arts students can reference their knowledge of sanitation and safety procedures.

But graduates of both programs must develop soft skills, list them on their resumes and be prepared to discuss them in job interviews. Don’t dismiss the importance of soft skills. Your talents won’t matter to a company if you can’t demonstrate the ability to work as part of a team, have a positive attitude and think creatively and critically.

Where do you develop soft skills? 

You have opportunities to practice soft skills every day in school, at work, through community or volunteer involvement and in your own home. Think about it:

  • Students with a strong GPA who also work 30 hours per week develop time management skills and the ability to multi-task and prioritize;
  • Employees in the restaurant industry have customer service and communication skills, can remain calm under pressure and can work both independently or as part of a team;
  • Parents develop organizational, decision-making and conflict resolution skills, in addition to being creative;
  • Call center employees possess listening, phone and problem solving skills;
  • Students who take humanities classes (English, history or anthropology for example) can write, research and think critically;
  • Sales employees have presentation skills and can motivate and negotiate;
  • Volunteer youth sports coaches must have enthusiasm, maturity, patience, and organization.

On your resume and cover letterHow do you show employers you have the skills they’re looking for? 

  • Include a separate skills section on your resume.
  • List skills relevant to the particular position.
  • Organize the skills in order of importance – the job description can help you determine the order.
  • Reiterate skills in your cover letter – provide specific examples showing where you developed them.

During your interview

  • Provide additional specific examples when answering questions.
  • Be prepared for behavioral interview questions, which will focus on prior experiences.
  • When asked about your weaknesses, focus on skills not relevant to the job. Also, explain what you’re doing to improve the skills you lack.
  • Research the company and the position to know what skills the employer values. Focus on these skills during the interview.

With your references

  • Make sure your references can talk about your skills rather than your personality. For this reason, select professional references rather than friends or family.
  • Let your references know about the job and skills the employer is seeking. Doing so helps them better prepare for when the reference call comes.

Take the time to assess what skills you have. Think about job duties, classroom assignments, volunteer experiences – anything where you have performed a task. Examine the tasks to determine what skills you used to accomplish them. A skills checklist can help you get started.

What’s in a paycheck? 6 tips for doing salary research

When thinking about what career to pursue, salary is understandably a factor to consider. But what exactly does that salary mean?  What does it mean to make $50,000 a year? What would the lifestyle look like of someone making $20 per hour? Can someone live with an income of $35,000 per year?

Answers to these questions aren’t straightforward because everyone has a different approach to managing money. If a frugal person earns the same paycheck as someone who is more carefree with spending, their handling of that paycheck will be quite different from each other.

A person with little work experience won’t have the same perspective of a starting salary as someone who has been in the workforce for many years. Someone who is not paying living expenses will view salary figures differently than a person who has paid for their own food, rent or mortgage and utilities.

So at the end of the day, how do you know if the average salary of a career you’re considering is a “good” one? Here are some tips to consider:

Do your research.  There’s no reason to guess what a salary is for careers you’re considering. Resources like Career Coach, CFNC, O*Net and the Occupational Outlook Handbook provide lots of career information including salary. Salary calculator helps you determine a salary based on geographic location, industry, years of work experience and education level.

Create a budget and learn about monthly expenditures. How much are monthly payments for utilities, internet, cable or satellite and food? Students who don’t pay these bills yet may be surprised to find out. If you live with family members who pay for these expenses, ask what their monthly payments are. Fast forward to when you will be making the payments. Create a budget based on salary figures to see how far your dollar goes.

Know what debts to anticipate. In addition to monthly bills, will you have student loans, car payments credit cards or other debts? Factor this information into your budgeting.

Have realistic lifestyle expectations or make adjustments accordingly. Owning a new car with all the bells and whistles sounds great, but could a used car work? Enjoying the latest tech gadgets is fun, but do you really need the latest smartphone or tablet versions? Are top of the line purchases a priority? If the answer is yes, what sacrifices are you going to make? If you want to live in a spacious apartment you may have to have a roommate. If your hobbies tend to be expensive, you’ll need to make sacrifices elsewhere.

Don’t count on credit cards. The average credit card debt per U.S. household is $6500. A person with this debt who makes a minimum payment of $20 per month won’t be debt-free for almost 28 years. Credit cards put off the inevitable task of paying for the items you purchase. Nothing is free.

Make a priorities list. Besides the paycheck, what else is important to you in a job? Completing a work values checklist can help answer this question. When you find career options that compliment your work values, learn the salary ranges for the careers. Does this salary fit your lifestyle? If not, what changes do you need to make?