When asked what you wanted to be growing up, you likely changed your answer multiple times. From a superhero or princess to a veterinarian, your future career never quite felt set in stone.
This can remain true even after you select a degree and graduate college. Many recent graduates don’t feel passionate about their field after a while, or have cast their nets wider, happy to accept any kind of employment.
Only 27 percent of people actually get a job that’s relevant to the field they majored in. Interests and industries change, so what you thought would be perfect at 18 may not be the right fit anymore.
Whether you’re not sure exactly what you want to do, or you’re making a complete 180, this guide can help you figure out what skills you already have, gain experience, and land that unexpected career. You can also jump to our infographic for a quick summary of our guide.
Table of Contents:
- Gain Experience
- Find the Right Job
- Sell Yourself
- Know the Careers Aligned to Your Major
- Additional Resources
The best way to make yourself more marketable is to gain experience in the field you’re looking to move to or delve into opportunities to build the skills you need. Of course, it’s essential to research your desired field to identify the most marketable skills you should acquire. Try subscribing to industry newsletters to stay on top of the latest trends in your field.
This may feel like a bit of a catch-22 since the best experience often requires experience. Don’t be discouraged if you need to apply to a number of opportunities before finding one that’s willing to take you on. This is part of the process. Look into positions that are often happy to have people with less experience or try one of the following to get you started.
Sometimes the best way to make yourself valuable is to give away your time. Look for nonprofits who need help in areas that can help you build soft skills. An environmental campaign raising awareness can help you build your interpersonal and sales skills. Alternatively, working to distribute toys to underprivileged kids around the holiday season can demonstrate your excellent organization and project management abilities.
Volunteering can help you build your hard skills, too. Offer your services to a local non-profit or small business for free. An animal shelter may not have an ad out for a graphic designer, but they could still be open to your offer to design their upcoming adoption event posters. Since you’d be working for free, they can be less picky about your credentials. Some of the best opportunities are never advertised, and some estimate 80 percent of jobs are never listed publicly.
When it comes to gaining experience as a volunteer, it can sometimes only take asking how you can help. Listing positions and organizing volunteers can sometimes be a major undertaking, especially for a small operation. By reaching out, you already take some of the burden out of the task. While they may have no need for your particular skills, it also helps to remain flexible in the work that you do for them.
Get an Internship
There are many internship opportunities out there, even for those no longer enrolled in college. Since companies tend to look for individuals with less experience but strong drive, internships allow you to gain experience without extensive previous knowledge.
As an intern, you may also get to work on a wider variety of projects or assignments around the company. Use knowledge to select internship opportunities that may not necessarily be in your desired career, but could provide a bridge between what you already know and what you want to learn. For example, an internship in marketing may not be your final goal, but working on the company’s website will allow you to gain some experience in coding.
You can also create your own internship. Just as with nonprofits, sometimes all it takes is showing an interest in helping out, then connecting the dots between your skills and what they need. If you want to work in government, you could try researching senators who align with your beliefs and offer to write position papers or respond to constituents.
Start a Side Project
You don’t need someone else’s permission to pursue your interests. If there’s a particular field you’re dying to work in, go for it. It can be overwhelming to start a side hustle in an area you aren’t familiar with, so don’t be afraid to loop in friends, or start a joint project with them so you can keep each other accountable.
To stay on track, think of your side projects like a new internship and set goals that you want to achieve. The beauty of setting out on your own, is that you get to determine for yourself what success looks like.
Find The Right Job
Once you’ve gained the experience you need — or if you feel you already have the soft skills needed to be successful in your prospective field — it’s time to find the right match. Even for highly qualified candidates, the application process can take a long time. Research suggests that the average chances for getting a job you apply for is around 2 percent and that the average person has to apply to 27 jobs before getting an interview. If you’re looking outside of your major or experience, you’ll need to find just the right match.
Carefully scan the listings for positions that align with your skills. Companies differ on what they value most, even for the same jobs and titles. Keep in mind that you don’t always need every skill and relevant experience listed as required on the job application. While you shouldn’t waste your time applying to jobs looking for six or more years of experience in the same role, if you have a year of experience doing academic research, and the listing calls for two, it’s still worth applying.
A small company may be easier to get in with. This is because their hiring process may be less established or operate with less red tape. Some larger hiring companies receive so many applicants, they need to use software to filter out résumés that lack the keywords they’re looking for before a real person even looks at the résumé. At a smaller place, you may have a better chance of making a connection with a hiring manager who can see your potential better than an algorithm can.
