Your Job Probably Has Nothing to Do with your College Major

by Darwin on December 22, 2013


I’m often amazed when I hear what a friend or colleague’s undergraduate degree is and how it has absolutely nothing to do with their college major.  What I do doesn’t really have much to do with my undergrad either.  If I just run through my various friends and family members and contrast their major with what they’re doing for a living, here’s what I come up with:

  • Biology Major – works in IT in Pharma (nothing to do with science or medicine but administering a general database)
  • Hospitality Management – IT in Pharma (somehow he got into IT, not even sure how he got into a pharma company initially)
  • German Language Major – Elementary School Teacher
  • Anthropology Major – Hedge Fund VP Finance
  • Grahphic Arts Major – Wedding Planner

And the list goes on.  Since this is purely anecdotal, I took a look around at what the data says. A recent survey by careerbuilder shows that nearly half of recent college graduates polled did not work in a job related to their major.  That’s a huge finding!

My Story – Engineer to… This?

Personally, my history was that I majored in Chemical Engineering.  My uncle and grandfather were engineers and inventors.  They were VERY hands-on.  My father also, was the type that was always repairing cars, tractors, electronics, etc. Me? Not so much.  I didn’t have the same interest in taking apart a car engine and rebuiding it.  I was just good at the sciences like math, chemistry, physics, etc. so a guidance counselor suggested I choose Chemical Engineering as my major.  I did the research and saw that it was a high paying major for new graduates, so sounded good to me.  Little did I realize that not only would I end up in a career with no direct relationship at all, but also, high starting salary does not translate into higher pay later in your career.  I recently opined on whether parents should even push their kids into Engineering any more for several alarming reasons.  It seems most engineers progress very slowly in pay 10 years out, whereas all my friends in finance, insurance and tech saw their pay skyrocket.  My first job was as a production supervisor in a biotech plant.  Unfortunately, there was no bio component to my undergrad, so I had to learn everything on the job and subsequent jobs that were even more biology-related.  And secondly, usually chemical engineers ended up working in pharma (small molecule) where you actually use your background for API and formulation support.  Here, it was more dealing with the hourly workers, running a production area and more of a leadership role than technical role.  From there, I went into various supply chain and procurement roles to the point where I’m now responsible for outsourcing of our biologics processing steps for various products.  Just another example where the undergrad had nothing to do with what I do now.  I negotiate deals and deal with external suppliers much more than getting involved in any process or technical details.  Add in there, I’m a landlord, a blogger and co-founder of an AutoCAD outsourcing firm.  Pretty random.

The takeaway here is two-fold.  Primarily, young adults shouldn’t stress too much about the major they pick and whether they can see themselves doing “that” for the rest of their career.  Chances are, they won’t be doing something exactly (or even tangentially) related to their undergraduate major.  Next, if you’re already in a role based on your degree and you want a change, there’s hope.  Chances are, if not within your own company, then certainly at another, possibly larger firm, there will be plenty of opportunities to pivot off your prior experience into an entirely new type of role.  It’s a constant evolution!  You just need to keep an open mind, try different approaches and sell yourself to future hiring managers.

So, if you think your skills are transferrable to a higher paying job and want to cut through the noise, check out the free reports from TheLadders for 6-figure jobs only.  I love the free weekly email setup just to see what’s out there (especially within driving distance) and what’s hot in the job market.

What Are Your Experiences with Major vs. Actual Job?


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Noldy December 23, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Finance major teaching high school math…


Darwin December 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for sharing Mark; I can see the tie-in to mathematics, but definitely not an expected career path!


Retire By 40 December 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I was an engineer for 16 years and that was my major. Now I’m a stay at home dad, blogger, land lord, and investor. It’s good if you can find a job in your field, but you don’t have to stay there forever. People changes.


Darwin December 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Yes, Joe, I’ve followed your story and it seems as though possibly staying in the engineering field was what made you want to leave. I wonder if you had branched into something else if you would have felt more fulfilled. But then again, being able to spend years with your kid while they’re young – if you can pull it off, there’s nothing more fulfilling than that!


Julia January 10, 2014 at 10:06 am

This was the point I used to persuade my daughter to study law in one of the top universities in the world. She kept saying, maybe she didn’t want to be a lawyer. I kept saying you can be whatever you want with a great degree. She now understands what I meant. She is considering banking after graduation but we will see.


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