5 ways college grads can get jobs outside their majors

In the past, college graduates could easily match jobs to their majors. Accounting majors became accountants. Engineering majors became engineers. There was little mystery as to what you would do once you graduated and joined the real world.

Today, though, it's not that simple. While those with technical degrees can easily find work, graduates with non-technical degrees often have a tough time. They will have to think outside of the "major = job" box to find meaningful, decent-paying employment.

Yet the job market has never been more challenging for the nearly 2 million new graduates now looking for work. Some 67% of college grads surveyed recently by Door of Clubs, a service that matches graduates with companies, hadn't lined up a job. 

While the survey found that the job market is much stronger this year than in previous years -- 61% will be making more than $60,000 annually -- many graduates will find their job prospects disappointing. The best salaries are still being reaped by those with engineering and computer science degrees. However, those outside of the tech sphere may not see that they, too, have some unique opportunities. 

Those who are likely to succeed will be able to leverage an array of skills. They will need to be able to communicate, work in teams and think creatively. And they will need to traverse different disciplines ranging from design to languages. In a globalized economy, knowing something about art, culture, history, technology and philosophy is even more important.

1. Be flexible in your job search

When looking for a job, do some homework first. Go where the growth is and avoid industries plagued by declining, long-term employment. That's pretty standard advice, yet you'll need to go further and dig deep into your personality and aptitudes to find a good vocational fit.

2. Think of yourself as a business. 

What is it that you do best? Communicate? Manage? Analyze? Focus on your skill set and not your degree. Most college students change their majors while in college. You'll change jobs after school quite a bit as well. It's more important to leverage your basic knowledge -- and what you're truly good at -- than trying to match your degree with a job.

Are you good with people? Can you collaborate in a group setting? Are you creative? These are the traits that matter most to employers today apart from specific training.

Also don't rule out the possibility of starting your own business. You may have the tools to become an entrepreneur if you can combine marketing savvy with many other business skills. Nearly every city has a business incubator that can aid you in networking and getting your business idea off the ground. 

3. Avoid declining industries. 

Start with a tally of industry sector growth and decline from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  You want to avoid industries that are heading south. According to the BLS, that would be the conventional publishing industry -- books, magazines, newspapers -- which continues to lose jobs. Most manufacturers are in the same boat.

That doesn't mean you're doomed if you have an English, journalism or communications degree. Writing with clarity and precision is always valued by every business. You'll just need to specialize. 

Target technical, business or public relations writing. Today's increasingly connected world still needs people to explain what's going on with business, technology, science, the internet and how it all connects. Communicators have never been more important.

4. Follow the growth. 

Although most of the hiring is for high-paying jobs in computer science and engineering, these are not the fastest-growing industry sectors. 

Because our population is getting older by the day, health care services are where the bulk of jobs are being created. Dominating the top-10 fastest-growing job categories are home health care, outpatient care centers and health-care provider offices. 

While many of the entry-level jobs in healthcare don't pay very well, every office or facility needs people to manage them efficiently -- particularly as the healthcare system changes and becomes more automated. Combine business management with people skills and you'll find plenty of opportunities.   

5. Cross boundaries. 

Many of the best-paying jobs don't call for specific training or degrees. You just have to be smart and flexible. One graduate I know had majored in French, but ended up becoming a well-paid tech consultant.

Don't let one degree pigeonhole you. Management, scientific and technical consulting services are expected to grow more than 2% annually, according to the BLS. So you can combine the humanities and other liberal arts education with business skills to find a niche.  

Your social skills are also essential: Keep an open mind and network extensively. Rely on the people you know -- and meet -- to help you find employer leads. Use online services to connect to companies and people.   

"Students should do things that will boost their resume, enhance these 'soft' skills, and expand their professional networks,"  notes Door of Clubs founder and CEO Pranam Lipinski. "Many students also don't realize the true potential of professional profile development on platforms like LinkedIn. They don't realize early enough that they can use it as a tool to expand their online network. An example of effective LinkedIn networking: connect directly with recruiters at the companies you want to work for, message them, and ask for an informational interview."

Above all, be emotionally nimble and intellectually agile. I know that no college offers degrees in these areas, but they may be the most essential skills in finding a decent job. 

  • John Wasik

    John Wasik is the author of The Debt-Free Degree and 15 other books. He writes and speaks regularly on personal finance issues throughout North America.