Why Employers Care More about Your Skills than Your Major
I recently had a conversation with a parent who was deeply worried about her daughter’s career prospects. The daughter had chosen to major in Theatre, despite her mother’s repeated encouragement to select Finance or Marketing.
I was happy to reassure this well-meaning parent that more employers care far less about a candidate’s major than they did 20 years ago. What’s much more significant to employers are the skills you’ve developed and demonstrated, things like project management, communication, leadership, problem-solving, and teamwork. A recent CNBC report states that 76 percent of companies are now using skills-based hiring to fill open roles, and more than half use role-specific skills tests to vet candidates.
It’s important to note that there’s still demonstrated value in that college degree, no matter the major. Employers recognize that earning a bachelor’s degree reflects a commitment to working towards long-term goals and personal growth. For some roles, the hard skills connected to a specific course of study do matter (I’m thinking of majors like accounting or civil engineering), but today’s employers are equally (if not more) interested in the soft skills students have built during their college years.
That’s why I encourage students to study something they’re passionate about, something that sparks their interest and makes them want to learn more. It’s also vital to explore all of the projects and activities colleges offer, whether it’s pledging a sorority or joining the marching band or starting a yoga club. Within all of these pursuits are opportunities to build skills that will have an impact for employers and add value to a résumé. Starting a new club demonstrates entrepreneurship, leadership, and initiative. At some larger universities, serving as the treasurer for a fraternity means that you’re managing a million-dollar budget. Some students are responsible for raising funds for their club or using social media to promote an event, or liaise with faculty and staff, or design marketing materials, or even recruiting new members. Every one of these skills is a skill that an employer needs.
Dr. Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University (my alma mater), often discusses the unique value of a music degree in preparing students for a wide range of careers. I’ve personally hired several performing arts majors to work for my company. That rigorous training creates individuals who are very disciplined and driven. They work hard, and they know how to collaborate. But just like most employers today, I’m much more interested in the skills candidates demonstrate than the major they’ve selected. I want to know about the activities they’ve participated in and any part-time jobs they’ve held. This gives me much more insight into the value they’ll bring to an organization than whether they majored in Political Science or Communications.
For the student who’s struggling to find the right major, please don’t worry. Instead, seize this opportunity to explore and learn what sparks your interest. Choose to have an impact on something that matters to you. Mentor a student who is struggling. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Raise awareness for an issue or a group or a cause.
These experiences will help you build competencies that employers value, such as adaptability, critical thinking, working collaboratively, and problem-solving. They’ll also often place you on the path to a career that you’ll love.