Tools for Choosing Your Major & Career

By: Rachel

The path to choosing a major is one that looks different for everyone. It seems we’re asked countless times over the years, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Some of us are sticking with the same answer we gave in 1st grade, while others have new ideas every day. Before we get to that career, many of us have to decide which major to pursue first.

To share a brief summary of my own experience, I decided what fields I wanted to study in college the summer before my senior year of high school. I had a few different ideas over the years, but they were slowly weeded out as I came to know more about myself. I always had a love for the written word, but I didn’t really want to go into creative writing, and I wasn’t sure what options that left for me. Out of nowhere, grant writing started to come up in conversations with my aunts and uncles, teachers, and other professionals. While I didn’t know a whole lot about it, it sounded like the type of writing I was interested in.

I had a friend who majored in Professional Writing, and one day the idea came to me to pursue a similar major along with a general background in business. I thought this would lend me a wide scope of occupational opportunities while still being areas I was excited to learn about and work in. My pairing was both strategic and driven by my passions; you can read more about that here.

After this idea came to me, I did more research into job outlook and what I could expect. I took a career class spring of my senior year of high school that forced me to conduct informational interviews and research through sources like O*NET OnLine and the Occupational Outlook Handbook provided through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). I remained open to the fact that I might decide to change my majors once I got into college, but the things I learned through my research affirmed my decision. I want to take a moment to highlight the sources I found particularly helpful as well as a few others offered through our office.

Image: open notebook on wood desktop with pens
Text: Tools for choosing your major and career
  • Your network: I never would have even known grant writing existed if it weren’t for the people in my life. Reach out to those around you, especially professionals. It’s important to keep in mind that one person’s opinion/view is just that: one person’s view, but those working in the field have a unique perspective on opportunities that exist and may be able to offer ideas of where your talents and abilities could be used best.
  • Informational interviews & Job shadowing: Informational interviews and job shadowing are additional ways to connect with professionals in a field of interest.  They can provide tips on steps you should take at this point in your life to set yourself up for success in the future, and doing an interview/job shadow can be a great way to add valuable contacts to your network.
  • What Can I Do With a Major In (all majors): There are so many different online resources out there, and I’d recommend not just relying on one. It’s a good idea to cross-reference your data, and different sites provide slightly different types of data. This resource through the University of North Carolina Wilmington is a great one for college students, because it links a major with a bunch of connected job titles as well as related major skills. This provides you with occupation titles you might not have ever heard of that you can plug into other career outlook sites for more information. The related major skills can be super helpful in determining what minor or additional major would be particularly beneficial to you in that field.
  • What Can I Do With This Major? (via University of Tennessee’s Center for Career Development): Somewhat similarly, this site takes majors and breaks them down into more specific areas. Within each area, there are bullet points of typical job duties. Reading through these might pique your interest or turn you away, thus narrowing your search. Each area also includes examples of specific employers and strategies for success in the field. These are helpful tips of steps to pursue in your education, activities, job experiences, etc. in order to build a solid foundation for that specific area.
  • BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Once you have pinpointed a specific job title you’d like to look into, you can use BLS to find a quick summary of median pay, typical education level expected, and job outlook, among other statistics. Across the top, you’ll find additional tabs with information on job responsibilities, how to become one, and similar job titles. One of the tabs I use most is the one that provides state/regionally specific data.
  • O*NET OnLine: One last website I’d like to highlight is O*NET, which is like the BLS Handbook in that it is organized by occupation. It is easy to use, and a quick search will provide you with a summary of tasks, skills, and knowledge commonly used on the job, as well as personality characteristics and values that lend themselves well to the field.
  • Graduate Follow-up Report: This report provides much of same information provided through these sites, such as job titles within each major, specific employers, and median salary, but it is specific to students who have graduated from UMD! We put this together every year with information from students who have graduated in the last 6 months to 1 year.
  • Assessments: Another potential source of information that will help you determine your major/career are career assessments. There are 3 major ones offered through our office as well as a few you can take for free online. These will provide information on your personality, interests, and skills which you can then match up with compatible fields. Setting up an appointment to discuss your results with a career counselor can provide further clarification.

This might seem like a lot of information to navigate, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the different routes determining your career might take. If you find yourself trying to answer the question of “What do I want to do when I grow up?”, my core advice would be to stay open. The inspiration for what direction to head could come from just about anywhere: your hobbies, your dreams as a child, your skillset, your heritage, a class you took, or information you found from a website. I’d encourage you to make this decision based on what you learn from a variety of sources: testimonies from professionals, statistics, and your personal attributes. More than anything, recognize that the answer to the question will never totally be finalized, and that’s part of the beauty of career development.

Best, Rachel

Of Possible Interest
Choosing a Major – all our blog posts on the topic
Career Planning – all our blog posts on the topic
Turn Your Major into a Career – our Pinterest board filled with resources & articles

Read Rachel’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Mike Tinnion

How to Make the Most of Winter Break as a Senior

By: Heidi

As we’re approaching the end of finals week and the deadlines are slowly but surely wrapping up, the only thing on our minds is heading home and catching up on some much-needed sleep.

