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How can I make my resume appealing to employers?

resume1Shane from Red Rocks Community College asked:

I have been out of the workforce for almost three years.  I have been taking classes to pursue a degree and now that my course load will slow down to half time, I want to get some part time employment in my chosen field. I am concerned about my resume.  It does not reflect any experience in this field and does show the gap in my employment. What are some creative and truthful ways to dress my resume for success so that a potential employer can see I am strong candidate candidate?

Hi Shane –

The first thing to remember is that your resume is a marketing document, not an informational document.

Its purpose is NOT to present a general summary of everything there is to know about you.

Rather, its purpose is to present the most relevant information about your qualifications (education, experience, skills and characteristics) in meaningful and accessible ways.

Here are some quick tips:

Your Contact Information

Provide your name, email address and one phone number.  If you have a LinkedIn account and you maintain that account, you should also list the URL to your LinkedIn profile in your contact information.  Don’t provide multiple email addresses or phone numbers, and only include your mailing or physical address if you can find a compelling reason to do so.

Warning! I saw it on a resume template is NOT a compelling reason!

Ask yourself:  Does a potential employer really need to see this information in order to consider me for employment?  If the answer is “no,” leave it off your resume.

Your Education

If you are using your education at the catalyst for a significant change in your career path, put your education before your experience.  It is more relevant to where you want to go with your career, so it will be of greater importance to potential employers.  I assume that you are pursuing a degree that related to your chosen field. (I certainly hope so!).  Use your Education section to highlight relevant coursework, experiential class projects, academic achievement, etc.

Don’t assume that potential employers know anything about the degree you are pursuing.  You have to explain it to them.

Ask yourself: What about my education do employers need to know in order to consider me for employment?  Focus on that information in your resume.

Your Experience

Your past experience may not be directly relevant to the types of jobs you wish to pursue, but it does say something about your maturity, dependability, professionalism, ability to work well with others, ability to deliver quality service, and a variety of other skills and characteristics employers value and seek in potential employees.  Use your Experience section to illustrate (through examples) the qualities, skills, and characteristics you offer.

Don’t simply list job description information!  Job descriptions say nothing about you – they are all about the job itself.  Your resume should be about you.

In describing your experience, focus on YOU and not on the the positions you held.

Your Time Away from the Workforce

You mention that you have been out of the workforce for three years AND that you have just transitioned from being a full-time student to being a part-time student.

Be ready to have that conversation with potential employers.

Be ready to talk about how you are using the opportunity away from the workforce to get more education, to become more skilled and to become skilled in new areas.

Whether you left a job to go back to school or your job left you, you decided to take advantage of the opportunity to become more employable!  THAT is a good story!  That is the kind of story potential employers like to hear.

Your Interests and Hobbies

Be careful including hobbies and interests on your resume.  Make sure they are serving a legitimate purpose.

They show I am a well-rounded person with diverse interests is not a strong enough reason to include hobbies and interests on your resume.

If you are a very competitive person, and competitiveness is a characteristic employers in your field seek in potential employees, including a hobby that fuels your competitive spirit can be a good thing. Competitive sports, for example.

If you are a history buff and a rich knowledge of history is a beneficial in your chosen field, include this information on your resume.

If you are a marathon runner, and you are seeking employment in fields that require personal discipline, endurance, individual effort and perseverance, include this information on your resume.

Get the idea? Everything on your resume must serve a specific purpose.  If it doesn’t serve a purpose – take it off your resume!

Answer this One Simple Question

You stated in your question that you want employers reading your resume to see that you are a strong candidate.  Look at everything you are thinking of putting on your resume and ask yourself:

How does this information show employers that I am a strong candidate?

If you don’t like your answer, see if you can refine/restate the information truthfully so that it will show you are a strong candidate.

If you can’t find a way to effectively refine/restate the information truthfully, it probably doesn’t belong on your resume.

Two last bits of advice:

  1. Seek out the assistance from the career coaches and counselors on your college campus.  You will find they can be really helpful.
  2. Check out my Resume Writing Guide and the sample resumes in my Resume Gallery.  Combined they offer a lot of examples of how to effectively present your qualifications in resume format.

