A job takes more than a diploma

Graduates need to prove their degree’s value to employers.

Ronald Dixon

One of the many realities that college students must face is the job market. While many of us have decided to pursue a major that’s fulfilling and fun, we’ll have to convince potential employers that our college experience has prepared us for a career.

Obviously, this challenge doesn’t apply to everyone. Many undergraduates plan on a future in academics, while others may form nonprofits or start a business of their own. Other students have connections, either through their parents or internships, which never forced them to justify their degree selection. Finally, there are some academic fields, such as nursing or engineering, that have a stronger connection to the market.

My situation, for example, is representative of a significant portion of University of Minnesota students. In the spring of 2015, I’ll graduate with a double major in political science and communication studies. While I have completed resume-building political internships in the past, there’s a good chance I may be unable to land a job in government out of college. This is because, although there are jobs for young people with a dedication to government, these jobs are also quite competitive.

Therefore, I will apply for various positions next spring. When I submit my applications, I’ll describe how communication studies and political science have helped me develop the necessary skills to perform jobs in the current market. My budgeting, organizational skills and conflict-management experience, as well as my numerous internship experiences, should help in this process.

Of course, this experience will vary, depending on students’ majors. It may be easier to advertise to employers the benefits of hiring a communication studies major than, for example, an art history major, a reality that President Barack Obama controversially noted earlier this year. That’s why upon graduation, students in every field — from those who train for a specific job to those who received a well-rounded education — should consider how they are going to persuade businesses to hire them.

We can emphasize a mixture of pragmatic skills (word processing, languages or applications) and character traits (time management, collaborative behavior or public speaking). While the latter may seem trivial, employers value skills like working on a team or strong verbal communication more than technical knowledge, according to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers survey.

Job-seeking may be difficult in the short term, as many employers will discriminate against certain applicants because of degree choices, but our decisions should pay off in the long term. After all, in an ever-changing market, a liberal arts degree is the most adaptable, especially for positions that may not exist yet. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors may benefit from this advice as well, though, as universities continue pumping out about 50 percent more STEM graduates than the market demands.

Completing college is only half the battle; landing a fulfilling, sustainable job is an entirely different ball game.