While time to relax and taking a step back is important, this month-long break can be used to get a head start on preparing for the job search and get some things done that you usually don’t have time for.  

Snowing street scene; text: How to make the most of winter break as a senior - connect with alumni on LinkedIn, fine-tune your resume, donate or recycle old textbooks, schedule informational interviews, spring clean your professional wardrobe, read a book

Connect with Alumni on LinkedIn
As a university student, you have the ability to connect and join a variety of Alumni groups on LinkedIn. Whether it’s a group with the school you’re apart of such as the “Labovitz School of Business and Economics at UMD” or joining the official UMD Alumni Relations page, it will allow you access to job postings and Alumni. 

Guy in a suit cartoon; Text: it's not stalking...it's expanding my network

Fine-tune your resume
Since you’re further along in your academic career, you’ve likely had projects and more experiences to highlight that are related to your future career. Touch up your resume to show these new experiences off.

Donate or recycle old textbooks
That math book from your freshman year or the philosophy book you only ever skimmed? Donate it with your extra time over the winter break so it can be recycled or donated to someone else.

graphic of box to donate books in

Schedule Informational Interviews
If you have the opportunity to meet someone in person, now is the prime time. Scheduling a phone call works too and can give you more insight than a google search to a company’s culture and opportunities to look out for.

Spring Clean
Out with the old, and in with the new. Donate your old intern wardrobe to someone who may be in need right here on campus. Champ’s Closet at UMD located in the Office of Student Life, Kirby Plaza 245 allows you to drop off clothes right there. Not only will it feel good to help someone else out, but you can free up some closet space to have room to update your wardrobe for your professional career.

Read a Book
Whether it’s professional development or just for fun, it can be nice to shift gears and escape the usual textbook. Reading something new can offer a new perspective or can serve as entertainment. Reading can help you stay fresh during your time off and also help you further develop your interests.

More Ideas for Your Winter Break:
How to Have a Productive Winter Break
Making Progress During Winter Break

Read Heidi’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Filip Bunkens

How to Have a Productive Winter Break

By: Lexi

You are finally done with your Fall semester and finals, hooray! It’s now time to relax, but do not forget to stay on top of things and use your time to stay productive. Spring semester will be here before you know it and you do not want to be behind!

Use time for reflection on the semester & set goals for the upcoming semester
Take a little bit of time to think about the semester you just finished. Think about what you did and didn’t do well. Use that information to make some goals and identify priorities for yourself for the next semester.

Build and expand professional networks
Reach out to people or companies you have been wanting to contact, but haven’t yet. Expand your horizons, you never know how it could develop your professional profile. This could be done online through email, LinkedIn, a phone call, or you could even ask if they would like to get coffee. Remember to thank them and ask if they have any suggestions of who else you could reach out to.

productive-winter-break

Conduct informational interviews or job shadow
Informational interviews and job shadows are a great way to see if the profession you are thinking about is the right one for you. Most students do not have time to conduct these during the semester, so now that you are not in classes, take advantage of this time. This could also help you with career advice or confirm important classes that you should plan on taking.

Work more and save up
Rack up the hours at your job, if it’s possible! Winter break is a great time to save up to keep you on budget for the spring semester.

Apply for scholarships and internships for the summer
Many scholarships and internships are posted during this time, so start looking! It is better to start searching for these opportunities earlier rather than later, your chances will most likely be greater. If you need help with this, you can visit Career and Internship Services (we are open during winter break, except Dec 23rd-Jan 2nd).

Get volunteer hours in
Whether you need volunteer hours or you just want to give back to your community, the holiday season is one of the best times to do this! Use your free time to put some smiles on the faces of your fellow city residents.

Create a portfolio, LinkedIn profile, and/or revamp your resume
Now that you finished another semester, you probably have new projects, jobs, skills, and experiences you can add to your portfolio, LinkedIn, and resume. Take the time to update all of these so they are ready for when you start searching for a job or internship, then you will not have to frantically put all of these together at the last minute.

Hopefully, you will take advantage of this time when school is not crazy and do at least one of these suggestions. But do not forget to relax and enjoy your time off during the holidays, drink some hot chocolate, eat some cookies, and enjoy the twinkle lights with your family or friends. Happy Holidays!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Lexi’s other posts

Photo source: Unsplash|Aaron Wilson

Benefits of Job Shadowing

By: Ashley

You hear so much about internships, part-time jobs, and volunteering as ways to learn the skills you need to further yourself in the world of full-time employment after graduation. A less talked about option is that of the job shadow. You might be thinking that job shadowing is like bring your child to work day stuff, but it is so much more. Job shadowing helps provide the answers to the big questions like “can I see myself doing this as my career?” or “what does it really take to make it in this field?” It helps give a realistic view into all the things involved in the job you’re shadowing. You can observe the job characteristics, responsibilities, and environment and see how they match up with your personality and your ideals. You get to learn firsthand what it takes to make it in the field from the people who know it best, working professionals. I chose to write about this topic because I had the wonderful opportunity this past summer to job shadow in the St. Mary’s Pathology Lab. I gained insight and learned so much that I thought I would share my process of getting my position. My situation started out as a want to volunteer and grew into something so much better.

