What you study and the skills you develop during college can make a difference when you start your job search after graduation. Having the right major, internships and extracurricular activities, as well as knowing which career you’d like to pursue, will help put your resume above the competition.
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“Students shouldn’t be stressed out when choosing a college major, but in this day and age, they need to pay attention to the major that they choose — and it goes beyond ‘I like to do this’,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. As businesses and industries evolve, some have more opportunities than others. “Be aware of growth areas by industry and where they’re flattening out,” he adds.
While some majors translate directly into high-paying jobs, some employers prefer to hire a broad range of experience. “At the end of the day, regardless of your degree and the school you went to, you have to be able to show the prospective employer what you’re able to bring to the table,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.com.
As a freshman, experts suggest taking a wide range of classes to see what appeals to you. “Everybody is different and everybody has different talents and interests,” says Tara Sinclair, economist at career website Indeed.com. “Knowing what kinds of jobs are out there and the type of pay is important so you can make an informed decision. This doesn’t mean everyone has to pursue the highest paying job if that won’t make them happy.”
Although good grades are key for graduate school applications, today’s employers want more than that from new hires. “You have to be strategic during college because the competition is fierce,” says Lori Almeida, Chief Talent Officer at Siegel+Gale. “Grades aren’t enough — you have to go above and beyond that and go one step ahead.”
Experts provide five tips to help you plan your college career.
1. Figure out what you like
“There are two people: the ones who know what they want to do and the ones who have no idea,” says Sinclair. If you know what you want to do, you can follow the career path of people with those majors. If you’re unsure, looking at online resumes will show you what people studied to pursue a certain job or career and vice versa.
Most majors don’t lead to just one career path though, and some companies offer the chance to explore new roles. “Your career trajectory can move at different speeds and in various directions, so focus on mastering life-long skillsets, like strong communication and problem-solving skills, that prepare you to succeed in any position,” says Sumita Banerjee, Vice President of Talent Acquisition of L’Oreal USA.
2. Research careers
“When you’re thinking about what you want to do, you need to learn what’s out there,” says Almeida, “and talking to as many people as you can is very important.”
Knowing which industries are hiring is also important. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on industries that are shrinking and growing, suggests Dobroski, as this data can help you determine which jobs you’d like to pursue. “The overall theme is you want to check real world data and trends with how industries are doing so you can have a fulfilling career while doing what you enjoy.”
Searching LinkedIn (NASDAQ:LNKD) and online resumes can help you figure out where people started their careers. “Some companies have a greater concentration of college hires from certain schools because they tend to train the students a certain way,” says Almeida. “Consider the program that you’re choosing because people from these programs may get hired easier than others.”
3. Plan your internships and extracurricular activities
Although test scores and grades are important, as you choose a major, also begin to plan internships in different industries that suit you and your skillset. “It’s not just to get your foot in the door,” says Dobroksi. “You should be evaluating these to figure out what you like and don’t like about that type of job.”
Look for opportunities that will help you develop concrete skills and contribute to a business.
“Great internship experiences can give students a significant advantage,” says Banerjee. “They’ve had the chance to test-drive careers and companies for size and fit, and now have a realistic view of that company and role.” Depending on your performance, internships may lead to entry-level job positions too.
Being active in clubs during your college career helps to establish your personal brand. “If you’re not fortunate enough to get an internship, there are ways to show those skills by joining college organizations and taking on leadership roles in those groups,” says Almeida. “It’s important to make sure you’re well rounded — you want to paint a picture to employers that you’re the one they want to choose.”
4. Know your options
While industries develop, so do different career paths. If you like math, for example, but don’t want a career in academia or teaching, you could work as a data scientist, suggests Dobroski. Certain fields are growing leaps and bounds and also have handsome salaries attached to them. “It’s about being aware of your options and knowing what your options are,” he adds.
Sometimes finding a career for your major isn’t as cut and dry. “You can study your passion, but once you’ve decided on a career, you have to take steps to tie that major into your career,” says Almeida. English majors can work in content management and do very well, for example, but they may have to broaden their skillset by joining clubs focusing on a specific industry, or following blogs or writing articles about that industry.
“Look at as many career options as you can, but there are some disciplines that the education is required — you can’t be an engineer, accountant or doctor without the degree,” says Armando Roman, certified public accountant in Phoenix, Arizona.
5. Consider a minor
Depending on what you study, having a minor can give you a competitive edge. “If you minor in a foreign language, that’s great since foreign language skills are in demand,” says Dobroski. “Choose minors wisely to enhance your resume — it’s an added value for the company.”
Which college majors are most in demand?
As with years past, demand for business and technical majors remains high. The most sought-after majors this year include:
- Business – 39 percent
- Computer and Information Sciences – 28 percent
- Engineering – 18 percent
- Math and Statistics – 14 percent
- Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences – 14 percent
- Communications Technologies – 12 percent
- Engineering Technologies – 11 percent
- Education – 7 percent
- Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies, and Humanities – 10 percent
- Science Technologies – 7 percent
- Communication and Journalism – 7 percent