Good luck!



I can’t get any interviews. What am I doing wrong?

frustratedArmando from Monterry Tech recently asked:

I have a Bachelor’s in Marketing, two Master’s degrees (Mass Media and and MIB) and a Ph.D. I can’t seem to get a single interview when sending my resume online. I am frustrated. I have consulted experts, and they all agree that my resume format is OK. What am I doing wrong?

Hi Armando –

I can sense your frustration, That said, I can’t tell you what you are doing wrong unless I know what kind of work you are seeking and how you are going about your search.

I do know this: Simply applying online for jobs and hoping for interviews is not an effective job search strategy; it is a small part of an effective job search strategy, but not a strategy unto itself.

You also mentioned that you consulted experts … what are their areas of expertise? Just because someone is expert in one field, does not make them an expert in all fields or in job hunting or recruiting.  So, be careful to evaluate all advice you receive (including advice from me!), because not all of the advice you receive is good advice!

With that caveat – here is some of my advice:

More is not necessary better when it comes to education

You are certainly well educated.  You have four degrees!  Unfortunately, more education does not necessarily mean more marketable or more desireable to employers.  The qualifications you offer must make sense to potential employers and must be relevant to their hiring needs.  If someone needs to hire a chemical engineer, they are not going to care that you have a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

Also, does your series of degrees tell a coherent story?  Are the degrees in related fields?  Do they complement each other?  Or, are they in widely different fields and unrelated?  As a job seeker, it is your responsibility to help potential employers understand who you are, what you offer, and what you want.

While one employer might look at your resume and say: Look at how well-rounded and highly educated he is!

Another might look at it and say: Why did this guy get degrees in three different fields?  He’s all over the place!

It’s not about the volume of the education. It’s about the relevance.

Resumes are not “one size fits all” documents

Most employers do not hire “renaissance men”, so a generic, all-encompassing resumes are not typically effective job search tools.  They might be exceptionally well-formatted, well-written and free from typographical errors, but if they are full of information that is not relevant to the hiring employer, they may actually hurt your cause.  I recommend that you focus your resume to feature those aspects of your education, experience, skills and characteristics that are relevant to the employers you are targeting.  Leave the rest off.

You may need to have a few versions of your resume, so be prepared.  Don’t waste time customizing a unique resume for every job, but do make sure that the resumes you send are written to present your qualifications in terms relevant to the employers and kinds of jobs you are seeking.

Employers hire based on what they need, not on what you offer

Employers hire to meet specific needs when they have those needs.  They do not usually hire people when they are available just because they are available and have strong general credentials.  If you have what employers need, and you tell your story well, you will get considered for available opportunities.  It really is that simple.

If you tell a clear and compelling story about your qualifications, and your qualifications align well with the needs of hiring employers, you will get interviews.  If your story is unclear and/or your qualfications do not align well with hiring needs, employers will have no need or desire to interview you.

It’s basic, supply and demand economics.

One last thing: I strongly recommend you review my post Four Job Interview Questions You Must Be Able To Answer.

If you can answers these questions, you will be poised for success.

Good luck,

To Whom should I address my cover letter?

SampleCoverLetter_crop380wJennifer from the University of Texas at Arlington asked:

I am applying for a job that requires a cover letter. I already have a cover letter but I am unsure to whom I should address it. I have looked on the company’s website for the name of a person, but I cannot find one. Who would I address my letter to in this scenario? 

Hi Jennifer –

So many people make huge mistakes when writing cover letters. I will answer your question and offer you some advice.

Never send a resume without a cover letter

Let me repeat that!  Never send a resume without a cover letter, because when you do, you miss a valuable opportunity to market yourself. Your resume should provide a focused summary of what you offer employers, in general. Your cover letter should present a focused summary of how what you offer matches what the employer is seeking. If the ability to write well is important for the job you are seeking, demonstrate your ability to write well by crafting a well reasoned, well written cover letter.  You miss a valuable opportunity to market yourself when you do not send a cover letter. Don’t miss that opportunity.

