Jobs of the Future: Does a Major Matter?

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Legendary basketball player Michael Jordan was a geography major. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan was a music major. And actress Lisa Kudrow majored in biology. Their majors might not match their careers, but their personalities and skills are a dead-on fit. So with college students struggling with the age-old dilemma of what major to study, does it really play such a strong role in career choice?

Donald Asher, author of How to Get Any Job With Any Major, says no.

Asher says people choose their majors for several reasons: they love the subject, they think it will help them get a job, or it's what their parents expected. For example, he says, someone might become an engineering major because chemical engineers earn high salaries, not necessarily for a desire to learn about the subject.

"It is true that majoring in nursing or accounting prepares you for careers in nursing or accounting, but it is equally true that majoring in nursing or accounting can lead to many other careers," Asher says.

Something to think about - just because you don't have a degree in education, it doesn't mean you have to rule out the field. You might be a good fit for human resources or a school's food program. Health care facilities don't just employ nurses, they need people in finance, marketing and facilities management, too.

According to Asher, there are two major studies that show liberal arts majors get promoted faster and rise higher than engineering and business majors hired at the same time. He also cites research showing that 40 to 60 percent of CEOs majored in liberal arts.

With the adage "Your major may help you get a job in the first place, but it is your education that helps you get promoted," Asher explains the difference between undergraduate and graduate studies. Undergraduate studies provide a education, while graduate studies provide specialization and have a bigger influence on earnings.

According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the top characteristics recruiters deem as important are: communication skills, honesty/integrity, teamwork skills, interpersonal skills, motivation/initiative, strong work ethic, analytic skills, flexibility/adaptability, computer skills and self-confidence. In a nutshell, attributes someone with any major could possess.

Bottom line: Don't abandon your major or doubt your wisdom of choice, but rather abandon the limitations you put on yourself.

If you're still thinking about job prospects in the future, in "Employment Outlook, 2002-12," the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates these industries plan to add the most jobs between now and 2012:

1. State and local government education

2. Employment services

3. Food services and drinking places

4. Offices of health practitioners

5. Construction

6. Educational services

7. Ambulatory health care services except offices of health care practitioners

8. Computer systems design and related services

9. Hospitals

10. Individual, family, community and vocational rehabilitation service


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Donald Asher is a nationally known speaker and writer specializing in careers and higher education. He is the author of eight other business and career titles, including the best-selling "The Overnight Resume."

Copyright 2004 CareerBuilder.com. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.

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