What Can I Do with My Degree?
By Jill Ferguson
The careers team at the University of Guelph found an innovative way of prompting students to answer that question
Give engineers the task to write an engineering resume when you provide them with good examples, and they can generally reproduce content and style. Give psychology students the tools to write a resume for a position in the social services, they conform as well. This seems pretty logical – not disruptive in the least. This is what we’ve been doing for years as career educators.
It would be disruptive, however, if we gave students something outside their area of academic expertise and told them to develop a resume. If a human kinetics student is given the task of writing a resume for a position in insurance, things often go awry because they can’t articulate what skills they have that relate to the description.We teach students to think of the skills they gain, not the degree they obtain. However, they are consistently at a loss on how to do this. If we give students the exercise of putting their skills into a completely different context, they become better equipped to apply to positions that don’t relate to their exact degree. We teach them that they shouldn’t be limited merely by a job title. The term “transferable skills” becomes much clearer.
Students come to higher education with some kind of a plan in mind as to what they want to do and take the appropriate degree program to get there. However, we meet students regularly that get through some, or all, of their post-secondary education, and then decide to choose a different path. As well, we see students that work toward a goal for (at least) four years, and due to circumstance it becomes unattainable. Frustrated, devastated and feeling like their degree is a waste of time, these students have no idea what Plan B should be, let alone how to articulate their skills outside of their chosen field.
I’m not naïve in thinking that psychology students can easily determine load restrictions of a bridge or that an engineer is expected to know counselling theory. However, when provided with job descriptions and coaching as to how they fit within a position that isn’t traditionally related to their program, it forces them to think outside the limited “what can I do with my degree” box and spurs the kind of creative thinking required to answer that question.
Give an engineering student a job description for a social service career, a kinesiologist a description for an accountant job and a psychology student a job description in sales. Positions in which they may never apply, or even want as a career. Sounds ridiculous, but these options can showcase skills related to occupations outside an obvious degree-producing job title. This can help give students confidence and a different perspective regarding how to look at job descriptions, occupational titles and how to articulate what they can offer employers.
It’s sometimes not easy to convince students to partake in the exercise. Be prepared for the raised eyebrow and comments about it being a waste of time – until they start seeing how many of their skills are in demand as a social service worker, bookkeeper or in pharmaceutical sales. You can almost see their brain shift and the thoughts of “I don’t know what to do with my degree” being altered to “What do I want to do with my degree?”
Try it. Just once. You may be surprised when it becomes one of your go-to techniques. Especially with students having a hard time seeing the options that are available to them.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering what a human kinetics student can bring to insurance… ever heard of an Accident Benefits Adjuster?
That’s what I like to call disruptive.
Jill Ferguson graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in Sociology and a Certificate in Human Resources from Conestoga College. Her career began as a Probation & Parole Officer and by being disruptive with career options, she has worked at the University of Guelph in various capacities since 2003 and is currently the Manager of Curriculum/Career Advising at the University of Guelph.