How critical is my (undergraduate) major to my future career? – Anonymous 

Dear Anonymous, 

From my personal experience as a recruiter and a job switcher, I don’t think it matters a lot if you seek for a general management role for your career. but if you want to become a specialist, say doctor or lawyer etc., you need to choose the major that is relevant to the specialty area.

I have my undergraduate major in English, it’s like no major at all. In a traditional way of thinking, most of my classmates went to places that need translator/simultaneous translation, or as assistant in a multinational corporation. I started my career as an executive recruiter and talked to many senior candidates and clients in APR. What I found over the years is that if you are going to a corporation (e.g. Corporate America), your school brand or your major can be the door opener for you at the beginning. After that, you need to navigate your way through the corporate world and find the job that will align your personal interest, strength with the business need. I see numerous examples that the undergraduate major a person had is not aligned with the job function the person perform. For instance, a marketing major doing finance and accounting; a forestry major doing consulting; or a politics or psychology major doing HR and talent management. What I suggest to most of the undergraduate students is that whatever the major you choose, not just purely focus on the knowledge you’ll gain, but focus on the skills (e.g. analytical thinking, decision making process, problem solving – how to think through a problem, people skills/how to handle stressful situation/conflict or under pressure etc.) Because those skills are transferable to any job functions in your future career. I also encourage students to take rotational program because you will experience different aspects of the business and find the ones you love to do continuously. 

After several years of recruiting experience, I decided to pursue my MBA in US because international business education and experience/exposure is valuable and critical for a future leader to lead global business. Here I really want to talk about the benefits to get an MBA. MBA is good for 1. Job switching; 2. Career accelerating; 3. International exposure; 4. Good understanding of the business foundation and 5. Good alumni network for future career development. I think I got all the benefits from my Darden 2 years’ experience and I really appreciated it. I summer interned in a CPG company doing B2C brand marketing. After MBA graduation, I joined a chemical company doing B2B marketing, strategy, product management and pricing (all commercial roles that I love so much), which are totally different from my pre-MBA experience and my undergraduate major.

I understand that this probably is just an individual example and you will have different situations. Therefore, I want to share some high-level thoughts and hope you can benefit from them.

  1. Self-reflection on what you really want to do, what you enjoy working/doing; what are your strengths and weaknesses. To me, this is the hardest part. Seeking feedback is a good way to facilitate self-reflection. Both good and constructive feedback will help you to think more. Sometimes it’s hard for us to take constructive feedback and sometimes we don’t want to believe it. but what I always tell myself is: be open minded. If I get this feedback, there’s a reason for it. In marketing, we always say that “perception is reality”. Then how can I change the perception? Where can I improve to make myself a better person or leader? Etc.
  2. Think out of the box and don’t limit yourself. Don’t let your major, gender, race, experience, perception or anything else to limit you from your future career choices. if you can connect the dots and make a strong case, you will get what you want. 
  3. Articulate your passion and what you want to do and then find those job opportunities that will fit your passion. As I reflected my recruiting experience, I found it’s very similar to the marketing role and I made the case on how the skills I learnt in recruiting can be transferable to be a successful marketer. 
  4. Always have your career plan for 2 years –> 5 years – >10 years; review and adjust it when needed. When you have the plan, you will know what you need to acquire to achieve it: skills, resources, knowledge, etc. 
  5. Keep reading, keep learning. I love reading all kinds of business, management, psychology or marketing books/podcast and it’s a great way to keep up with new ideas, trends, and other people’s experiences. You will always learn. 

This probably is more than answering the original question, but I want to share my learnings over the past 14 years so that you can think at early stage and make better choices when you are about to start your career. I hope this help you think more, not just in making undergraduate major choices, but also other life and job choices as well.