job shadowing

As many students know, you can volunteer at St. Mary’s Medical Center to get some hands-on experience. This is why I went to their volunteer services and sat down with Joy Miller to discuss where in the hospital would be the most beneficial for me to volunteer. It became apparent, to Joy, early on in our discussion I wanted to work in a lab and that volunteering in the lab would be the best fit; unfortunately they didn’t have volunteer positions in the laboratory. I told Joy I would be content volunteering anywhere in the hospital but I expressed how amazing it would be to see the inner workings of the lab at St. Mary’s. Seeing how invaluable it would be to get experience in the lab Joy went out of her way to set up a meeting with the lab director and before I knew it I was job shadowing in each department of the lab over the course of the summer. I gained insight into the environment of the lab and I also got to experience the types of test that are run. I got to see the process of how the sample goes from patient to lab to doctor. It really enforced my dream of becoming a medical laboratory scientist. I also met and connected with some wonderful professionals in the healthcare field and even acquired a recommendation out of it that I think was essential to my acceptance into my post-certificate program at Mayo.

As you can see, job shadowing has many perks alongside gaining experience. So now you may be wondering how you too can get involved in job shadowing. I think a key step in the job shadowing process is conducting an informational interview with the employer, like what I did with Joy. I think the informational interview is essential because it allows you to get to know the employers in a low stress atmosphere and build on your ever growing network of contacts who could help you get a job in the future. Of course in order to arrange an informational interview with a contact you need contacts and that is where networking comes into play. Ask your fellow peers about places where they have shadowed and networking events they’ve attended. If you are interested in finding and setting up a job shadowing position I suggest setting up an appointment with a career counselor to discuss and explore your options and to look at our career handbook where there are helpful sections on both networking and informational interviews.

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Ashley’s other posts

Make the Most of Your Winter Break

By: Justine

Winter break is coming up in about two and a half weeks… Eek! Time is going fast but my list of things to do keeps getting longer and time is going a little too quick if you ask me. With finals and end of term project deadlines creeping closer and closer many of us are looking forward to a nice break to fill our schedules full of quality lazy time spent on the couch. However appealing a month long movie marathon might seem, perhaps mixing up your schedule between a few movies and some planning for your future career, could be the perfect balance. More specifically, I’m talking about using your winter break from school in order to accomplish tasks that you normally wouldn’t have time for during the school semester.

Make the most of winter break: job shadow, network, conduct informational interviews, search for opportunities; snowflake on green leaf

My winter break will be spent back working at the same location as my summer internship and gaining some more experience. Here are a few ideas you can use for making the most out of your winter break:

Job Shadow
If you are interested in a particular field and want to learn more about a career than what can be found from researching on the internet, consider reaching out to a professional who you could job shadow over winter break. Professionals who are happily employed in their career field are usually more than willing to have a student come into work with them for a day or two. This is a great opportunity to get a feel for a potential career and gain some of the best resources for career planning and other information about the career field.

Network
Another great idea to build your contact lists is to start networking with professionals. Holiday parties can be a great way to do this over break because you never know who a family member, or family friend, might be connected to. Networking contacts are a great way to learn about inside jobs or opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about. If you want to go the extra mile, create professional business cards to hand out to your new networking contacts (or to your grandma to hang on the fridge)!

Conduct an Informational Interview
If there is a professional who you look up to or just want to know more about, consider asking them for an informational interview. An informational interview is also a great way to network and can provide you with a lot of useful information about a position or inner-workings of a company. When inviting a professional to an informational interview, ask if they would be able to meet at their office or perhaps at a local coffee shop. If you do schedule an informational interview, do come prepared! Research as much as you can about your interviewee and their company from what you can find on LinkedIn and/or the company website. If you aren’t confident in your LinkedIn skills, you can stop by the office (SCC 22) and work with one of our Peer Educators during our normal office hours (M-F, 8-4:30pm). Once you have a basic understanding of what they are about, you can ask questions to fill in the blanks.

Search for Opportunities
Your winter break time can also be used to search for jobs, internships, or graduate school opportunities. Take the ample amount of time you have during your vacation from school to type as many Google searches as you please. Also, consult the Career & Internship Services webpage for online resources:

By all means, I’m not suggesting that you cut out all TV and movie marathon time, but do use your time with purpose. The productive measures you take during this winter break will be very much appreciated when you don’t have to try to squeeze them in with your spring semester. For the next few weeks before break, I wish you luck, and then may you all have a well-deserved relaxing and productive break!

Of Possible Interest:

Internships, InterviewingJob Search, & Graduate/Professional School – all our blog posts on these topics

Internships, Interview Like a Pro, Ace the Job Search, & Grad School: Now or Later? – our Pinterest boards filled with articles & resources

Read Justine’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Aaron Burden