You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path from College to Career

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9780452296008: You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path from College to Career
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Fully revised and updated in 2017, the revolutionary career guide for a new generation of job-seekers, from one of the U.S.’s top career counselors

“So what are you going to do with your major?”
 
It’s an innocent question that can haunt students from high school to graduate school and beyond.
 
Relax. Your major is just the starting point for designing a meaningful future. In this indispensable guide, Dr. Katharine Brooks shows you a creative, fun, and intelligent way to figure out what you want to do and how to get it—no matter what you studied in college. You will learn to map your experiences for insights into your strengths and passions, design possible lives, and create goals destined to take you wherever you want to go. Using techniques and ideas that have guided thousands of college students to successful careers, Dr. Brooks will teach you to outsmart and outperform your competition, with more Wisdom Builders and an easily applied career development process.
 
No matter what career you aspire to, You Majored in What? offers a practical, creative, and successful approach to finding your path to career fulfillment.

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About the Author:

DR. KATHARINE BROOKS is the Evans Family Executive Director of the Career Center at Vanderbilt University. A nationally recognized career coach, trainer, professor, and counselor for more than thirty years, she is the creator of the National Association of Colleges and Employers Career Coaching Intensives. She has a doctorate in educational psychology.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Moving from College to Career

Making Sense of the Chaos

You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Has it happened yet? Have you been asked THE QUESTION?

You know the one: it's the question that cuts to the core of your existence, the question that haunts you pretty much from the time you decide to be a college student to months, even years, after you graduate. It starts so innocently. Someone asks you what your major is, so you tell them.

There's a slight pause. Then comes THE QUESTION:

"What are you going to do with that?"

OK, think fast.

"I'm going to law school," you say, because it sounds good, even though you aren't really sure you want to. Or "I'm thinking about med school," even though you have no interest in science classes.

The questioner's face relaxes; maybe he even smiles. He pats you on the shoulder. "Wow, that's great!"

And that's how the lie begins . . .

Do you feel sometimes there's a cosmic joke at work? That you chose this really interesting major but now you're wondering, was it worth it? Or perhaps you're just starting college and the pressure of THE QUESTION is already making you nervous. Do I have to choose a career when I choose my major? And will I make a terrible mistake if I choose the wrong major?

The Pressure of the Linear Path

The problem behind THE QUESTION is that it assumes a linear path between your major and your career. Your major must somehow equal your career. The lure of the linear path is powerful. It's embedded in our thinking. From the time you played with fire trucks and people asked you if you wanted to be a firefighter, linear paths to careers have been assumed to be the natural state of things. So it seems only logical that you would pursue a major that would become your ultimate career. Business majors go into business. Engineering majors become engineers. Philosophy majors become . . . ? Hmm . . .

Your parents would probably be thrilled if you had a glitch-free linear path from school to work all worked out. You know, "I'm studying accounting so I can be an accountant," or "I'm going to be an English major so I can teach English." You might be secretly relieved as well.

But that's early twentieth-century thinking-1909 to be exact, when the trait-and-factor approach was designed to determine the best career choices for people. As America shifted from an agricultural to an industrial society, vocational researchers sought ways to determine the best fit between individuals and their jobs. Career tests were designed to match people's interests and skills with potential vocations. Society placed additional restraints on employment, with women and minorities relegated to narrow fields. Most people pursued education to learn a specific trade, and a college education was reserved for the elite few who would likely go on to teaching, medicine, law, or the ministry.

In the twenty-first century, a college education is wide open to many more individuals regardless of gender, race, or career goal. Many students now choose a college education because of the interesting subjects they can study, not necessarily because of a specific career plan.

Whatever your reason for pursuing your major, you, like many others, are probably struggling with THE QUESTION: What do I do with this degree? Where is my linear path?

To help you envision such a path, here's a list of the careers of some recent graduates, drawn from alumni surveys from three institutions. Note the relatively direct relationship between their majors and their careers.

