To graduate on time, you probably needed to declare your major by your sophomore year. But by the time graduation rolls around, it wouldn’t be surprising if your career ambitions have shifted to something outside of your major. Perhaps an internship didn’t turn out how you expected, or certain courses dampened your passion for the occupation you thought you wanted to pursue. So, now you’re in a tough spot, where your degree doesn’t quite line up with what it is you want to do.
The upshot? There’s no need to panic. “It’s natural for college students to change their career direction,” says Donald Asher, author of How to Get Any Job with Any Major. Furthermore, employers aren’t as hung up on your major as you might think. “Once you step off campus, hiring managers care a lot less about what your major was,” says Asher. “They care more about the fact that you have a college degree.”
After you’ve secured a diploma, it’s time to convince a potential employer to hire you, regardless of what your degree is in. These five steps can help you start off on the right foot.
Pick a career, any career
You know what you don’t want to do, but before diving into your job search, you need to determine what it is you do want to do. Your best play is to identify what industries are hiring and what skills are in demand, says Anne Brown, co-author of Grad to Great: Discover the Secrets to Success in Your First Career. Refer to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, which publishes job descriptions, salary information and hiring forecasts for more than 300 occupations.
Figure out if you’re qualified
Once you’ve narrowed your search to one field, assess whether you meet the basic requirements to get hired in that industry. If you’re looking to break into a specialized industry (e.g., nursing), you might have to take more college courses before you can start applying to jobs. Fortunately, “for nine out of 10 of occupations, you don’t need additional coursework or training,” says Stephanie Waite, senior associate director at Yale’s Office of Career Strategy.
Want to work in a niche industry that demands specialized skills? You might need internship experience first, especially since most companies intend to convert their interns into full-time employees, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2016 Internship & Co-op Survey.
If you don’t want to commit to a full-length internship, you could shadow an employee for a week, says Asher. According to Waite, a growing number of Yale students are using short-term shadowing experiences to get a taste for what jobs are like. Shadowing can also be a great networking opportunity.
Build your network
Although you don’t have a degree in the field you’re pursuing, you don’t have to build a network from scratch. Tap your school’s alumni database and go on informational interviews to learn more about the industry. Asher recommends reaching out to employees with five years of experience. “You don’t want to contact a vice president who hasn’t looked for a job in 10 years, and you don’t want an entry-level employee who doesn’t know the ins and outs of the industry yet,” he says.
If you’re looking at jobs in other cities, don’t hesitate to do informational interviews by Skype or phone, says Asher. Joining professional associations and attending industry events can also help build your network.
Leverage your transferable skills
OK, so you majored in a different subject than your desired field. You likely still took a handful of general liberal arts courses—and those classes equipped you with some universal skills like writing, problem solving, verbal communication and organization, says Kelly Kennedy, a career counselor at the University of Virginia. And if you took a leadership role on a class project, you may even have some project management skills in your back pocket. These transferable skills make you pretty marketable to employers.
Brown recommends seeing what skills are mentioned in job postings and then tailoring your cover letter accordingly to each position.
Hone your industry knowledge
To show employers you’re worth hiring, you need to prove that you’re knowledgeable about what’s going on in the field. And while that’s a good idea for every job seeker, says Kennedy, it’s especially crucial if you don’t have relevant education or internship experience. Stay current by subscribing to company newsletters, reading industry media outlets and following prospective employers on social media.