“What Employers are Looking for My Major?”

We get variations on this question a lot.

The answer? All of them. Or, alternatively, none of them. To get a real answer, you have to ask a different question: not “What employers are looking for my major?” but “What skills and abilities have I developed in my major, and where do I want to use them?”

It’s appealing to believe that the diploma (with its specified major) grants admission to a specific career path, and that one can glide from college to a career in the same seamless way that one transitioned from high school to college success.

The problem is: employers don’t hire diplomas or transcripts. They hire people with skills. Employers may use majors as an imprecise shorthand for the skills they want, but they give them little thought otherwise, which is why you so often see “…and related majors” listed in requirements for jobs.

Many jobs don’t require the kind of specialized technical expertise that is named by a handful of specific (mostly STEM) majors. They require a college degree, and they require people who have certain strengths, habits of mind, interests, and abilities that are obtained in pursuit of a college degree.

The study of the humanities disciplines requires students to get comfortable with ambiguity, make arguments, exercise empathy, communicate persuasively, and act in the absence of clear black-and-white answers. These are skills employers need.

Identifying the career path that best tracks with your skills has a lot more to do with you than your major. A philosophy major who excels at connecting with people and building relationships may thrive in a client management career, while a philosophy major who prefers to solve more abstract problems might excel as an operations manager. Both will regularly use the analytical abilities that they gained in their major every day — but they’ll do it in very different ways.

Figuring out what you have to offer and what you want to do is hard — that’s why it’s so appealing to believe that the choice of a major makes these decisions for you. But your major gives you the ability to ask hard questions and get answers. Some steps:

  1. Think about why you like your major. What kinds of challenges does it give you? What kind of work do you do for your classes that gives you the strongest sense of accomplishment? What kinds of information do you like to work with? How do you most successfully work through problems or communicate what you’ve learned? Answers to these kinds of questions will help point you to relevant job functions.
  2. Explore what other people with your major have done. The University of Illinois page on LinkedIn is a great resource for identifying alumni from your program.
    • Jot down interesting-sounding job titles for further research
    • If you see an alumna/us whose story seems particularly relevant to your interests, LinkedIn makes it easy to reach out to ask for an informational interview.
  3. Open your mind to a wide range of options. The world has a lot more jobs in it than you know about, and you have only begun to explore your abilities. Go to employer information sessions and career fairs. Ask people questions about what they do for a living and why they like it. Read up on organizations and businesses that are solving problems you care about.
  4. Know that you don’t have to figure it out on your own! The HPRC is here to help you identify your strengths and interests and suggest some next steps. Set up your own appointment at https://go.illinois.edu/HPRCAdvising or email humanitiesprc@illinois.edu.