As some of you may know, one of the hats I wear is the Academic-Advising-at-a-University hat. And the most frequently asked question I get is about careers (perhaps because I am the Advisor of an undergraduate program that is liminal in nature): Where do alumni tend to go? What can I do with my major? After having this career conversation with various individuals and thinking about this topic in my sleep for many nights, I thought I'd write down my very general (i.e. non-major-specific) thoughts on the matter. DISCLAIMER: the following thoughts are my own!
This may be relevant for you if you're unsure about the whole how-to-go-about-figuring-out-your-career thing. If you're up for reading the rest, get yourself in a comfy position on the couch and make sure you have your favorite beverage (and/or snacks) in hand... because it is long! :)
Disclaimer #2: I ain't got no Master's degree or PhD so for those who would like to know the details about what it's like to pursue graduate studies you'll need to talk to the experts (i.e. graduate students) - I ain't one.
I'll address the things that bother me the most first: The notion that if you go to university and get a degree then you'll get a job that directly connects from said degree is an outdated misconception for the most part. This could still hold true for some cases, but it's not the case for all degrees/careers.
So this question bothers me sometimes: "What can I do with my major?"
To me, this sounds like another way of saying "What job(s) can I get by getting this degree?"
When I'm in a good mood, I think: "You can do whatever you want with your major; you have the freedom to cater it to your interests."
When I'm in a not-so-good mood, I think: "Getting a degree alone isn't going to guarantee a job, unfortunately."
In relation to the aforementioned misconception, this question bothers me as well: "How does getting a major in X make me competitive compared to getting a major in Y to get a job in domain Z?"
Let's be very general for a moment and say:
Students who graduate with a degree in X tend to get jobs in domain Z
Based on the first premise, it may be tempting to think:
"If I graduate with a degree in X, then my odds of getting a job in domain Z will increase."
Well, maybe, but I see it more like this:
Students who graduate with a degree in X (and pursued relevant extracurricular activities and co-ops/internships and research projects and personal projects and reached out to professionals in domain Z and got mentored - or even better, referred - by those people, etc.) tend to get jobs in domain Z.
The competitive advantage and the originality is going to come from the individual, not the degree. It is not so much an IF-THEN process; it's much more of an AND-AND-AND-AND-AND-... process. So every little thing counts.
Now that the first part is taken care of... :)
Students who come to me in their 4th year and beyond tend to carry a different nuance when they ask "What can I do with my major?" or "Where do alumni tend to go?" I tend to interpret these questions like the following: "I can't imagine how I can use all the esoteric material I've learned in my undergrad in a job - I feel useless, I feel so behind (compared to everyone else who learned stuff that they can use directly at their first job), and I don't even know where to begin. I don't even know what I want to do." This was what I had thought when I was graduating.
When we go back to that first premise:
Students who graduate with a degree in X tend to get jobs in domain Z
I find that it's also tempting for people to think the following:
"Since I'm getting a degree in X, maybe I should work towards getting a job in domain Z."
If there is a "should" in your train of thought, I strongly encourage you to stop for a moment. As tempting it is to go for the low hanging fruit or to just go with the flow, this thought can set you back further for a couple reasons.
"So how the heck do I figure out what I want to do? Where do I even begin?" I'm no master at this by any means, but I consider myself a student in the figuring-out-what-I-want-to-do area since mid-2018 (I wish I started at least 10 years earlier). I hope that one of the things I mention will give you a sense of discovery or resonance (or mirth if nothing else).
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself to get started. If there's anything that stands out for you, that's where you can dig in some more - whether that be doing research about the domain/role (reading about it, conducting informational interviews, etc.) or simply taking more time to think through it.
Now onto the more domain-related questions...
Also - whenever you find a clue, whether that be a personal preference or an industry you never knew about and might want to look into... WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN somewhere so you don't need to remember it all. Eventually, you will start to have enough clues that it will become your own rubric in evaluating different career options.
"Where are the jobs? What companies should I apply for?" This is something that I cannot give a straightforward answer for, partially because it is not my job to look for jobs and place people. And I do not have the right to dictate where anyone *should* go...
There are different ways one can look at what's out there. The easier way would be online. I am trying to make it a habit to browse jobs twice a week at least. If this becomes a habit before you really start looking for a job, it doesn't feel like you need to suddenly do research on the industry's landscape. Some roles can have names that sound counterintuitive so if there's a posting from a company that you're interested in but don't feel like the title is right, it's still worth checking out the job description. It can be worth checking out Glassdoor as well to get some info on what people say about the organization.
The more challenging way (for me, at least) is to look offline. How? Through the old-fashioned way of meeting and talking to people. Although this could be daunting, technology does help make it slightly easier to find a gathering (e.g. Meet-ups). Informational interviews are also great to do especially if you're not sure if you want to go into a particular area or not. And this even holds for actual job interviews - hopefully you have done a good amount of research about the organization or industry in advance, but it is a good opportunity to learn more about it. Ask those sharp questions. And if an organization or hiring manager takes offense that you are asking sharp questions... drop the mic. Their loss.
Not getting that job offer after going through the interview(s) can hit hard. Rejections can hurt a lot. Hang in there. You are not at fault. The posting may have been out there (to cover the organization's rear end) for internal hiring purposes - we never know. Every time you see a door that closes, it is presenting you with a better opportunity.
I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.