Every cover letter should be customized

A “one size fits all” cover letter is not actually a cover letter.  It is junk mail.  Generic cover letters say: “I care so little about this job opportunity, that I am sending you the exact same cover letter I sent to 200 other potential employers. Don’t you feel special?”  A well written, customized cover letter will set you apart from other candidates.  A generic cover letters says “I’m no different from anyone else.”    Which response do you want?

Use your cover letter to show how what you offer matches what the employers is seeking

Read the position description of the job for which you are applying.  What qualifications are they seeking?  Of those qualifications, which ones do you possess?  Use your cover letter to connect those dots!  Make it easy for employers to see just how strong a candidate you are.  Don’t claim you are “the perfect candidate for the job” and ask them to take your word for it.  Back up your claim with examples of your relevant qualifications.  Give them reasons to interview you.

If you can’t find a name, lose the salutation.

I do not like “Dear Sir/Madam,” “To Whom it may concern,” and “Dear Hiring Manager” as salutations.

When you can find the name, title and contact information for the hiring manager, definitely include it. When you cannot, consider a simple “subject” or “regarding” line at the start of your cover letter.  

For example:

RE:  Application for Bookkeeper Posting (Job #345467) with ABC Company


Subject: Account Executive Opening with Armstrong Holding Company LLC (Posting #98763)

In both instances, you are placing your cover letter into a specific context.  They know why you are writing.

If you are applying via email, your email message will already have a “Subject” line.  Use it to set the context and begin with the first paragraph of your cover letter in the body of the email.

For additional advice on cover letters and thank you letters, I encourage you to download my guide to writing cover letters and thank you letters.

Good luck,


How can you overcome being terminated from a job?

youre-fired-211Darryl from Bismarck State College asked:

How can you overcome being terminated from a job and having been out of your desired field for more than a decade? I really thought that going back to school would make me more desirable to prospective employers, but so far, I have not had any luck.

Hi Kyle

Challenging questions, indeed, but not necessarily related! Let’s look at them individually

I’ve been fired. How do I start over?

Getting fired is never a pleasant experience.  When it happens, you have to be honest with yourself about how and why it happened.  What, if anything, could you have done differently to avoid the termination? What did you learn from the experience?  How are you a stronger, wiser, more mature person for having gone through that experience?

Are you familiar with the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief?  They were written to address dealing with the loss you experience when you lose a loved one, but apply equally well to the loss of a job:

  1. Denial & Isolation: You really did lose your job and you may need some time alone to process that loss, but disbelief and avoidance must eventually give way to forward progress. It happened. You cannot change that. If you want to move forward, you have to take steps in a forward direction
  2. Anger: Perhaps you are angry with yourself, with your former boss, with a former co-worker or former client. It is natural to feel angry . . . for a while. Let the anger subside. Forgive yourself and/or forgive others who may have been involved. Regardless of the circumstances, whether your termination was warranted (in your eyes) or not, you have to let go of the anger to move on into the next chapter of your career.
  3. Bargaining: If only you had handled things differently. If only you hadn’t . . . . If only you had . . . . No amount of bargaining with yourself or with your situation is going to undo your termination. It’s natural to try to bargain; it’s necessary to move beyond the bargaining.
  4. Depression: Losing your job stinks. There is no getting around it.  It is not an occasion for laughter and smiles. Allow yourself to grieve. Learn from you grief and from the experience. Don’t become swallowed up by grief. Yes, this is much easier said than done!
  5. Acceptance: Move on. Process what you learned from the experience to that you can move forward positively. Answer these questions: What did you learn from the experience? What can I do to avoid similar experiences in the future? How am I a better person/employee for having had the experience? How have I grown and matured? Accept what happened for what it was. Don’t let it define you or your future.

However you choose to process the grief of being terminated, you need to do so in a way that will allow you to move forward and share the story – from your perspective – with prospective employers.  You cannot avoid that conversation.

Eventually, every potential employer will find out if you have been terminated from a previous job and if you are eligible for rehire by that company.  In my opinion, it is better that they hear that news from you than from your previous employer.

