4 Factors that Have a Bigger Impact on Getting You Hired than Your College Major

April 3, 2013

Dear Recent Grads, wondering if your college major will really have a significant impact on whether or not you get employed?

The quick answer is yes and no.
4 Hiring Factors with Bigger Impact than Your College MajorThe reason I want to explore this topic is because I graduated from a liberal arts college with a degree in Art History (yep, Art History). Believe it or not, that major has yet negatively impact or limit my career. If I had chosen to go into something specialized like computer engineering or accounting maybe that would be a different story, but as it turns out, studying the Italian Renaissance has actually broadened my career.
Well to be fair, studying the Italian Renaissance, specifically, isn’t what got me to where I am today. But the study of other cultures, history, and writing has proven an excellent foundation for my career.
When I first started to apply for jobs out of college I would interview and people would say, “What were you planning to do with an Art History degree?” to which I always replied, “Nothing.” I never planned on becoming a docent. I never planned on getting into art restoration or academia. I always planned on being in front of people, doing something fast-paced and exciting. Never art history. Because of this, I have always lent a small amount of credibility to people’s majors. To me, what matters is your experience and work ethic. You cannot teach either.

So, as a recruiter, what am I looking at on a recent graduate’s resume if it is not their major? Here are four hiring factors that — in my view — have a bigger impact on your early career.

1) GPA

A lot of what I look for when I scan recent graduates’ resumes is their GPA. A solid GPA tells me they took their education seriously. I always ask a candidate about their courses because while you may have earned a 3.8 if most of your classes were along the lines of, “Underwater Basket Weaving,” chances are you were not challenged. If you were taking advanced chemistry courses, however, and are now applying for a sales job I am very interested in having a call.

2) Internships / Work Experience

As I previously stated, you cannot teach experience. Not in the classroom, not anywhere. You must gain experience. Thus, the second point on a resume I will look at is your internship and job experience. This does more for me than seeing you took extra classes all summer. I want to know you can work. I want to know you can interact with people in an office setting. I want to know you had to get up before noon in the summer.
Now, not all internships and jobs are created equal, but you can make the most of what you have by working your butt off and getting a good reference. By the same token, it is also okay to just have a job during the summer to earn money, but whether you are waiting tables or mowing lawns, be able to explain how you learned something from that job. It can be lessons on accountability, customer service, or what it takes to start a business. Put that on your resume.

3) Clubs / Volunteer Work

Schoolwork comes first, but what else do you do with your time? I always appreciate people who are passionate about a cause and donate their time pro bono. What do you do besides hang out? What are your interests? Maybe you read to a first grade class or are a member of an entrepreneur club. Whatever it is, make sure it stands out.

4) Athletics

If you are a college athlete, chances are you are disciplined and understand how to balance work and your sport. There is also a high chance you are competitive which can be beneficial in certain careers like sales, marketing, and finance.

Bottom Line

Your major should not define your career path. College is a time of exploration of interests, and I do not know too many people who graduate college and stick to their initial life plan. It is important to capitalize on your experience when applying for jobs. Make clear the chances you took in the classroom and in internships. That is the stuff that is going to matter.

Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="http://www.acquia.com">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.