Warning: Your Major is Not a Floatation Device

Ms. Career Girl Confession: When I was in college I hid behind my major- big time.  I felt smart and respected saying I was a finance major.  I was proud that I was in a traditionally male dominated program and industry.  I felt that having this major meant I was going to become an investment banker and make six-figures in my twenties.  I was a self-proclaimed martyr for cute finance women of all kind.

HA!  Who are we kidding here?  I’ve never achieved straight A’s in my entire life even though I really did practically live at the library during college.  The finance program really wasn’t that male dominated.  And as if I could really handle working in an office for 120 hours per week!  I am way too social, creative and ADHD for a career in i-banking.

I’m not sure who I was trying to prove all of this to but in hindsight, I was clearly on a mission to fill a hole in my soul.

I brought my pretentious attitude with me to my first job in financial sales.  I assumed I would have the best sales and be the first to get promoted simply because I had a finance degree and the others didn’t.  I was only fooling myself.

Clinging to your major is holding you back

In many cases, your major doesn’t mean much after you graduate.  It may give you peace of mind or an ego boost, but beyond that it’s pretty benign.

For the lucky few, a college major correlates directly to an initial career path: elementary education, nursing, etc.  For the rest of us, a major is simply a jumping point.

What were YOU doing when you were 18?  20?  Regardless of how ambitious and career focused you were, I’d bet money on the fact that only a handful of you knew yourself well enough to pick a lifetime career path.  Even if you DID know yourself inside and out, you didn’t have enough experience to know what you don’t like.

In other words, squish your guilt with your stiletto.

Keep in mind that:

  • Your major is not your career.  GET THAT OUT OF YOUR HEAD RIGHT NOW!
  • The question that haunts every student is, “what are you going to do with your major?”
    • This question is very annoying, especially around this time of year.  So rather than throw something, assume people are asking, “what you want to do?”
    • After a while, you may start thinking you will never get a job unless you do something within your major.  Not true.  At all.
    • Be Flexible.  Accepting a job that is outside of your major might be the best thing that ever happened to your career. You never know what you’ll learn, whom you will meet, and what other things you are passionate about until you try.

When writing this post, I made a list of my friends and family’s college majors and their current occupation.  On paper, each seemed completely unrelated.  Weird?  No.  Most people don’t end up going into what they majored in anyways.  They may start out on that path and thanks to an unexpected event, their career changes course.

The Unexpected Event

Many successful job seekers take their major out of the equation and pay attention to what is going on around them instead.   These people most likely faced an unexpected event that they were open-minded enough to pay attention to and look at as an opportunity rather than a detour from their cookie cutter predetermined career path.

Sometimes this opportunity comes in the form of a person you unexpectedly meet.  Other times you land an internship that seems random at first but then you fall in love with it.  You may sit next to someone on an airplane that suggests you should interview with her firm. Or, you may finally start listening to your gut and admit that you really don’t want to pursue what you majored in for the rest of your life.

What role did your major play?

  • What role does your major play in your job search or current career?
  • Are you using your major as a crutch to cover up the fact that you have no idea what you want to do after college?
  • Did you end up completely switching gears? Why?
  • Are you having a tough time finding a job?  Have you considered companies and roles that seem unrelated to your field of study upon a first glance?

Nicole Emerick

Nicole Emerick founded Ms. Career Girl in 2008 to help other ambitious young professional women thrive in a career they love. Ironically, growing MsCareerGirl helped Nicole transition her own career from commercial banker to digital marketer. Today Nicole leads the social media team at a large advertising agency in Chicago. Nicole also served as an adjunct professor at DePaul University where she helped develop the careers of PR, Advertising and Communications students. Tweet with Nicole @_NicoleEmerick.