Certainly, do not start any job interview with the disclosure that you were fired from a previous job.  By the same token, don’t let potential employer learn this news first when they call your previous employer to verify your employment.

You can control when and how that information is disclosed.  Don’t give up that control.

How you tell the story of your termination is very important.  You cannot portray yourself as the helpless victim.  Resist all urges and opportunities to speak negatively about your previous employer.  Don’t take that bait!

Briefly state what occurred to cause your termination, and move immediately on to examples of what you have been doing since your termination to make sure nothing like it ever happens again..

This kind of approach will show maturity, humility, a commitment to self-improvement, honesty and character.

You can’t avoid the questions you hope they won’t ask.  They will ask those questions, and how you respond will reveal your true character.  Show them your character is strong!

I’ve been out of my desired field for more than a decade. How do I get back in?

Most professions change and evolve over time, so the field you were in 10 years ago is very likely different today. have you skills evolved to stay current with those needed in your desired field?

We live in a “what you you done for me lately, what can you do for me now?” world, so qualifications that date back more than a decade are usually not viewed positively.  Regardless of the field, in order to be considered for employment, you need to offer skills, training and/or expertise that employers need.  Employers will ask (and ask rightfully, I might add) :”If this is what you really want to be doing, how come you haven’t been doing anything to nurture your skills or experience?”  It’s a valid question. You must be ready to answer it.

You also need to be where jobs in your field are located.  People who want to work in entertainment usually move to Los Angeles or New York because that is where the jobs are.  People who want to work in oil and gas often move to Texas or Alaska because that is where those jobs are.  Silicon Valley is a mecca for entrepreneurs and and software developers, rural Nebraska is not.  Employment availability is not universal across all fields in all locations.  You need to be where the jobs are.  Sometimes that means relocating for work or changing the focus of your job search.

Some times you have to be willing to start at the very bottom and work your way back up to where you think you should be. Employer will pay the “going market rate” for the skills and experience they need.  They won’t pay based upon what you need to make ends meet or what you believe you should be paid.  It’s not personal, it’s business.

I thought more education would make me more desirable to employers.  That hasn’t happened.  What do I do now?

More education will not necessarily make you more desirable to employers unless that education is in a field of great employer demand. Simply earning a degree – any degree – will not cause employers to seek you out unless you possess the degree, skills and experience they need.

Yes, in general terms, people with college degrees experience more professional success and earn more money than do people without college degrees; but that is a generalization.  All Master’s degrees are not created equal.  All Bachelor’s degrees are not created  equal.  Don’t treat them as if they are.

Get some coaching!

I recommend you sit down with a career coach at your university.  A career coach can help you articulate your personal, professional and educational goals and identify where they complement each other and where they conflict with each other. They can get to know you and the specifics of your situation and offer targeted advice and assistance.

When people want to get into better physical condition, they will often work with an athletic trainer; someone who knows a lot about physical fitness and exercise. Someone who can teach them how to be successful.

Career coaches can do the same thing for people who want to better “career conditions.”

Just like athletic trainers, career coaches can’t do the work for you, they can only help you do the work yourself, show you a pathway to success, and offer encouragement along the way.  You get to do the hard part.

Good luck!


Six Career Resolutions for 2014

new yearI resolve to . . . .

How will you finish that sentence this year? The new year offers the opportunity for new beginnings in all areas of life. As you ponder possible new year’s resolutions, consider the following six. They’re not complicated, but they are bold, and they are all possible.

Be content

Appreciate what you have. Take satisfaction in what you achieve on a daily basis. Take pride in your accomplishments. Be content.

Move forward

Be content, but don’t be complacent.  Know that you can always do something to enhance your skills; to increase your knowledge.  Ask yourself:  “How is what I am doing right now helping me prepare for what I might do next?” Don’t dwell on past failures or hold onto past successes any more than is warranted to appreciate what you learned from both. Use that knowledge to move forward.

Be realistic

Don’t delude yourself with unattainable short-term goals.  Be honest with yourself about what you can accomplish right now, and set achievable short-term goals.  Build upon achievable short term goals as you strive toward bigger, long-term goals. Celebrate the little victories along the way, and life will be a lot more fulfilling.


