Looking beyond graduation

Class of 2016 graduates are determined to find careers they love even if it means finding jobs that are unrelated to their undergraduate degrees.

The month of May brings the promise of summer for most college students. But for graduates, it is a blaring reminder that the end of their college careers have arrived and time is running out to find a job before graduation.

Most colleges require students to declare their major by their sophomore year, but how realistic is it to know what you want to do for the rest of your life before you are 20 years old?

"Don’t take a job just because it was your major."
Stephanie Burck, Highwire senior account executive

Some Syracuse University students are defying the norm and, although they have completed their college degrees in a specific major, they are pursuing careers unrelated to their undergraduate degrees.

Psychology senior Kayla Bradford will be entering a corporate internship with Wegmans Food Markets after graduating this month.

Ryan MacDonald began his college career as an education major, but then became a psychology major during his sophomore year at SU. Now he plans to pursue his passion for music and has landed an internship with Three Six Zero, a music management company.

Although advertising senior Anisha Chellaswami has yet to find a job, she is not limiting herself to only her field of study.

“It’s exciting, but at the same time kind of scary,” Chellaswami said.  

Employment challenges

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the so-called Great Recession of 2008 caused unemployment rates to peak at 10.2 percent in 2009. Although the current 5.0 percent rate may be comforting to some graduates, the gradual recovery during the past four years influenced many major choices and caused some graduates to still question what career path they want to pursue.


“Being in school, going to classes, that’s where I feel more pressure because you’re studying this topic and you feel the pressure to stay with it,” Chellaswami said. “I’ve always had multiple interests, and just because I’m an ad major, I didn’t want to just stick to that. I wanted to explore different things.”

The pressure comes from not only following through with course work, but also from parents who expect their children to come out of school with a job in the degree they spent the past four years studying. Equally as important to some, they have the pressure of not wasting a college degree that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

“I definitely felt some pressure from my parents about what to do afterwards,” Bradford said.

MacDonald had intentions of becoming a music industry major, but by the time he realized it is what he wanted to do, it was too late to be accepted into the program. But that did not deter him. He took it upon himself to take music industry and business classes in order to have some academic credentials.

“I thought [my parents] would react really poorly about my decision to take this internship with music, but they know that I am obsessed with it and they are happy for me,” MacDonald said.

The U.S. Department of Education released a report, "New College Graduates at Work," which concluded that 27 percent of college graduates nationwide found jobs that were unrelated to their undergraduate degree in 2009.

“I don’t feel like I needed to look for something in my major or field because I’m not ready to take it on yet,” Bradford said.

However, that still leaves more than two thirds of students finding jobs related to their degrees. The 2014-2015 National Career Outcomes Report found that 79 percent of employed graduates are in positions related to their undergraduate degrees.

The figure is even higher at Syracuse University where outcome reports indicate that 90 percent of the class of 2010 found positions related to their degree. In 2014, this percentage increased to 94 percent of the graduating class.


Finding job opportunities

The toughest part for students is finding job openings for their dream jobs or even finding an opportunity to get a foot in the door. Students expressed that it's tough to get companies to take a second look and consider them, especially if they are coming from a background outside of the job's concentration.

Bradford describes the job search as an “endless cycle,” because companies want to hire someone with experience, but graduates often cannot get experience without getting the job.

“It’s, like, OK, well now I have my degree and I’m still working at my summer job since I’m still searching,” she said.

Chellaswami search for job openings through “a mix of going through the school, LinkedIn and web searches on topics and companies I’m interested in.”

Universities will often try to provide students with ample opportunities to meet representatives from different companies through career fairs, alumni networks and online databases. Employers use these opportunities to visit campuses and attend career fairs to recruit year-round.

Each year SU hosts a campuswide career fair in February. This past career fair hosted over 80 companies that 700 students attended. Each college within SU organizes their own career fairs throughout the year, bringing in companies that are more tailored to their students. 

Christina Hines, recruiter for New York-based healthcare advertising company FCB Health, said career fairs work both ways for companies and students. “The more we’re coming to campus the more we’re sparking [students'] interests.”

Hines said her company is constantly searching on LinkedIn to find new hires throughout the year. She said that due to industry changes, her company is looking for graduates from all majors.

“We look across backgrounds, majors and schools. We really look at the person: Are they up for the challenge of working with the client every day? And if so, let's give them a chance and give them the opportunity,” Hines said.

Bradford did not think her psychology major qualified as a good fit to work at Wegmans, “but because of the attributes I showed as a person, they were able to look past the fact that I wasn’t from a field of marketing or something that would work better for them.”

Sasha Fine, manager of the people and culture team at MEC Global, a domestic and international media agency, said that the most effective way to be hired is through referrals. About 90 percent of her company’s entry-level resumes come from internal referrals.

Fine emphasizes how important networking is. Whether through alumni connections or family friends, those already in the industry may be able to help a graduate land their first job.

For more than a year MacDonald was networking with SU’s alumni to try to launch his career.


“I tracked down an SU alumnus who used to work for Def Jam as an [album] artist and he got his foot in the door in a similar way, so he really helped me out,” he said.

Looking ahead

Stephanie Burck, senior account executive at the New York ePublishing press company Highwire, advises that graduates looking for jobs show curiosity and drive to potential employers.

“Students enter into a career they may think they like, but when they get out, they may find something they like better. Employers aren’t afraid of that,” Burck said. She noted that graduates' interests may change, but that is to be expected.

“Don’t take a job just because it was your major. If you’re not interested in it, find what you want to do,” Burck explained.

As graduation day approaches, it is the home stretch for college graduates. Although their four years at college may be ending, they have their entire lives to look forward to.

“When it comes to the end of your senior year it becomes bittersweet,” Chellaswami said. “There are times when you want to stay, but also you’re excited to graduate. So do the most you can in your four years because you can’t come back.”

MacDonald is ready for graduation day to come and is looking ahead toward his future.

“I don’t feel restricted. Even though I want to go for music at this point, I’m obsessed with technology and I’m obsessed with fashion, food and everything else, too, so who knows where we’ll all end up?” 

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