College majors don’t define career paths for nearly one-third of degreed workers, according to the latest workplace studies.
In an online nationwide survey conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder last fall, 47 percent of college-educated employees reported their first jobs after graduation were unrelated to their majors, while 32 percent said they never found related jobs.
Steve Sturges, creative director for VI Marketing and Branding in Oklahoma City, and Weatherford business coach Bill Bendure aren’t surprised.
An exercise physiology major, Sturges planned to become an athletic trainer, or maybe go to physical therapy school. But, upon a friend’s recommendation, he shopped a book of his writing samples to regional advertising agencies.
“I hoped to land a fun job for a year to clear my head after college,” Sturges said. “That was in 1988, and I’ve been in the business — and still having fun — ever since,” he said.
Bendure earned a bachelor’s in sociology and Greek, and went on to seminary school. He served 15 years in the ministry, worked for the United Way and ran a retail/wholesale business, before becoming a business coach for chief executives 25 years ago.
The CareerBuilder survey, of 2,134 workers at all sizes and types of companies, found 64 percent of college-educated workers are happy with the degrees they chose.
In retrospect, Bendure said he wishes he’d earned degrees in business administration and law, but said his undergraduate and theological studies taught him empathetic listening and to seek first to understand.
“Over 75 percent of what clients discuss in one-to-one meetings are things they can’t share with family members or employees, including the struggle to live a balanced life,” Bendure said.
“It’s critical to have a friend who keeps discussions confidential, doesn’t judge and tells them candidly what they need, versus want, to hear,” he said.
Mike Crandall, of Sandler Training, who earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice, jokes that he’s only used it to stay out of jail. But the executives with whom he’s worked tell him their best leaders, regardless of their degrees, have real-world experiences that allow them to understand people, Crandall said.
“We have many clients who no longer look for specific college degrees, or degrees at all; instead they look for experience that is helpful,” he said. One construction/remodeling company looks for employees experienced in dealing with people and making them feel comfortable, he said.
“Some of their best employees have come from restaurant/retail management and have no college degrees,” Crandall said.
After consultation with Sandler, another client in the technical services industry now looks for people who are customer-service oriented and trains them in the technical skills they once required. “They’ve seen client retention and satisfaction skyrocket by not hiring to specific degrees,” Crandall said.
With the exception of directly-transferable degrees such as engineering or accounting, college majors aren’t important, Oklahoma City human resources expert Jim Farris said.
“Most companies would just as soon hire an English or French major, as a business major,” Farris said. What most want is someone who’s proven they know how to learn, he said, noting the importance of good grades.
“At the same time, I’d rather hire a graduate with a 2.5 grade point average, who paid his way through college stocking groceries from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., versus a nerd who has a 3.95 grade point average, but lacks people skills,” Farris said.
“Four or five years following graduation, no one cares what your major, or GPA, was,” Farris said. “They want to know what you’ve been doing over those years to be successful,” he said.