Resolve to do better – every day!  Regardless of what you did yesterday, you can do better today.  Sometimes that improvement is small; sometimes it is great.  You will never know everything there is to know.  Every day gives you opportunities to learn something new; to discover something of which you were not aware; to improve.

Pay it forward

No matter how successful you might be, you didn’t achieve that success alone.  Your learned from others, benefited from their efforts and assistance, grew through their encouragement and advice. Others have helped you. Pay it forward. Help others.

Make a difference

Don’t just earn a pay check.  Don’t just put in your time.  Don’t just “mail it in” at work or in your family.  What ever you do, do it well.  Whether you are the head of a company, one of many people doing the exact same job in relative anonymity, or an artist or entrepreneur trying to carve your own path, you can make a difference.  What you do and how you do it impacts those around you.  In all that you do, seek to make a positive difference.  Leave your mark and be proud of the mark you leave.

Life is not as complicated as we make it!

I am not saying life is easy!  Far from it. Life can be exceptionally challenging, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we often make it.

If we can learn to be content with what we have and always strive to move forward in our lives and careers.  If we can be realistic in our expectations but always looking to improve and set new expectations.  If we remember to help others in the same way we have been (and continue to be) helped.  If we try to make a difference – big or small – on a daily basis.  If we do these things, life becomes a lot less complicated and a lot more fulfilling.

Have a very happy new year and do great things (big and small) in 2014!


How should I follow up on an introduction to a potential employer?

first-impression2Jerry from Grand Valley State University asked:

How can I most effectively follow up on an introduction to a potential employer? 

I briefly met a man who owns a small holding company in my home town. We exchanged cards, and he asked me to send him my resume.

What is the best way to follow up?

Hi Jerry

Timing is everything!  The longer you wait, the greater the possibility the potential employer will forget he met you.  So, here is my advice:

Follow up within 24 hours

Strike while the iron on hot!  That is, follow up while this potential employer still remembers meeting you.  If you wait too long, he will forget his offer to review your resume, and you will develop a reputation as someone who doesn’t follow through in a timely manner.

Remind him who you are

In the email or letter that accompanies your resume, remind him who you are and why you are contacting him. Very likely, he is a busy guy who doesn’t remember the details of every meeting or introduction. Bring him back into the moment.  Remind him it was his idea that you follow up with your resume.

Be brief and to the point

Don’t go into a lot of detail.  He already wants to see your resume.  Don’t feel the need to include the details in the body of your email.

Follow instructions

If he told you to send your resume, do so!  If he asked for a resume and references, provide that.  If you follow the instructions he gave you – no matter how informal those instructions may have been – you will show that you know how to follow instructions.  You will show you are dependable.

Market yourself

Toot your horn a little bit.  Give him reasons to review your resume immediately.  Don’t go overboard here, but take the opportunity to market yourself a little.

Ask for the next meeting

Conclude your email with a request for a next meeting.  Regardless of whether this potential employer has current openings, he can be a valuable professional contact for you immediately or down the road.  Ask for a meeting.  The better he knows you, the more willing he will be to consider you for a job now or in the future (provided, of course, that you make a good impression in the meeting!).

Following is an examples of how you might craft your email follow up:

Dear Mr. Smith,

It was a pleasure meeting you last night at the Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting reception for ABC Corporation.  I enjoyed learning about how you started your holding company and grew it into the successful enterprise it is today.

Thank you for taking interest in me and my career. As I am sure you will recall, I will be completing a bachelor’s degree in business and finance in May and am eager to begin my professional career in business with a local company such as yours.

Per your request, I have attached my resume to this email for your review.  I am eager to visit with you again and learn more about possible opportunities with your company.  

All of my classes this semester meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I am most available to meet on Tuesdays and Thursday.  I will call your assistant next week to inquire about scheduling time on your calendar.  In the meantime, please feel free to call or email me.

I look forward to continuing our conversation!

Best Regards,

Jerry Candidate

Good luck!


