It turns out there is a career outside of your area of study just waiting for you.
As the VP of Growth for a company bringing technology to the event rentals industry, you’d be surprised how often I use my degree. My understanding of people helps me better sell and market our product, as well as build and maintain relationships with partners. I also attribute my writing and communication skills in large part to having to write so many lengthy papers in college.
17 years later, I now run Marketing for a software company.
My career path was as follows:
– Education Coordinator at a non-profit theatre company
– Public Relations Manager at the theatre company
– Sales and Marketing Director at the theatre company
– then my next positions were focused on Sales and Marketing in B2B software
I use my teaching background daily both in my marketing and sales strategy and in my team management. People ask me all the time if I miss teaching. I always say no because I actually use those skills every day.
Family and friends were surprised I didn’t turn my major into the obvious career path, but they are happy for my success.
Every broad major has transferable skills. For me, it was creativity, project planning, budgeting and team management. When taking a job that isn’t directly compatible with your major, find those commonalities and lean on them. After you do that once, you will have the confidence to continue to take on new career opportunities.
What helped me make the transition from ministry into marketing is finding and highlighting the related skill sets. My time in seminary and in churches helped me learn and hone skills in researching, writing, and communicating. Plus, I had started blogging while in college, which developed my writing skills for online, giving me the experience that I needed when I started my new job at YDOP.
I expected to be a radiographer of sometype for my career. But when I graduated there were few jobs available in radiology so I took a job in a jewelry buying office for a local retailer. I worked weekends in radiology. Then I accepted a full time position in a free-standing emergency center where I took x-rays and did a variety of other nursing related tasks. That job gave me the opportunity to advance in my career and become part of management and eventually I landed in marketing.
Even though I was only a scientist for a few months – turned out I hated the work, and wasn’t particularly skilled in it – the most important things I retained from my college education have stuck with me in the 27 years since I graduated. How to approach a problem and look at the variables involved; how to assess media about science and decide if it’s legitimate; and, of course, how to be a better cook in the kitchen!
And my path from being a scientist to a cook in restaurants to a corporate trainer to an elementary school teacher to a newspaper editor to a director of marketing to my current job as a business owner and strategist makes a lot more sense when you take it step by step. Each new career was based on things I’d learned about myself and the world in the previous one.
So here’s my advice for someone majoring in a “useless” field of study: Your major in college doesn’t matter all that much, so study something you’re passionate about – something that interests you, that keeps you engaged, that feeds a love of learning. You’ll be much more successful in school, and you’ll come out with a kind of discipline and way of thinking that will serve you well no matter what you decide to do with your life. As a business owner, I care less about what people studied in school and more about their ability to communicate well, work through conflict, and solve problems.
My advice to students who took on a “broad” or “useless” field is to disregard what everyone else thinks about the practical value of your body of knowledge; the only thing that matters is whether you find your passion and pursue it. Your path is your own, so enjoy it, but do yourself the favor of taking it seriously. You’ll find the “useless” things you learned have applicability to your future passions – sometimes topically, but almost always through what you learned about yourself in pursuit of a love of some kind. Frequently students settle for a major that their parents would have preferred, but that’s almost always a mistake. The best careers belong to the professionals who are the most fulfilled. It’s hard to be successful, but it’s easier if you want to be successful and have the willingness to work for it – so determine yourself a life you’d actually want and go from there.
I studied International Tourism Management in Germany, am 35 years old and am now a marketing executive in a field not related to tourism at all. For me the drift away from my specialization happened slowly but completely planned. My first job was with Europe’s largest tour operator, TUI, in the marketing department. Looking back today, I think this first job and the fact that it was in the marketing department, was the main driver for the rest of my career and I ask myself what would have happened if I had started in accounting or HR. What I do know though is that marketing was the best choice I could have made and from my very first job I strategically planned out the next positions and specialization’s within marketing to grow my portfolio.
