In honor of back to school season, I wanted to share an observation I’ve made over the past ten years of advising Generation Y on their post-college careers: When it comes to your job search and career aspirations, your college major doesn’t matter.*
Yes, there are some professions (e.g., accounting), where you may need a particular major to land a job with a particular corporation. And job interviewers may ask why you chose your major in order to learn about your decision making process. But in the vast majority of career and job search situations, your major is pretty much meaningless.
The reason is that your college years are about much more than the subject matter of your classes. Here are some of the things that employers tell me are more important than a college major:
Experience. Virtually every employer mentions experience as the most desirable resume item a job candidate can offer. It doesn’t matter whether that experience comes from internships, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, part-time jobs or working in your family business over the summer. What matters is that you have built professional skills, ideally related to the industry you want to join.
Skills. Hand-in-hand with experience come tangible skills. For a programming job, for instance, your performance on a sample coding project will matter much more than the words on your diploma. The same goes for artistic talent, sales ability, foreign language fluency or any other measurable skill that is required for success in a job. Such skills can be inborn or learned outside the classroom as much as in it.
Passion. If I were, say, a designer hiring an employee to work at my clothing label, I’d take someone deeply passionate about fashion over an unenthusiastic fashion major any day. Any entry-level employee will require a lot of training in the actual “work” of a particular job, but genuine enthusiasm can’t be taught. And it’s that enthusiasm that makes people want to teach you, mentor you and eventually promote you.
Grades. No matter what your major, grades do matter early in your career—for about the first two years or so. The reason is that your grades are a reflection of your diligence, your intelligence and your work ethic. If your grades aren’t that great, it can be helpful if you’ve at least shown some improvement in your GPA over the years. I’ve heard of job offers being rescinded because of a potential employee’s low grades second semester senior year. Employers don’t want to hire slackers.
Connections. Yep, you’ve heard it a million times: Getting a job is often about who you know. The more you build your network in college—by forming relationships with classmates, professors, advisors, career services professionals, internship colleagues and others—the more job opportunities you’ll have no matter what your major.
* Since I write about careers, I’ve addressed the irrelevance of your college major when it comes to your professional future. Where I think college major does matter is when it comes to your happiness and fulfillment in college. My best advice is to major in a subject simply for your enjoyment or your fascination with the content. If you’re dead-set on having a pre-professional major, then you can always double major or minor in something “practical.” Of course, if you are totally passionate about accounting, business, PR or any other pre-professional major, then by all means choose it and enjoy!