Sometime in or around 2006, Princeton University launched "Major Choices," a campaign dedicated to reminding students they could simultaneously follow their academic passions and become viable job applicants. Look at this alumnus of the department of East Asian studies, Princeton urged students, who ended up founding an investment bank! What about this women? She studied French and Italian, and now look at her: she's an attorney! Oh the places you'll go, "Major Choices" assured them. You are after all, Princeton grads.
When the market soured in 2008 and 2009, the "Major Choices" posters seemed to disappear entirely. Was the idea that your major didn't matter when it came to finding a job no longer plausible? What if you desperately want to major in a department with no cut-and-dry application to the world of nine-to-five? Luckily, there are ways to make yourself a more viable applicant while still pursuing your academic interests.
How to make yourself a viable job candidate without losing sight of your academic passions
Consider a minor. If you're pretty sure you eventually want to go to law school, take a few politics courses. If you want to eventually work as an analyst, dabbling in the economics department might not be a bad call. You don't necessarily have to minor, but definitely go for it if you happen to rack up the necessary courses. Either way, your resume will be stronger for it.
Talk to your professors. Especially those from whom you are taking career-applicable classes. Though some went straight from undergrad to PhD program to professorship, most took less direct paths. Even if they didn't attend a professional school or work as an I-banker, they almost definitely know someone who does. Basically, reaching out can't hurt. At worst, it only strengthens your relationship with your professor. At best, you get some valuable career advice and maybe even an 'in' later on.
Do independent work in your academic field. Even if it has nothing to do with your intended career. This is a quick and dirty way to demonstrate your experience working independently in a job interview. In a certain sense, it's even more impressive if your school doesn't require independent work as a graduation requirement, because then you're showing initiative, too. In short, don't underestimate the power of " Look at me! I did it all by myself."
Join a professional club. This is another great option because you don't have to use up your studying energy or course credits if you join a professional club. It can even be worthwhile even if you're not super committed: You'll still meet and network with students with your same career interests, as well as speakers, alumni, etc., who have been successful in that professional area. And if you do have the time and energy to really commit, do it! Work towards a leadership position or start a club if it doesn't already exist. No matter what, a professional club is a great thing to have on your resume. It indicates your interest and commitment to the field, and you gain access to a group with similar career interests.
Don't forget about related extracurricular activities. My current job, as you may have noticed, requires a lot of writing for a public audience and I'm very happy to be generating a healthy number of clips (which are necessary for advancement in the field). But it would have been awesome if I had written for a literary magazine or the newspaper. Then I would have already had clips I could have referenced in a job interview. Well, this logic applies to other fields as well. Campaigning for your favorite political candidate, for example, can be a way of learning PR and politics. And remember what they told you in high school about how being the captain of an athletic team exhibits "leadership," the "ability to communicate" and "teamwork"? Still does! Not to mention that companies are always looking for a ringer on their softball teams.
--Written by Madison Priest
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