My advice to people with very specific fields of study as well as very broad ones is this: “Follow you intuition and start in a field that excites you and matches your interests and skill set, even if that means having to fight extra hard for the first job and waiting a little longer to score it. From there try to get exposed to as many aspects of your field as possible. I for example was responsible for the offline marketing and the press and volunteered to get involved in the online shop and newsletter marketing. That is how I learned about digital marketing. From there I had a job that helped dive deep into SEM, SEO and Affiliate marketing before I learned more about email marketing. By searching the areas that I did not have experience in but needed experience and exposing myself to them I build a round profile. After the first couple of jobs, your major becomes almost irrelevant and your experience and knowledge gets more and more important. So you have the power to drive your career into what ever direction you want it to have.
My career change was certainly unexpected, but also not shocking in retrospect. The happiest moment of my life was when I realized, in culinary school, I had found “my thing”. I’ve always wanted to pursue a passion, something that I loved, something that meant more than a job or a title or some facade of success. I enrolled in culinary school on a whim; I was already accepted into Columbia’s MBA Class of 2014 and was planning on continuing on my path of management consulting. I thought food would be this creative sabbatical of sorts. But one day, during a “midterm” of sorts I got into this incredible, musical rhythm in the kitchen and realized how free and clear my mind was. It was an interesting point of self-realization; I didn’t know when I made the decision to come, but my new future was already waiting for me.
Fast forward 4 years and I’m now 26, a professional chef running my own culinary consulting firm. I help food businesses launch and grow strategically, R&D innovative new menu offerings for new and existing restaurant groups, and design memorable experiential concepts for culinary brands. I am also the Co-Founder and Executive Chef of a popular dinner tasting restaurant in NYC named I Wednesdays (wednesdays..nyc.) My two businesses have been featured in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Business Insider, Thrillist, The Huffington Post, 7×7, Village Voice as well as on Food Network and Oxygen TV. It’s been such a crazy journey of ups and downs and I’m excited to see what the future brings.
I believe majors do not dictate your path in life. What matters is that you take the leap of faith when you feel it calling to you.
Advice to People in “useless” or “broad” fields of study
1) Get a mentor. Many schools can pair you with a mentor. You would be amazed at how few people take advantage of this.
2) Be clear with yourself on why you’re getting a degree. Gateway to future study like MD/JD? Just to get a degree? Deeper knowledge in a certain area you want to be employed in?
3) When you’re clear, you can focus your time. If you’re just in school to get a degree, and not sure what you want to do after, use your time to get an internship, try a part time job by working online, work at a non-profit, etc.
4) If you’re getting a general or broad degree, would you consider a minor in something like engineering, math, statistics? Even having a minor in those areas may make you much more marketable.. As an example, if an employer is looking at two humanities majors for a marketing position, there’s a good chance they’ll lean towards one that demonstrates analytical experience.
I even traveled around the world touring with a musical group. But when I got married in 1996, I knew I had to support a family, and so I went to my dad to finally go to work with him. He told me that he knew how much I love working with people and that I would love a career in the insurance business. I was fearful of working for commissions only, but he believed I would do so well that he promised to pay me the difference out of his own pocket if I made less in the first 6 months of my new career than I did in the previous 6 months.
I took him up on his offer and I have never looked back. I love what I do. And we have grown from a small agency serving in two states to a national agency in the last few years.
Once you have a degree in a field with limited opportunities, advice can be a too little too late. But for those who find themselves in this position, this would be my advice as someone who has been there: Find meaningful employment doing something you enjoy until you can find a way to make a living doing what you love. For a musician, that would be continuing to improve your skill level by maintaining a practice regimen and finding gigs to play. The day that you can make the switch may never come, but keep pursuing your passion and improving yourself in that area. Take every moment you can to better yourself. Turn off the TV and take the time to hone your craft.
I still play music very often. It is something I love to do. I would love the opportunity to be able to support my family through that alone. Someone who gets paid to do the thing they love most will never work a day in their life. But until that day ever comes, I will continue to help people in my current occupation.
I have always thought that studying anything in English is useful. You can apply writing skills to any job or endeavor, and learning about other people’s lives through books teaches you a lot about how to work with and understand people in your life. That radio show “Prairie Home Companion” often had jokes about English majors, but I do think the skills I learned–time management, intellectual inquiry, critical reading–have benefited me in everything I did after that. My English training was very useful in physical therapy school, in addition to which, I had taught freshman comp while in graduate school, and so I knew how my physical therapy teachers organized class materials and projects, which made me an even better student. My English major study further added to my current career as I wrote a book about my work with animals.
