7 Ways To Get A Job In A Field That Has Nothing To Do With Your Major

It seems like in college, all we ever do is prepare ourselves for the workforce. We fight for the best internships, wear ourselves out with what feels like thousands of student organizations and refer to extracurricular activities as “resume-builders.” But what happens when it’s time to start applying for jobs, and you realize that you don’t want to go into the field you’ve put all of this hard work into? Good news: All that hard work did NOT go to waste. You don’t have to work in the same field you majored in! Here are five things you should do if you’re pursuing a job in a field that has nothing to do with your major.

1. Focus on soft skills

According to a study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93 percent of employers value skills like communication, critical thinking and problem solving more highly than they value your major. This is because nowadays, most jobs are complex and require a broad range of responsibilities, and they want employees who are well-rounded enough to handle this. Think about it—pretty much all the “simple” jobs that require just one skill are now done by computers, so regardless of what your major is, it’s pretty unlikely that it will provide you with all the hard skills you need for the workforce.

Ben Anderson, Internship Program Director at the University of Michigan LSA Opportunity Hub, offers a comforting perspective. “In a sea of finance majors, being the one philosophy major can you both interesting and unique," he says. "We've seen a lot of interest from organizations who are realizing that liberal arts are amazing at research, they're thinking about the questions of diversity, they're connecting disparate ideas—they’re agile thinkers.”

Say you’re applying for a job in journalism, but your major was graphic design. You might think that a journalism major would have a huge advantage over you when applying for this job, but that’s not necessarily true. The field of journalism (like most fields) is always changing, and in fifteen years, some of the hard skills that a journalism major learned in school may be obsolete. What’s really important, then, is that you’re hard-working, creative, inquisitive and willing to operate under tight deadlines. You might be able to acquire those skills just as well from graphic design as you would from journalism!

Chelsea Jackson, a junior at Iowa State University, was in a similar position, as she switched her major to journalism after a graphic design internship. She said, “I had an exceptional academic adviser, who showed me how to highlight the soft and hard skills that I learned from my past internships and courses to be an attractive employee in the journalism industry.”

2. Grow your network

Perhaps you want to get a management job at a startup. You majored in management at your university’s business school, so you should be a shoe-in, right? Well, you never went to office hours, so none of your professors know you well enough to write a great letter of recommendation. Your supervisor at your internship barely remembers you. Lastly, you don’t know anybody at the company who could give you a good word from the inside.

Now say you want that management job, but you majored in women’s studies. However, you went to office hours every week and built solid relationships with your professors. When you ask them, they’re thrilled to write you recommendations that absolutely gush about what an intelligent student and critical thinker you are. You interned at a local nonprofit that serves underprivileged women, and everyone at the nonprofit remembers you for your hard work and willingness to do the dirty work (the higher-up execs at the nonprofit remember you because you asked them if you could get coffee and learn more about their career!). As the president of the women’s health club at your university, you’ve gotten to know several women’s health professionals in the area. One of these professionals often collaborates on projects with the startup to which you’re applying, and when they mention your name, she can’t stop talking about how they absolutely have to hire you.

Now, who do you think is the shoe-in? This, my friends, is the magic of networking. Regardless of your major or career path, building solid relationships with professionals in your area is one of the most important things that you can do. The rule of thumb is to network before you need a job. Utilize LinkedIn, career fairs and office hours as often as possible and as soon as possible.

Related: 5 Things To Have On Your Resume By Senior Year

3. Use your cover letter to explain

The role of the cover letter is to clarify anything on your resume that may need explaining–and if you’re applying for a consulting job but everything on your major is relating to psychology, then, girl, you’ve got some explaining to do. The good news is that your cover letter can be the tool to convince your employers that all of that psych experience was actually really freaking relevant and makes you the best candidate for the job. Use your university’s peer writing center or career writing center to figure out how best to convince them of that!

As Anderson explains, “For many jobs it's not about the major, it's about the story that you can tell. Can you articulate how your education is going to serve you in this career, and do you have the extracurriculars, internships, and volunteer opportunities that give you the practical experience to make your case? Regardless your degree, it’s about telling a coherent story that shows why you are interested in a role and why you are interested in the employer.”

