woman-446670_1280As an Academic Advisor who counsels college students regarding careers, one of the questions I am asked is: What kind of jobs can I get with this major? So I asked myself: Is there a link between majors and jobs? Can one negotiate the boundaries to delineate pathways to any desired career?

When I was faced with making choices in my twenties, I had a longer list for careers that did not interest me, and my meager list of appealing options ranged from hotel management to architecture to something to do with arts. I eventually acquired Bachelors and Masters degrees in Architecture and worked for six years — first as an intern and then as an architect — until I was laid off.

Once again, now in my early thirties, I was faced with a career dilemma. After the initial disappointment, I began to consider my options. I was working over 60-hour weeks without overtime pay while juggling family commitments. I was disinclined to go back to work as an architect, which prompted me to repackage my skills. So what was I going to do?

I had to shake off the attitude that my education in a professional field limited my choices to those specific areas and that if I wanted to change careers, I would have to go back to school. Rather the onus was on me to articulate my skills to specific audiences (employers). What skills, both transferable and specific, did I bring to the table that was of value to an employer?

Skills I had acquired and enhanced

In a decade, I had matured, could work independently, and was a better communicator. I was a team player, could manage my time, multi-task, organize, perform under pressure, think critically, present information to clients and colleagues in writing, visually, and verbally, participate in discussions, and share ideas.

I had basic computer skills for any job, remained calm in difficult situations, was flexible, adaptable, spoke five languages, and paid attention to details. I realized that this was a reductive process; there was more to me than that. But the important thing to keep in mind was which skills would be of value to an employer. I had to connect the dots between aspects of the mission of the organization I wished to impact and the value of my skills to the employer.

List of values I desired in a job

Making a career change felt much like the first time I had applied for jobs. I was motivated, apprehensive, and a bit rusty with skills required to find a job. I made a list of values I desired in a job that would make me a meaningful contributor. I had worked part-time as an adjunct faculty teaching design and invested time in a hobby. I was looking for people contact, stability, variety, and balance in personal and work life. I could teach, had good oral, written, and visual communication skills, develop rapport, collaborate, and listen.

Researching occupations and job duties

I heard of the position I am currently in via my spouse and applied for the “Academic Programs Coordinator” position at the university. At the time, it was only for a year. I was unsure but thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to evaluate if I wanted to work in the field of higher education.

The title was only partially descriptive, so I browsed through the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which describes occupations and explains job duties, education, and employment prospects. The Occupational Outlook Quarterly has articles that contain descriptions of careers in various fields, interviews, and general advice for job seekers. Information is also available at a One-Stop Career Center, sponsored by the US Department of Labor at: www.servicelocator.org and www.onetonline.org.

Thinking outside the box

In a lean market, full-time positions were hard to come by. I was an adjunct faculty at a nearby university but was aware of the lack of full-time options. I regret that as a part-time employee, I tended not to linger after my class and did not make connections on the job. Having been in the city for four years, my network consisted mostly of parents of my kids’ friends and my spouse’s work connections. I decided to look for short-term appointments (typically a year long), mostly with the idea of a getting my foot in the door, adding to my resume, and learning by doing (much like an internship or volunteer position).

Preparation and reading job descriptions

As luck would have it, a colleague who was working in a similar position decided to leave, and an opportunity opened up. I had already been in the position for seven months and really enjoyed it. I also learned on the job, which gave me confidence to apply for the full-time position.

After carefully reading the position description and job duties, I tailored my resume to the specific application. I began to draft a cover letter, focusing on the preferred qualifications listed in the job description and addressing my competencies. The key to a good cover letter is to address every desired qualification, including the preferred, honestly. As for the duties I was unfamiliar with — for example, scheduling courses using a specific computer program — I was sure that I could receive training once I started.

The one thing I have learned is to apply for a position that appeals to you and one that you are qualified to apply for without overthinking what the hiring manager would like. Despite well-crafted position descriptions, it is impossible to get into the heads of the employers. The least you can do is put your best foot forward — writing a persuasive resume and cover letter — and hope that it leads to an interview.

Your story and interview preparation

Based on the resume and cover letter, I was short listed for a phone interview. The phone interview is a way for the employer to glean your level of confidence, communication skills, and personality. However simple the question (tell me about yourself, your strengths/weaknesses, or tell me about a time when…), know that your answer will determine the outcome. Prepare a cheat sheet with skills pertinent to the job that you would like the employer to know about and a list of anecdotes — including the situation, your action, and the result — that emphasize your accomplishments. I prepared anecdotes from my experiences — study abroad, internship, volunteer, and jobs — to underscore relevant skills. End the interview on a positive note, expressing your keen interest, and inquire about next steps.

For the in-person interview, I was asked to prepare a presentation (oral and visual) addressing: What are the unique opportunities and challenges associated with interdisciplinary international academic programs? How do these programs prepare students for careers in a globalized work environment?

I included a slide called “Employers Hire People Not Degrees” and focused on my skills. I have been in the position for the past four and a half years, and I continue to advise students, to teach the ‘Introduction to International Careers’ and ‘Global Studies: Overseas Internship’ courses. I’ve created curriculum development and scheduling, and I’ve presented at conferences. I’ve dealt with marketing, created an International Careers Bootcamp, and even trained an advisor.

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