People did mention that English was useless except for teaching, and the field of English teachers is crowded to this day. This did not dissuade me though, as there is always room in any field for innovators and creative thinkers.
I think my career evolved over time and all of the things I studied were helpful to bring me to the place where I am now with my career. I did not have a plan in place, but in my original undergraduate work, I wanted to major in animal behavior, and that was not really a field yet, so my advisor suggested vet school. I was a pre-vet major for a year, but realized it was not pointing me in the right direction. Those early courses in anatomy were of course quite helpful to what I do now. And as we know from the beautiful works of Joy Adamson and others, writing is a critical part of communicating what we learn from the animal world. I have always been heading in the right direction to get to what I do now, but it was not by any means a straight line. What I do is fairly unique and took a broad range of study to prepare me to do this kind of work.
I believe that majoring in broad fields such as history, American studies, business, even art and the like can be useful in many other fields. For instance prior study in art would add tremendously to someone’s work in elementary education, occupational therapy, computer graphics, or even physical therapy. I think that success comes from someone’s ability to see and know how to apply their knowledge.
I have a BA in History which is completely unrelated to any of my current / past jobs. I do have a minor in Advertising. I was an Advertising major in college (University of Texas at Austin) until my last semester. But the way the program was structured at the time meant that I could only take my last 12 hours 1-2 classes at a time. Rather than spend another year in school, I chose to graduate with a BA in History since it was the quickest path to graduation. I had always taken History classes as electives so I was in a position to do so. I’ve always liked History; since graduating college I’ve written 2 books and 47 magazine articles…mostly on military history topics. The others were “ghost authored” for clients at work..
People occasionally question the fact that I have a History degree and a 26-year career in Advertising / PR. It was actually an advantage for me; I spent the first 6 years of my career writing Ad / PR copy. When I graduated college I knew that I wanted to write. At the time (in the early 90s) many ad agencies preferred Liberal Arts (English, History, Art, etc.) majors over Advertising and Business degrees because they were perceived as being more creative. Again, I had 18 hours of Advertising classwork when I graduated, so it wasn’t like I was completed uneducated in the industry.
In my case it worked because Advertising is a bit looser field when it comes to education. It certainly helps to fully understand the various Ad theories and concepts that drive the overall marketing process; in fact, it’s probably a requirement now days for someone who wants to go into the management side. But to be a copywriter / artist / illustrator being creative is just as important. After 26 years in the business, I have a very solid understanding of Marketing / Advertising / PR because I have done it on a day/day basis for so long.
As a result, the BA in History has never hurt me at all. After getting enough hands-on experience I was able to move into all those other positions and my lack of a Marketing, Advertising or Public Relations degree has never been an issue. At this point in my career I get jobs based entirely on experience and not my college major. But in today’s highly competitive job market I’m not sure this approach would still work. Getting a (entry-level) job with a directly related college degree is hard enough. No one wants to train you, so I’m not sure I would recommend trying to make a career (in any field) without having some really solid education or training.
Coaching was not part of the plan back then.
My work today guides people through in depth evaluation of their core beliefs and how to change them. This allows them to change their emotional reactions, behavior (often self sabotaging), and general state of happiness in life. Sometimes people have some self judgment issues, others are dealing with anxiety, anger, or deep jealousy issues.
I got into teaching after several years of my own deep exploration of core beliefs, and mindfulness practices. Today I sometime’s jokingly call myself a Belief Systems Engineer..
I didn’t take leap into the field or anything crazy. I started coaching while I still had my day job as a sales engineer.. I would teach workshops on the weekends and coaching clients on the phone in the evening. When I got laid off from my day job I had a head start on my business and decided to make a full time go of it.
To people beginning college, my suggestion is to study what interests you. In 10-15 years you might very well be working in a field that doesn’t exist today.
College education for me was a time when I learned that I could study and teach myself whatever I needed to know. That gave me the confidence to try new things like build my own website when I needed to. I’ll need new skills later as the business changes and I’ll have to learn those as well.
