It is certainly an attention-grabbing title: “How to Get Any Job with Any Major.” As someone who spends a lot of time talking to college students worried about their choice of major and how it will affect their career prospects, I could not resist reading this book. And once I picked it up I could not put it down.
Immediately I wondered:
How can an art history major get a job as a brain surgeon?
How can a mechanical engineering major get a job as a museum curator?
How can a sociology major get a job as an astronaut (not that NASA is hiring many these days)?
Well, after reading Asher’s book, the short answer to these questions sometimes turns out to be — go to graduate or professional school. That is kind of a no-brainer. Many the student has wandered through his or her undergraduate years and only gotten serious about career training in a graduate program.
Undergraduate Major is not the Be All and End All
But Asher’s point is broader than that. His point is that an undergraduate major is not the be all and end all of your career choice. If you go through college majoring in x but decide you want to pursue career y, which is not on the surface much related to major x, there are many ways to bridge that gap and end up where you want to be. Attending graduate school is one way, perhaps the most obvious way, but there are other strategies.
Asher correctly notes that even if you go all the way through college studying education and imagining yourself as a teacher, one semester in the actual classroom may send you in another career direction. And if you go through college pursuing a major because it just “fits” you, but you really don’t know exactly what you are going to “do with it,” this is not a big cause for concern. Undergraduate major is only one factor among many in shaping your ultimate career path.
So what are these strategies for jumping to a career not obviously related to your undergraduate major? Asher makes a case for:
By steeping yourself in the lore, culture, jargon, and people of the target field, and professing your interest in the target field early and often, you can begin to look like a credible entrant into the field. Informational interviews with practitioners in the target field are invaluable. Using your college alumni network, church directory, and even your neighbors to gain information and entrée is all part of the hunt for that desired position.
Volunteer work, unpaid internships
If your credentials are not strong enough for you to gain a paid position in the field, volunteer your services in order to gain experience and establish a track record. If your fantasy is to be a paid political consultant or campaign manager, working as a volunteer first is the path to such a job.
Short of committing to a whole advanced degree, there are ways to take on line courses, short courses, participate in conferences and workshops, and even self-teach to gain skills and knowledge necessary for the target field.
Taking a Position in the Target Field that you Do Qualify For
Asher maintains that getting yourself into the setting is critical, even if you have to take a position that is not exactly what you want. For example, if you want to be a corporate recruiter but do not have the right background and experience, you could take a position maintaining the databases and website for the head-hunting firm. That way you can learn the nuts and bolts of the business and perhaps benefit from some spillover assignments to gain experience as a recruiter.
Finding a Connection between your Major and your Target Field
English major have writing skills valuable in almost any career. Theater majors are strong at communication. There are ways to make almost any undergraduate major relevant to almost any field.
Asher’s Even Bigger Picture
Donald Asher is a successful and well-known career counselor, who has also written The Overnight Resume, Cool Colleges, Graduate Admissions Essays, and How to Get Any Job. He advocates for college students to begin their lifelong process of “career development” well before graduation. He emphasizes that formal educational credentials are only a part of positioning yourself for career success. He argues that “aligning passion and preparation” will maximize your chances of career success. .
Asher taken to the max is represented by a short video posted to YouTube in which he tells a true story about a Man in a Pink Bathrobe. The man is an unemployed software engineer in San Jose, California who strikes up a conversation with the trash collectors on his street early one morning when taking out his trash. He learns that the head of a company in his business lives on a nearby street, intercepts him as he pulls out of his driveway, getting a referral to a hiring manager. And since he is able to say that “Mr. Bigwig suggested that I set up an appointment with you,” he gets in right away. He has a productive conversation with the hiring manager and has a job offer by noon.
Asher’s emphasis on taking ownership of your career development at an early point and using every tool at your disposal to align passion and preparation is refreshing. If more college students read this book, they would fret less about their choice of undergraduate major and have more control over their entry into the professional workforce.
Donald Asher frequently refers to his book as a way to avoid living in your parents’ basement after college graduation. In fact, his approach does more than that. It provides lifelong career development skills to help workers find and keep jobs that are fulfilling and adapt well to changes in the workplace. I consider this book must reading for juniors in college and useful to almost anyone. It is highly recommended.
How to Get Any Job with Any Major
By Donald Asher
Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press
paperback, new and used copies available here on amazon.com