Employer Perspective: Is your College Major relevant to the Market?

Murshed Chowdhury acts as an advisor to both companies and individuals who are looking for assistance in technology talent acquisition and development. He has served as the CEO & Partner of Infusive Solutions Inc. since its establishment in 2001. Prior to Infusive, he worked at several recruiting agencies where he honed his skills and rose the ranks within the organization before founding his own company.

With over 15 years of technology placement experience, Murshed has helped secure some of the most competitive technical positions for his clients at some of the world’s most prestigious firms. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from Fordham University.

Here he shares his insight into how to pick a major that you enjoy and that matches the market demand:

It is important when you’re in college not to just pick a major but the right major, one that will have viable job opportunities when you graduate. Too often, students invest years of their lives, hundreds of thousands of dollars and mount large student debt just to come to terms with the fact that the job market is not very favorable for what they received their degree in. This is a harsh reality lesson to learn but one many graduates face. With a slow recovering economy the outlook can be even more grim and extremely stressful.

I believe that college students need to invest time in following their dreams but to offset that with the realities of the market. Recently, I came across a recent college grad who was bussing tables to make ends meet. He just graduated with a degree in English Literature from a good university. He said his dream was to be a writer. Now, if someone had advised him to augment his degree with a minor in Business Administration or Marketing, he could have landed a job writing for a company blog, or an editor for a media publication company etc. Since he was never advised as such, he had to take whatever he could to make a living.

The key is to make sure that you major in something you enjoy but to be cognizant of what that means down the road when you join the job market. An understanding of majors with the best trajectories for job security, income and the correlation between the two may shed some light on what I am talking about. The chart below is divided into 4 quadrants that describe the various levels of income potential and job security.

Each of the four quadrants above identifies each job with the two critical criteria that are important for anyone looking at the market, especially a new college grad, on how to choose their next position. Income indicates earning potential and is pretty straight forward. Security represents the amount of available jobs for that particular major which correlate to the various employment levels for those defined majors. Basically, the lower the unemployment rate, the greater the security the position affords.

According to a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, “majors that are most closely aligned with particular industries and occupations tend to have low unemployment rates but not necessarily the highest earnings. Some majors offer both high security and high earnings, while other majors trade off earnings for job security. Healthcare, Science and Business majors have both low unemployment and the highest earnings boost from experience and graduate education. At the same time, Education, Psychology and Social Work majors have relatively low unemployment, but earnings are also low and only improve marginally with experience and graduate education.” In other words, you can choose a major that has good earnings potential and a high degree of job security. You can also find yourself choosing a major that has a high degree of job security, but low relative lifetime earnings potential. Or, you may find yourself drawn to a major that leads to relatively higher unemployment and low wages. As you choose your major, you want to know what most likely awaits you in your future career, and determine your college options and lifestyle accordingly.

Obviously, the most ideal quadrant is the one that has high income and high job security. Basically, for those majoring in Computer Science, Business Administration or Healthcare for example, have the potential to not only land a well-paid job, but they also know that due to a high demand for their positions, it will translate to low unemployment rates. You lose a job in this category; you should have a quick turnaround finding a new one. What can also be inferred from this is the ability to switch jobs for whatever reason is also much easier for those who fall in this quadrant.

The second quadrant we will look at represents those who may not have a high income potential but there is a great level of security for those positions. You may earn less than those in other majors but there is a good demand for your role. You can be gainfully employed whether you’re looking for your first job or interested in changing positions. Those in education are a great example of people who would likely fall into this category. You may not break the bank as an educator but there is a strong demand for teachers so you can look forward to steady employment.

The third quadrant we will look at represents those who have the ability to garnish high earnings but the tradeoff is that it comes with low job security. Finance, Legal and Sales professionals, and to a certain degree, entrepreneurs, fall into this category. Especially, entrepreneurs in their nascent stages. The rewards can be high but stability is low. Everything is dependent upon production; it’s the, “more you kill, the more you eat” mentality. These great rewards come with greater risks. Unless you maintain consistent levels of production, you can find yourself out of a job pretty quickly.

Finally, we will look at what many will consider the least sought after quadrant. These positions are the ones where the ability to earn a decent living is low and the ability to find a job once you lose it very tough. Anthropology or English Literature, as our examples above show, can fall into this area. There just isn’t a great demand for those skill sets which leads to decreasing earning potential and a limit in the amount of available jobs. It is a very tough outlook for those majors.  The key here, for those who fall in this category more so than the others, is to have them augment their degrees with more relevant minors/dual majors or develop  a new skill keeping the job market in mind.

Now, let me be clear, I am a big believer of following your passion, but that does not mean you ignore the realities on the ground. The greatest lesson an entrepreneur learns from the market, is whether their product or service is something someone will pay for. The show Shark Tank covers this in almost all of their episodes. Would-be entrepreneurs are in love with their product or service, but the judges always breathe some reality into them when they tell them, if the sales aren’t there, it’s probably not a great product or service at that point. The market is the ultimate arbitrator. The same goes with colleges and their majors. You may love what you study, but life is different when college ends and you have to face the reality of finding a job, making a living, dealing with mounting student and credit card debt. Again, the market is the ultimate arbitrator. That being said, you can continue learning what excites you, but invest some time in what the market values, and you will avoid the challenges many face post degree.

The solution starts with awareness. Research your major and it’s potential for a job, whether that’s a one year or four years from now. It’s never too late. Just because you’re a senior, it’s not the end of the world but if you can get into that mindset as a freshman, all the better. For many of you who aren’t even sure what you want to do, this could be the reality check you needed to help you decide where to invest the next few years of your life. Take it from someone who knows this reality all too well. I wish someone had told me about this when I was in college a while back. I graduated with a degree in Political Science from Fordham University and decided not to go to law school or apply for Foreign Service. This left me with few options. It’s no surprise that my first job out of college had nothing to do with my major.

Also, speak to your career services center. They can help you understand what’s trending on the market, connect you to alumni or industry experts, offer workshops, inform you about upcoming fairs where you can get a great gauge of what is hot in the job market. In my opinion, the best time to engage the career services center is in your freshmen year, and then your sophomore year, and then your junior year and senior. You get my point. They are there to help, so leverage their capabilities to help you.

Ironically, the greatest lesson the market can teach you, is that you may end up doing something you didn’t want to, simply because you only wanted to learn what is that you wanted to.

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