Coaching didn’t exist as far as I knew when I went to college. I do most of my marketing and sales via the internet with my audio coaching products and exercises. The internet didn’t exist when I was in college, nor did the type of mp3 audio products that I sell.
In terms of advice for those doing broad fields of study, I would say, just do what makes you happy. That’s what I did. I was lucky enough to have very open-minded parents who just wanted me to study what made me happy. And now I work in a field that I am incredibly happy with, despite not studying for it. I would also stress that you shouldn’t feel limited by what you study. If you find later down the line that you want to do something else, then just do it!
When I left University I had to get a job quickly, I started working for Lloyds Banking Group as a telephone banking advisor.
In the meantime I tried to become a vicar but I was turned down by the church. I’d met my husband while I was studying and got married. The church wouldn’t allow me to become a vicar because he had been divorced three times previously.
Anyway. I decided to throw myself into financial services. I went from Telephone Banking to Auditing and Business Analysis and later became a project manager for Callcredit.
About a year ago I left Callcredit to come and work at a start up company. People told me I was crazy, the hours were different, the workload would be harder, the job would be more stressful and it was nothing to do with my degree. My mum was really keen for me to get into police liaison work or social work. She said a degree in Theology gave me a good understanding of cultures and would allow me to better communicate with people.
I haven’t looked back! The start up experience, while stresful at times, has been an amazing one. I feel valued, supported and like I’m part of something amazing.
Sometimes I wish I had done a different degree, one like business, that would give me a bit of an advantage, but I think in todays job market they don’t much care what your discipline was they just like to know you have that level of education.
Advice I would give to people majoring in ‘broad’ subjects would be, enjoy what you are studying and make the most of the experience. If your qualification won’t be much use to you in landing a job afterwards, then you are paying for the experience and the opportunity to learn something you love, in which case, make the most of it, those kinds of opportunities don’t just happen.
The contemporary university is going through a crisis. Is the purpose of higher education vocational or academic training? If vocational, then why do we spend four or more years in a classroom? We would be far better off with an apprenticeship immediately after high school where we earn a stipend, provide value to a company, and learn marketable skills. If academic, then a “useless” major such as History or English provides us with critical, analytical thinking skills and the ability to clearly communicate. We should spend our years in academia to think about big issues that do not necessarily have market value.
I did not plan to become a translator or a digital marketer, it just sort of happened. After I graduated I moved to China and learned Chinese. While there I networked my way into PR firms doing basic copywriting. Eventually this evolved into novel and short story translation for major universities throughout China. Also during this time I used the internet to make some extra money selling advertisements. Over time I learned how to use the internet to sell advertisements, optimize websites for search engines, and market to potential customers. At this point I am financially comfortable and constantly learning new skills to complement my current careers. I have no idea where I will be in five years, but I know I will continue to confidently build on my accomplishments.
A broad degree that focused on critical analysis has enabled me to learn new things and apply them to the labor market. A more focused degree, such as finance, would have pigeonholed me into a financial career, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just different from what I have done in my life.
Author-Writer-Producer — Biology, Physiology
So I quit my job, sold my car, sold my boyfriend (didn’t get much for him) and moved to New York City to become a star. I got into a Broadway show a week after arriving there. However, the show closed after 8 performances (not because of me; I was good, but the show wasn’t.)
After a stint as an actress and doing stand-up comedy, I knew I had to either take a vacation or get a job. Let’s see – vacation or job? Duh — I took a vacation and went out to Los Angeles. I loved it there, and never went back to New York, and started writing in Hollywood. People told me I’d never get an agent…. or a job. They were wrong. I wrote for several TV shows (Murphy Brown, FAME, and Carol & Company, starring Carol Burnett and Jeremy Piven) and sold scripts for movies, and wrote a couple of books.
And that is what I suggest people do, no matter what their major in school. You don’t necessarily know when you are in college, what your ultimate goals will be, or what will make you happy, or how your life will change. I advise people to be open, be flexible, and follow your heart. Even if it isn’t what your parents tell you, or what “other people” tell you is the right path.
Life is a journey and it can be wonderful if you are open to the possibilities.
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