Should I use paragraphs or bullet points on my resume?

Kevin from the University of Texas at San Antonio asked:

When highlighting experiences on my resume, should I summarize them in a paragraph or use bullet points? Which is recommended when going to a career fair?

Hi Kevin –

Great question, but one that does not have a single answer which can be applied to every resume in every instance.

In my opinion, the most important factor to consider when trying to resolve the “paragraphs vs. bullets” debate is your audience:

Present your information in a way that is reader-friendly

You want to make all resume content as reader-friendly as possible.  The easier it is for them to get to know you, the better chance you have of being considered.

Bullets usually work when you have a lot of ideas/accomplishments/unique statements to present, paragraphs work when you have fewer messages to present.  Present your information in a way that will allow readers to get to know you quickly.  The more time they have to invest in a specific section of your resume in order to understand it, the greater the chance they are going to give up and skip to the next section; whether that means jumping from one bullet to the next, from one paragraph to the next, from one complete resume section to the next, or from your resume to the next person’s resume!

Remember, you are not writing this resume for yourself. you are writing it for the reader.  Make it easy for the reader to get to know you and what you offer.

Let me give you a few examples:

Paragraphs are used below, because the amount of information being presented is relatively small and focused.

paragraph sample 2

Paragraphs are used in this example, as well.  Note that each paragraph begins with an action verb and each highlights an accomplishment.

paragraph sample

Bullets are used below.  The statements are brief, but each one is unique.  The bullets help create a list of qualifications.

bullet example

Bullets are definitely the right call for the example below.  Each bullet contains a key accomplishment/qualification that would be obscured if all of the information were provided in one large paragraph.

bullet example 2

Remember, resumes are marketing documents, not informational documents, and you need to be prepared to discuss everything that is on your resume with potential employers.  If you are not ready to have that conversation, it won’t matter whether you used bullets or paragraphs on your resume!

Hope this helps,


Be a selective job seeker, not a picky job seeker

picky_eaterA colleague from a very large state university recently contacted me with a hard question.  An alum struggling to find a job called him from a job fair.  He was frustrated and seeking advice.

 My colleague asked:  Why do you think you haven’t found a job yet?

The alum’s answer after a long pause: I’ve been limiting myself to automotive companies because that’s what I’m really interested in. 

This exchange reminded me of many conversations I have had over the years with students.  

Conversations like the following:

Matt: “Did you apply for this job?This exchange reminded me of many conversations I have had over the years with students.  Conversations like the following:

Student:  “No, I don’t know if I want to work in that city, so I didn’t apply.”

Matt: “ What about that job?”
 “No, I don’t think I want to work for that company, so I didn’t apply”

Matt: “Okay, so how about this job?”
Student: “Yeah, I didn’t apply for that one either. They’re not in my industry.”

Matt: “So what kinds of jobs and careers are you looking for?  What is ‘your industry’?”
Student: “I don’t know; something I’ll like; something in my major.”

Matt: “How do you know you won’t like the jobs we’ve been talking about? How do you know they’re not right for someone in your major?”
Student: “I don’t know; they’re not what I’m looking for.”

Matt: “How do you know they’re not what your looking for if you don’t know what the jobs involve and you don’t know what you are looking for?”
Student:   “Look, I can’t describe what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it.  So, I have one more question.

Matt:  “Okay, what’s your question?
Student: “Why is it so hard to find a job?  Nobody seems to be hiring.”

Don’t you just love circular logic like this? I do.  It brings a real  level of  certainty to the process. In this case,  it guarantees you just one thing:

“You will not get jobs for which you do not apply – 100% of the time.

How do you like those odds?

Listen, I want students to be selective when considering their career options. I don’t want student randomly applying for jobs just because a job is available and they need a job.  But there is a huge gray area between “perfect fit” jobs  and “not a chance” jobs that far too many job seekers neglect.  And worse yet, many job seekers don’t even take the time to define or describe they types of positions they are seeking, yet are perfectly happy to reject opportunities outright as “not for them” without any reasonable explanation.