Look outside of the usual job posting sites and check the “fastest-growing” lists, too. When a company is growing rapidly, they usually need to hire aggressively. This means looking past a slight mismatch in experience to someone who can learn quickly and transfer their skills.
One of the most essential parts of landing a job outside of your major is knowing how to sell yourself. This requires extensive research of your desired field and crafting numerous specialized versions of your résumé and cover letter. Though this may seem like a lot at first, the process gets a lot quicker with time.
Identify Transferable Skills
First, you’ll need to think about your past experience to figure out what skills you’ve gained that will also be useful in your new field of choice. There are certain skills that are applicable to every job: Communication, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, and organization. You’ll likely see at least of few of these listed on every job you apply to because they’re universal. So if have experience as a real estate agent, you may be good at understanding a variety of people’s needs, which can be applied to a position as a human resources manager.
If you struggle coming up with enough concrete skills from your internships or volunteer opportunities, try finding the job listing you applied to previously. There, you’ll see a long list of skills and proficiencies necessary to the work you’ve already done, and you can adapt your résumé from there.
Customize Your Résumé
If you’re applying to a number of jobs, it can be tempting to send out the same format to everyone. The key with job applications is often quality over quantity. Take the time to customize your résumé for each job description. You don’t want to completely rewrite your résumé every time. Get smart about the key places that can help you stand out to an employer.
If you choose to include a title and professional summary in your résumé, you should think carefully about the keywords and summary you choose and how they align with your desired position. Read the job description and try to incorporate as many of the skills they list in your own skills section, when possible.
Then, tailor the experiences you list. There may be some jobs or positions you’ve held that are more relevant to the job than others, which you may want to swap out. Otherwise, one of the most important places to tailor your résumé is in the description of your experience. Pay attention to how you explain the responsibilities and successes of your past positions. Even the order of the bullets under your experience can make a difference, so list the most impressive and relevant points first.
Craft the Perfect Cover Letter
The cover letter may be one of the most important things to nail when you’re applying for a job outside of your major. The cover letter is your time to directly lay out your experiences and demonstrate how you’ll be able to fulfill and exceed the requirements of the job. Just like your résumé, you should write a new cover letter for each position you apply to. However, it’s important not to simply rehash your résumé. Be strategic about the experiences you list and how they’re relevant to the position.
Instead of simply telling the hiring manager you’re a leader and creative problem-solver, describe times when you demonstrated these skills using action verbs. Here are a few to get you started:
Leadership: Spearheaded, developed, executed, contracted, assigned, directed, advocated, headed, delegated, coordinated
Communication: Persuaded, informed, corresponded, negotiated, edited, informed, addressed, publicized
Problem-solving: Investigated, devised, distilled, correlated, reframed, substantiated, streamlined, reconciled
Put Your Work Up Front
Both your résumé and cover letter are designed to prove to a hiring manager that you would excel in the position you’re applying for. Another way to prove this is to actually do the job. This isn’t feasible for every prospective position, but for a job you’re passionate about, it may help to demonstrate exactly what you’d do for the company. This could mean drafting a marketing strategy for the company or creating a mockup of a webpage in the style you’d provide.
It can take a lot of time, and there’s still no guarantee that you’d be offered a position based on your work, so be strategic about when you use this technique. However, this can be a powerful way to demonstrate your determination, passion, and skills.
Ultimately, being hired is up to another person’s discretion. Remember that on the other end of your résumé or cover letter is a real person doing their job. It never hurts to be personable and persistent.
If you haven’t heard back after submitting a résumé, follow up via email, as long as the job listing doesn’t specifically tell you not to do so. After an interview, email the people you spoke with to thank them for their time and consideration. It doesn’t hurt to throw in a specific comment about something they said to demonstrate you were paying attention.
It’s entirely possible that an employer may choose you over another applicant simply for showing more interest. Be sure not to pester anyone, but follow up after each stage of the process to thank everyone for their time, and to see if there’s anything else you can do to help them with their decision.
Majors and Aligned Careers
With the right combination of experience and salesmanship, there are few jobs that would be off-limits to you based on your major. However, there are a number of fields that would be easier to transition to based on your coursework. Data analyzing the career paths of 100 million professional profiles from the six most common majors reveal some patterns. Consider where people in similar majors have found success when looking for jobs outside of your major:
- Find Volunteer Opportunities
- Entry-Level Jobs and Internships
- Resume Action Verbs
- Extensive Jobs by Major
- Harvard Guide to Resumes and Cover Letters
- Glassdoor’s Ultimate Interviewing Guide
If you need a reminder about anything we covered, reference this infographic to job your memory. You may not get a job outside of your major immediately, but following these guidelines will help you find a satisfying and steady source of income.