Turning Your 'Wrong' Academic Background Into the Career That's Right for You

Graduation was fast looming. Although I was thrilled to put my academic life behind and finally enter the real world, I became anxious when I looked at my batch mates and realised the strong technical qualifications engineering, accounting, and IT students had.

As a liberal arts major with a dual degree in Anthropology and Philosophy, majority of my courses were heavily based on reading, researching and writing term papers.

What real skills did I have to persuade potential employers to hire me?

As I was getting to ready to graduate, I suddenly came to a realization that the career I dreamt of in the marketing field required a totally different degree than the one I was graduating with.

I only had two options: (1) to transfer my previously acquired credits to the new degree where I’d definitely waste a lot of money, energy and time going back and doing it all over again for a different degree

OR

(2) to take action and change my future without having to go back to the University for additional years of schooling.

I chose the latter.

Just like me, one in three university graduates do not find employment in their chosen field. According to the survey of 1000 Australians aged 16 to 24 conducted by Pure Profile and career strategy firm TwoPointZero, 34% of those with a bachelor degree and 32% of those with a postgraduate degree gained their first full-time role in an unrelated field.

While it’s reassuring to know that you are not alone, what can you do if you are in this situation?

There are ways to turn your seemingly ‘wrong’ degree into the career you wanted it to be.

Below I’ve identified some of the methods I personally applied to pursue my dream career in marketing without having to go back to school full-time.

1. Concentrate on Your Transferable Soft Skills

Regardless of what you studied, you must have learned valuable soft skills that you can easily transition into the workplace irrespective of the job sector.

Perhaps you’ve refined your verbal communication abilities while giving oral presentations or leading discussions in your tutorial groups. Regardless of what program you’ve enrolled in, teamwork and collaborative skills are likely incorporated in your coursework through group projects.

And if you’ve taken a leadership role on a class activity, you may even have some project management skills in your back pocket. Other transferable soft skills that are deemed most important by employers nowadays include written communication, planning and organizing, flexibility, time management, and initiative or self-motivation.

Some companies will raise an eyebrow if they see your resume and notice your major doesn’t suitably match their industry. So, you have to showcase these transferable soft skills on your resume and provide evidences of how you’ve utilized these capabilities during your college life.

Candidates with multifaceted transferable skills are far more attractive to potential employers. Also, avoiding the most common resume mistakes can assist you get a step closer to landing your dream job even in a different field.

2.  Be Ready to Start from a Ground Zero 

A proven foot in the door strategy to break into a career that’s not aligned with your college degree is to find ways to gain relevant experience in that field.

This can be through volunteer works or internships to acquire the necessary experience in the specific job industry. Irrespective of your major, a first step toward securing meaningful volunteer or internship role is to identify your field of interest and the type of relevant experience you’d like to attain.

For instance, if you’re an Anthropology major interested in doing marketing related work in the future, you could look into organisations such as museums or research centres for social media, digital marketing or market research internships or volunteer works.

These could offer opportunities for you to gain meaningful learning experience and could assist you in taking a big step towards your dream career.

In addition, internships and volunteer works improve your marketability by building your resume of experience and providing you with real-world experiences that are not available in a classroom. Note that you don’t have to volunteer five days a week.

Even a couple of hours each month can be extremely valuable as it demonstrates you’re making an effort to gain important experience.

 3.  Invest Significant Effort in Expanding Your Professional Network

 Though it may have seemed simple as a student to find part time job in restaurant or retail, your search may get much harder when you’re trying to put your college degree to work full time.

Networking, which involves fostering mutually beneficial relationships that can lead to opportunities, is one of the best ways for college graduates to get a leg up in an extremely challenging job market.

This is particularly helpful to those who may not have the right educational background for a job.

You don’t have to wait until after graduation to start networking. In your senior year, you should start talking to family and friends about your goals after graduation and the career path you’d like to take.

Let them know the types of roles you’ll be looking for so they can keep an eye out if anything turns up or refer you to someone they know.

Though there’s nothing wrong in turning to friends and family members to network, you must also expose yourself to wider opportunities.

For example, if you’re interested in a particular industry, research they key influencers in that space and reach out to them via social media. Networking in these unconventional spaces is a great supplement to the traditional networking you should pursue through personal connections with friends and family members.

Networking also proves beneficial as oftentimes, knowing a person inside your dream company becomes a plus factor for getting hired. Having an insider who can attest and vouch to your integrity and character already equates to an endorsement to get hired.

Additionally, this inside person can be your supporter and cover questions that may arise when it comes to your capabilities. You may not have the relevant educational qualification for a job, but there are potentially good reasons why you can do the job as well as (or even better than) other highly qualified applicants. These reasons may never show on your resume or cover letter.

If, as a result of your networking, you managed to build a strong relationship with someone inside your dream company who is aware of this fact, they can speak on your behalf and inform the company of your valuable skills and talents.

4. Keep Your Edge Through Proactive Learning

Even without the relevant degree, you can show employers you are worth hiring by proving that you’re knowledgeable of the ins and outs of a specific field.

Keep abreast of the latest development by subscribing to newsletters, browsing online forums and discussion boards, or following potential employers on social media.

Also, by following well-known experts and industry people on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, you’ll acquire the latest information and opinions in your desired industry, while still getting your daily social media fix. This kind of independent learning approach will demonstrate great initiative in your part.

 In summary 

If you’ve just discovered that you made a mistake in choosing your University degree, you’re absolutely not alone.

Hundreds and thousands of college graduates across the globe find themselves in the exact scenario each year.

What you need to do now is to decide how you’re going to start chasing your dream career outside your field and get to it with confidence.

Written By
Rev Santos is the Founder of a fast-growing resume writing agency (Rev-Up Your Resume) based on the Gold Coast and Canberra, Australia. Rev leverages his 8 years' background in brand marketing and communications to help job seekers build their personal brand by conveying on their application documents their exceptional qualities that distinguish them from the average candidate.