What to Do When Your Major Doesn’t Align with Your Career?
It happens to many of us: we go to college, choose a major, graduate, and then we land in the real world. Time to find a job, but what sort of job do you get with a major in medieval folklore?
Okay, maybe your major wasn’t that obscure, maybe it was theater, English, or even mathematics. But, when it came time to find a job, you took anything you could get to pay the bills, and somehow you fell into a career path you never saw coming or that first job out of school made you start thinking about a completely different career trajectory.
Now, here you are on the job hunt for that next role and you land an interview and the hiring manager asks: Why didn’t you pursue a career in your major?
It can feel like you’re a bit under attack, but understand that interviewer has several reasons for asking this. They want to make sure that you are actually have a sincere interest in the role you are interviewing for and that if something came up in your field of study, that you’re not going to jump ship the first chance you get.
How do you respond? First off, honesty is always the best policy, but remember to edit your thoughts before speaking. The interviewer doesn’t need to know the history of your love of literature or how you long to be on the stage.
Before you go to an interview, plot out your career path and what brought you from one experience to the next. Ask yourself what drew you to each role, what you enjoy about your work, and how difficult it was to let go of pursuing something in your major. (That last part is important for those people who were/are really passionate about what they studied. You don’t want to be blind-sided in an interview having to discuss a topic you haven’t really dealt with yourself that may cause you to get emotional.)
After you’ve walked yourself through each step of your experience and made the connections to what drew you to each job, think about how your field of study had parallels in aiding your work. Researching ancient literature may have prepared you for deep analytical thinking. Obtaining a degree in theatre requires a holistic study of various practical skills from construction, design, art, and math and requires you to think on your feet or gave you a proficiency in improvising or presentation. These are your transferable skills.
Perhaps, your major is even a bonus because it gives you a completely fresh perspective on your industry?
If you can think of nothing from your studies that apply to the job you are interviewing for, then think about what other life skills you can address that helped propel you into your current career path (or the one you now wish to pursue.)
Maybe in your first job out of college you fell in love with something you had never explored or considered before. Don’t be afraid to mention that. But, be careful so that you don’t appear flighty and prone to jumping from place to place every time you get passionate about something new.
Get comfortable with your background and build your internal database of information to back up your reasoning for selecting the trajectory for your future job satisfaction so that you are proactive in addressing any concerns in the interview, rather than reactive.
Once you’ve walked yourself through your own explanation and reasoning, you’ll be able to better clarify this for a hiring manager or recruiter and be more confident in your response. Never get caught off guard by a decision you made in the past. Always be ready to address any part of your experience and never let your major of study be a major distraction to you landing a job.
Robin L. Rayburn is the Editor & General Manager of Interviewing.com. Robin was introduced to the recruitment industry in 2007 and her passion for people has never let her stray far from it since. In her spare time she manages her blog, RestlessPillow.com, tweets from @interviewingcom and @chitowntexan, and is always striving to help those around her who have a vision for success. You can also find Robin on LinkedIn and Google+.