What does this story look like? Maria Harshe, a practicing attorney, majored in Latin for undergrad before attending the University of Michigan law school. “A lot of people assume a Latin degree prepares students for law school because there are so many Latin phrases in the law.  ‘Quid pro quo.’ ‘Res Judicata.’ ‘Res Ipsa Loquitur.’ But I’m not sure I ever translated those precise phrases when reading Virgil or Cicero or Catullus or Propertius in my Latin classes," She explains. However, she did find that her college focus prepared her in a less obvious way. "For one thing I learned how to take a text and work it and re-work it until I understood what it meant in context. Not unlike analyzing a statute or a contract in law.  While translating Latin I also got to learn about history, philosophy, government, politics, mythology, linguistics and religion.  Each such subject has its place in the law.”

4. Go to graduate school

Some fields, like law, medicine and engineering, do require a degree. “There are some professions where major is just as important [as GPA, GREs, prior experience, rigor of university, etc]. If I’m going into chemical engineering, for example, I should have a chemical engineering degree,” Anderson says. But that doesn’t mean it has to be an undergraduate degree!

In fact, if you major in something completely unrelated to the graduate program to which you plan on applying, it may actually set you apart from the other applicants. As Harshe says, “I have to believe that my Latin studies made me stand out from others who undertook more common fields of study for the law such as English and Political Science.  And I expect that my most esteemed classical studies professors ensured that my Latin studies distinguished me in a good way.”

5. Utilize campus resources

Your major may not be everything, but that doesn’t mean you can randomly switch everything up and expect to be competitive against people who have been gaining experience in a certain field all throughout college. Success is about hard work, so once you decide what you want to do, work for it by utilizing campus resources! Anderson advises, “When you decide as a junior that you're going to do a complete 180, utilize the university community. Challenge yourself to take a course more directly tied to your career path. Join a student organization that’s connected to the field. There are a million opportunities on campuses, whether they are the ones that already exist or the ones you create. If you want social media experience, become the social media person in your organization.”

6. Know what’s realistic

They say that an overnight success actually takes ten years. Why? Because good things take time! There’s a chance that you could get your dream job straight out of college, but more likely than not, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort. That’s okay! Anderson says, “Make sure that you have income by taking a job that pays but doesn't require excessive hours so you can start building your experience on your own time. Get an entry-level job or volunteer for nonprofits in your field of interest that are going to give you opportunities to cut your teeth. Or be a self-starter and create your own little side projects. You do not need to immediately go to graduate school—you are still exploring and graduate school is a huge investment.”

As Erica Galluscio, a junior at Hunter College CUNY, says, “I think there's always a little (or a LOT!) of wiggle room between what you enjoy, what you're good at, and what pays the bills. It's totally fine for these three things to be completely different! It's a lot more common than we'd care to think. I'm double majoring in Linguistics and Sexualities and I've worked for nonprofits, contemporary art galleries, online blogs, publishing houses, you name it. I want to get a Ph.D. in queer linguistics research, I'm good at feminist writing, but office jobs pay the bills. Whatevs!”

7. Do what you love

As cheesy and cliche as it sounds, it’s really important that you’re passionate about your major. If you don’t believe me, there are actual studies that show a correlation between happiness and success. Obviously, you’re never going to love everything about your major. Sitting in lecture for hours on end, or pulling all-nighters to study, will just never be fun. But if you’re passionate about your field of study, it’s worth it. As Lili Pfeifer, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, says, “I’m confident in my decision to pursue the health sciences, and I love the courses offered at UMich. Although the workload is extremely demanding, especially partnered with extracurricular commitments, I know that growth only stems from pursuing challenges, so I continue to push myself outside my comfort zone within the classroom and beyond.”

Why is it so important to do what you love? Because if you don’t, you won’t have the drive to succeed that Lili describes, and that drive to succeed is what will really carry you in the workplace. The more you learn about what you love, the more you’ll realize that seemingly unrelated jobs also really interest you. Meaning: if you’re majoring in English, you don’t necessarily have to be a teacher or a career journalist. You may found that the communicative skills that you love so much translate really well to a job as a lawyer or politician! Chelsea says, “Find out what parts of your major you like and just search for a job that highlights those key components -- whether you love the interpersonal skills of setting up interviews or the creativity of writing something from scratch.”

College is the time to learn about your interests, not the time to solidify what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. Your major in no way limits you or defines exactly what your career has to be. Instead, college in general is a fantastic opportunity to learn, network, and develop a work ethic that you’ll carry with you the rest of your life.