Major    Job

Art    Cartoonist

Asian American Studies    Teaching English as a second language in     Korea   

Chemistry    Veterinarian

Classics/Archaeology    Latin teacher

Dramatic Arts    MTV program developer

Economics    Bond trader on Wall Street

English    Editor, major publishing house

French and Spanish    Foreign Service officer

Geography    High school geography teacher

Government    Special prosecutor, district attorney's office

Government    Republican National Committee PR staff

Psychology    Psychotherapist

Religion    Minister, single adults program

Can you see the linear relationship that exists between a major and a career? The symmetry between the job titles and the use of the graduates' skills? The English major is using her writing skills. The psychology major is helping people. The economics major is working on Wall Street. Helpful and reassuring, isn't it? Not only can you get a job, your job can be directly related to your major.

There's only one problem with the list: it's all wrong. These are the actual careers of the alumni with those majors:

MAJOR    JOB

Art    Special prosecutor, district attorney's office

Asian American Studies    Bond trader on Wall Street

Chemistry    Teaching English as a second language in     Korea   

Classics/Archaeology    Foreign Service officer

Dramatic Arts    Republican National Committee PR staff

Economics    Veterinarian

English    Psychotherapist

French and Spanish    Latin teacher

Geography    Editor, major publishing house

Government    Minister, single adults program

Government    High school geography teacher

Psychology    Cartoonist

Religion    MTV program developer

Oops.

Is something wrong here? No, something's actually right. Clearly, reality doesn't always match up to that traditional linear career path. These graduates, whether by design or by accident, have channeled the real, deep value of their academic and life experiences, and taken them beyond traditional thinking.

The linear career path hasn't disappeared. Some psychology majors do become psychologists and some English majors become English professors. But linear thinking can keep you from thinking broadly about your options and being open-minded to new opportunities, and ready to respond to the constantly shifting nature of the job market. So let's start thinking about YOUR career path.

Wandering Off

My Degree Equals My Earning Power

Want to know the number one most requested piece of information from college career centers? The employment figures from first destination and alumni surveys. Everyone, from students to parents to government agencies, wants to know what percentage of students found jobs by graduation. And how much they were earning. And their major. There seems to be a theory that if sociology majors found jobs in X field, making X dollars, then I, a sociology major, can find a job in X field making X dollars. While there's some truth to that theory, there's less truth than you might imagine.

Study after study shows poor correlations between students' undergraduate majors and their income. Get that? Weak correlation. You're working off a common myth that your degree equals your earning power.   

Your earning power is much more affected by where you live, your field of work, and your job title. An accounting major working for a small nonprofit organization in the Midwest will likely earn less than an English major working as an investment banker in New York City. Get the point?

Is it true that engineers generally make higher salaries than liberal arts majors? Yes. But-hello-they're engineers. Do you want to be an engineer? Then go to engineering school and be one. Problem solved. Just remember, engineering is a great career field, but it isn't right for everyone.

So take a minute to think about what you've said and heard about career planning. You can catch yourself (or your parents) thinking linearly about careers if you're harboring any of these thoughts:

"My major equals my career."

"I can't do much with a liberal arts degree."

"I guess I should go to grad school or law school."

"Career tests will tell me what to do."

"Career counselors can tell me what to do."

"I should know what I want to do before starting my job search."

"I should wait until I graduate to start my job search."

So if this linear approach doesn't really work all that well in the twenty-first century, what model do you turn to?

How College Students Really Find Jobs

It's ridiculous to ask liberal arts students what they plan to do in five years. They don't even know what they plan to have for dinner.