Former US Supreme Court Justice Potter, when asked to characterize pornography in a 1964 opinion (Jacobellis v Ohio),  had difficulty defining it, but said:

“I’ll know it when I see it.”

Is that your approach in your job search?  If so, I’ll bet you’re pretty frustrated.

Don’t use the “Justice Potter approach” in your job search! It might be a good way to characterize your definition of pornography, bgut it’s a lousy strategy for a job search.

If you don’t have some idea what you are looking for, chances are it (and many other really good opportunities) will pass you by.  Don’t arbitrarily apply for every job out there, but don’t arbitrarily reject potential opportunities unless you can legitimately defend your rationale for not applying.

Finding a job is hard – identifying a career path is even more difficult – don’t make the process that much more (and unnecessarily) challenging by being picky.

It’s good to be selective in your search for a job.  Being selective means you are evaluating your options and pursuing those most suitable to you and your goals.

It’s bad to be picky in your search for a job.  Being picky means you are not willing to invest the time necessary to be selective.

So, are you picky or just selective; are you looking for opportunities or excuses (and be honest when you answer that question!)

Good luck



What can I do with my major?

Crossroads1I get a lot of “Ask the Coach” questions asking essentially the same thing:

What can I do with my major? 

This can be very easy or very difficult to answer, depending upon your major.

If you are majoring in accounting, chemical engineering, social work, architecture, or any other field that tracks directly toward a specific professional, you have at least one possible answer to that question.

If you are majoring in a foreign language, any of the liberal arts, or many of the natural sciences and social sciences, you have a wide variety of possible answers.

If you in your senior year and have just discovered that you do not want to work in the area of your undergraduate major, you have a lot of options to consider, and you are probably a bit frustrated and scared.

What should you do?  Here are a few things to consider.

Many people with college degrees work in fields NOT directly related to there undergraduate major

Not working in a field related to your major is NORMAL.  It certainly is easier to look for work when you are an accounting major looking for a job in accounting, but that doesn’t make it better.  Take a look at the new Education section on LinkedIn.  (If you’re looking for work and your are not on LinkedIn . . .  what are you waiting for?)  Search your school’s alumni by major and you will see that you have a lot of options. For example, I went to the State University of New York at Oswego and studied communication.  Look at the “Where they work” and “What they do” columns below.

Surprised by the variety?  You shouldn’t be. If you limit your search to those opportunities that are directly related to your major, you are really limiting your options.


You major does not define you

You are not an English major,  you are a student who happens to be studying English.

You might call it semantics.  I call it a big distinction.

Defining yourself by your major is self-defeating. It says “I can only do things that people similarly educated do.” It tells potential employers that the only thing they need to know about you to consider you for a job is your major; nothing else matters.

I don’t mind saying . . .  THAT”S CRAZY!

What you offer potential employers is the grand collection of education, skills, experience, qualities, characteristics, gifts, talents and passions that make you who you are.  And, you are a lot more than just a major.

But there is a catch . . . .  (there’s always a catch) . . .  .

You have to help employers understand what you offer and what you want

Even when you are majoring in a clearly definable professional field (e.g., architecture), you still have to help employers understand who you are, what you are looking for in a job, what you offer in qualifications, why you want to work for their company, and why you want to work in their industry.

If you can’t explain who you are, what you want and what you offer to employers, how do you expect them to figure you out?

Answer:  They won’t!

You must be curious, ask questions and explore your options

If you are going to ask the question – what can I do with this major? – you had better be ready to look for answers.  If you want to consider your options, you have to be willing to explore those options.  Be curious!  Let your knowledge of yourself, your interests and your talents guide your exploration.

If you are really into sports, what industries, business, non-profits, etc. focus on sports.  Not everyone who works in sports in an athlete. Where might you fit in?

Likewise with arts & entertainment:  Not everyone who works in the arts is an actor, sculptor, artist or musician.  What roles exist in arts and entertainment that allow the artists to create? Again, where might you fit in.

If you haven’t explored your career options, you are in no position to complain you don’t have any career options.

You must be realistic

Understand this – you will not live in a big house, drive an expensive car and vacation in exotic locations on a school teacher’s salary, unless you marry well, win the lottery or have a trust fund.

