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Why your Degree Won't Guarantee a Job

Why your Degree Won't Guarantee a Job

If you majored in the wrong subject, try getting an internship after graduation to build up experience in your new field of interest.

By Peter Vogt, MonsterTRAK Career Coach

April 21, 2009

Let’s pretend you’re a senior biology major, but the only reason you chose biology in the first place is because you liked going to zoos and didn’t really know what else to major in. Now as graduation approaches, you wish you could go back and major in communications and become a writer instead.

Changing your major now isn’t a realistic option. You simply can’t afford it in terms of money, time or energy. You just have to wrap up what you started and graduate with the wrong degree.

Does this mean you’re doomed to a career you don’t care about? No. As author Patrick Combs writes in his book, Major in Success:

If statistical averages and present-day trends are any indication of how things will go for you, there’s a 70 percent chance your first job will be related to your major. But after that, it’s likely your career will progress like a pinball. Many, if not most, people end up in all kinds of jobs that have nothing to do with their major.

Here are some ways to apply your wrong degree to the right career:

Focus on Transferable Skills

These are the skills you can easily transfer from one job or career to another. If you’re a biology major who wants to work in communications, your transferable skills might include:

  • The research skills you gained in your biology lab courses. You can use them to gather, analyze and make sense of information before you write about it.
  • The analytical skills you developed when researching your biology papers can be used to determine if the information you’re gathering is accurate and legitimate.
  • The writing skills you polished when actually creating your biology papers can now help you write about other topics.

Supplement Your Wrong Degree with the Right Experience

As biology major, for instance, you may not have even considered doing an internship with a public relations firm or publishing company. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue such an internship now, or even after you graduate. As any employer will tell you, appropriate experience will make up for the wrong degree or even surpass the right one.

For example, you could combine your biology background with your interest in gaining communications experience by:


Look for Exceptions to the Rule

Maybe you’ve heard from other people, “You have to be a communications major to become a writer.” Not so. In practically every field, there are exceptions to the rule.

As author Richard Bolles writes in his best-selling career book, What Color Is Your Parachute?:

…No matter how many people tell you that such-and-so are the rules about getting into a particular occupation, and there are no exceptions — believe me, there are exceptions (except where a profession has rigid entrance examinations, as in, say, medicine or law). Rules are rules. But somewhere in this vast world, somebody found a way to get into this career you dream of, without going through all the hoops that everyone else is telling you are absolutely essential.

Your job then, Bolles stresses, is to find that person and ask him how you can do the same thing, whether you’re a biology major trying to become a writer or any other major trying to become something outside the norm.

In all but the most strictly regulated fields, there’s no such thing as the wrong major. So if you find yourself thinking you’ve taken the wrong educational path, think again. Start exploring the many ways you can turn your wrong background into the career that’s right for you.


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