-Anonymous college career counselor

As we've noted, if you listen to most people and read most career books or websites, you might assume that the job search is a linear logical process: you set a specific career goal, follow clearly outlined steps, and arrive at the perfect job. But try asking graduates how they actually arrived at their current jobs. You'll get replies like this one from Christine, a psychology major:

I don't know exactly. I majored in psychology and thought I'd pursue a PhD and maybe become a professor. But I also liked my anthropology classes, and a professor told me about a summer internship in a museum. I helped create an exhibit on Native American art and I really enjoyed the work. Then an alumna spoke at a career program on her work at the Smithsonian Institution. It sounded interesting so I went up and introduced myself to her. We kept in touch and she called me during my senior year to see if I would be interested in a fund-raising position for the Smithsonian's new Native American exhibit. So here I am using my psychology skills to ask important business and community leaders to fund our research and exhibits. And I love it. And now that I know how museums work and how to raise money, my goal is to open an art gallery/museum on a Native American reservation.

Notice how this story starts out in a linear way: The student was studying psychology so she could become a psychology professor. But then a totally unpredictable event occurred: Her internship at a museum caused her to start thinking about other choices. And then a chance meeting with an alumna resulted in a job opportunity. If you had asked her at age eighteen, "What are you going to do with that psychology major?" do you think she would have said, "I'm going to open an art gallery/museum in New Mexico"?

Unplanned events and emerging conditions changed this individual's circumstances. We need a theory that fits this more typical situation, and a system that recognizes that just like the life of the psychology major above, yours isn't unfolding in a straight line either, and the job search seems chaotic and messy at best. Enter chaos theory and the Wise Wanderings system-a nonlinear and much more relevant approach to finding your career. Once you learn the key elements of chaos theory and the Wise Wanderings system in this book, you'll find you can relax and go with the flow of your job search instead of wanting to force and control everything.

In fact, Christine's story illustrates a key element of chaos theory: the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect states that a small incident at the beginning of a process (such as a butterfly flapping its wings or an alumnus speaking at a career event) can produce a large variation in the long-term outcome (ultimately causing a tornado or a new career). A chaos-based career system allows for change and the unexpected. It takes into account your diverse interests and broad scope of knowledge, and takes advantage of how the job search really works today. In their book, Luck Is No Accident, Dr. Krumboltz and Dr. Levin reported that almost 70 percent of university graduates said their careers were significantly influenced by unplanned events-in other words, the butterfly effect. Giving yourself permission to explore and let events unfold is a wise and practical approach indeed. After all, employers are more interested in your competencies-what you do well-than in your major.

Wisdom Builder 1

Literature@Work: Charles Dickens Explains the Butterfly Effect

In Charles Dickens's book Great Expectations, the lead character Pip makes the following observation:

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

Sounds a lot like the butterfly effect, doesn't it? With a twist, though: instead of thinking about an event that happened, Dickens is asking you to think about something that didn't happen. How would your life be different if a particular event had not occurred?

What if you could actually harness the power of the butterfly? You can. Let's start by learning more about chaos theory.

Chaos Theory

The Wise Wanderings system you're going to use to create your career plan is based on an understanding of chaos theory. People usually smile when you tell them that careers follow chaos theory rather than linear theory. Chaos theory conjures up thoughts of disruption and being out of control: the notion that there is no rhyme or reason to one's career path. But despite its name, chaos theory is anything but chaotic. It's just complex-like you and your career can be. The order is there, but it's not clearly visible on the surface. Chaos theory has the power to transform how you conduct your job search.

Chaos theory is based on mathematical formulas originally designed to develop a better weather-prediction model. Think about it: how successful are we at predicting the weather? Sometimes we're pretty good. When the conditions are foreseen, when nothing changes, and when we know certain physical laws are being followed, we can predict the weather. If we see a front moving across the map, we know a storm is coming. But what happens when something interrupts the pattern? What if the front coming from the west suddenly encounters another storm coming up the East Coast? When and where will they meet? How well can we predict a tornado's path? Not too well generally. We know it's coming (sometimes) but we can't tell where it's going. Chaos theory helps us understand that too many variables in a complex system make it hard to predict the outcome.

We also know from chaos theory that the greater the distance between now and the future, the weaker our prediction will be. For instance, we're pretty good at predicting the weather today. Maybe even tomorrow or within the next week. But after that, our predictions...

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