No matter how badly you would like to be a teacher and earn a six-figure income, those two concepts are largely incompatible.

As you explore your career options, be realistic.  Look at jobs and career paths that are compatible with your needs and lifestyle expectations. Not doing so will be very frustrating for you and everyone who might offer you job or be willing to help you look for a job.

You should seek help

Why try to answer the What can I do with my major? question on your own?

Chances are, your college has people and resources that can help.

For example, the California State University Chico Career Center has an excellent  What can I do with my major? page and career center advisors who can help you navigate your options.  Likewise, St. Norbert College’s Career Services office has a  What can I do with a major/minor in . . . ? page on their website, and helpful career center staff.

Get help!  And, start with the career center on your college campus.

What can you do with your major? What can’t you do with your major? You’re not going to become a brain surgeon by studying sociology, but if you really explore your options, you will find they are many, but the answers don’t always come easy.

Good Luck,


How can I make myself more marketable to employers?

Spring Commencement, Graduation, jkDawn from Strayer University

I  just finished the coursework for an MBA in Marketing,  and I’m really struggling finding a career opportunity.  I have experience in sales, customer service and banking, but my interests are  in education and finance. Every job I want seems to require 5-10 years of experience. I can’t even get employers to look at my resume. I’m so frustrated. What do I need to do to make myself more marketable?

Hi Dawn –

It can be very frustrating when you are trying to transition from one industry to another.  Here are some tips that I think will help you make yourself more marketable to employers:

Focus your message and keep it relevant

Employers won’t understand you or what you offer unless you help them – particularly when you are trying to change fields.  If your resume is a simple historical record of what you have done and where and when you did it, it is telling the employer who reads it that you want to do what you have always done.  If your resume presents your accomplishments and qualifications in sales, customer service and banking, why would an employer think you want to work in any other field?

Your resume, cover letters, LinkedIn profile and other job search marketing materials should present your qualifications in terms and language relevant to the fields you wish to enter.

When you say you are interested in education and finance, what exactly do you mean?   If you can’t describe what you mean in detail, you can’t expect employers to figure it out.

Focus your message on things relevant to prospective employers, and you will see more success in your job search.

Speak the employer’s language

You will earn credibility with potential employers if you can show them you understand their world.  When you can speak the language of their business, they have great confidence that you understand the culture of their industry. If you want employers to understand you and what you offer, you have to make the effort to understand them.  Learn about their companies and their industries.

Learn to speak their language, so you can understand them (and so they will understand you).

Look in the right places

Often, people get frustrated looking for a job because they are looking in the wrong places.  While you can find a lot on, you cannot find everything. If you have a niche interest, look at the niche job boards and related resources.  If you are looking for jobs in higher education.  Look at resources focused on that industry. For example:

Academic 360
The Chronicle of Higher Education Online Job Board
National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Position Announcements
National Association of Student Affairs Professionals (NASAP) Job Announcements – Finding a Job
Student Position Listings

If you are interested in finance, check out the resources in my blog post – What can I do with a degree in Accounting and Information Systems?

There are many places to look – make sure you look in the right places.

The kind of experience is more important the number of years of experience

Employers are more concerned that you have the kind of experience they need, than they are concerned that you have the number of years of experience spelled out in the job description; so take those date ranges with a grain of salt!

If it says 5-10 years of experience, they mean they need candidates with some experience, professional maturity, and  – of course – the skills they are seeking.  Translation: Entry-level graduates and inexperienced candidates need not apply!

If you believe you can legitimately make and defend a case for your candidacy, then apply for the job.

By the way, the word “legitimately” is the most important word in that sentence. Wanting a job and feeling qualified for it is different from wanting a job and being able to make a case for yourself as a qualified candidate.

You must be prepared to make a persuasive and compelling argument that you deserve to be considered.  If you cannot do that, perhaps you should not apply for the job.

So – to sum this whole blog up into one sentence:

The better employers understand you, what you offer and what you want,
the better chance you will have of getting hired.

Hope these tips help,