Not the ‘right’ degree? No worries with transferrable skills

Staff, Staff Writer

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So you’re earning a bachelor’s degree and preparing for the workforce. You’ve dreamt of landing the perfect job in your industry, right? Wrong.

Chances are, new graduates will need to get a job in a field different from the one in which they studied. “That’s because your college major does not determine your career,” according to Rebecca Koenig, career reporter for US News and World Report.

“No one is employed as an ‘English major.’ Nor, for that matter, as a ‘biology major’ or ‘business major.’ Although a few fields correspond with professions, such as engineering and nursing, most liberal arts degrees don’t point to specific employment routes. Rather, they provide a set of skills that help job seekers navigate the professional landscape,” continued Koenig.

Employers are looking for highly motivated graduates who can tap the soft skills that they have gained throughout their college career.

“In a 2015 Association of American Colleges & Universities survey of 400 employers, 91 percent agreed that ‘a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major,’” according to Koenig.

Technical or on-the-job skills are easier to teach than critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills. Employers seek workers who can onboard easily and serve in a utility fashion, able to be plugged into a multitude of areas within a company.

Carrie Kyser, LCSC instructional designer, and McKinzie Turner, English teacher, and volleyball coach, both graduated with degrees in other areas before landing where they are now in vastly different disciplines. Read their stories of career transformation that has made each of them feel fulfilled.

McKinzie Turner: From business to teaching

What did you get your degree in and what do you do now?

My original degree was in Business. I graduated with a degree in Human Resources and Production Operations Management from the University of Idaho. I went back to school and earned my Master’s in Education from Eastern Washington University. Before starting my Master’s, I earned my endorsement credits in Business & Marketing, and over the last year and a half, I earned my English endorsement. I am now an English Teacher. I am also certified to teach a variety of business classes.

What prompted or forced you to change the course of your career?

I worked in the staffing industry and banking for a few years. I enjoyed it at times but was not passionate about it. I had been coaching high school volleyball for a few years and decided to pursue my passion for teaching young people. I realized that having a job you love is worth more than the potential money you could earn.

What do you say to others who think it’s unwise or risky to change the course of your career trajectory?

I think it is a personal preference. For me changing my career improved my quality of life. I found a career I love because I was willing to take a chance and work hard to achieve my goal. Do your due diligence to make sure the new career will be a fit you feel good about for a while. The best advice I was given by someone very wise was that you will always have your education. You can always change your mind or change your career, but the education you work to receive will always be yours and will be able to help you.

What are some standout lessons or job skills you learned from a couple of different jobs?

I think the biggest lesson you can learn from jobs is to work hard, ask questions and be open to learning. You can never learn too many valuable skills. You never know when something from your distant past job knowledge can come in handy in the future.

Why are soft skills like teamwork, effective communication, and problem-solving important in your opinion?

These skills are transferrable to any job. You have to be able to get along with people and solve problems in just about any job you decide to do. Students can hone these skills in college by being involved. Take advantage of the opportunities you have and join a club, intramural team or other activity. Internships and other work experience can also help students to gain experience in these skills. I [also] think organizational skills and stress management can be important to cultivate in our careers and personal lives.

How has continuing education played a role in your life?

I enjoy learning and want to continue to challenge myself to grow and learn throughout my life. I am so grateful I took the leap and changed my career with my education. I am much happier and more fulfilled in life. I have also made great connections throughout this process. The best thing about continuing my education is that it showed me that I could do it. I could set a goal and follow my dreams even if it was challenging. It is not easy to change your life and your routine, but doing it has opened a lot of doors for me in my life.

Carrie Kyser: From landscape architect to instructional designer

What did you get your degree in and what do you do now?

I have a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree and a secondary degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from Kansas State University (2007). [Now I’m in] education. I am an Instructional Designer at LCSC.

What prompted or forced you to change the course of your career?

After graduation, I took a job in Tacoma, Washington, at a Landscape Architecture and Site Planning firm. It was a great job, and I loved my time in Tacoma. But in 2010 when the economy was down, no one was building, and thus there was very little work for landscape architects. I moved to Pullman, Washington, where I started doing freelance design gigs. To supplement my income, I started working part-time at the public Library in Pullman. But soon I realized I needed another part-time gig to make ends meet, so I applied to work at WSU. They were starting a new online proctoring center and needed exam proctors. Within a week, they hired me full-time to help start and manage Global Campus Proctor Services during their pilot semester. Being in on the startup of a new department was great, and after a few months, they also gave my office the desk of being WSU Online Support for their new learning management system of Blackboard. I quickly had to become versed in online course technology. I [later] joined e-Learning Services at LCSC.

How many different jobs or careers have you had since you were a teenager or college grad?

My first job where I got a paycheck was when I was 12 years old. Each day after school I cleaned a beauty salon. It only took less than an hour, but it was a job where the owner wrote me a check each week for my time. I continued that job until I was 15 and she retired. I started working as a summer custodian at the grade school in my hometown in Neb. I did that every summer until I was 19. During [college breaks], I was a bartender…intern at Lincoln Parks and Recreation…[and later] at the landscape architecture firm that hired me after graduation…[and] teaching assistant.

What do you say to others who think it’s unwise or risky to change the course of your career trajectory?

There is a risk, but don’t be scared of change. I sort of fell into what I’m doing now, and I did not ever plan on changing careers. But looking back, I’m so happy that this did happen. I love working in education. If you are looking to change careers, just analyze your reasoning and make sure you’ll be happy with the change. I certainly don’t make a higher salary working for a public institution than I could be a full-time landscape architect. But, the benefits at my current job, plus the working environment, plus the satisfaction I have with the job far outweigh that salary.

What are some standout lessons or job skills you learned from a couple of different jobs?

Project management! That is probably the best skill I learned in college. The role of a landscape architect is often to manage the project. Project managers in the architecture profession oversee all aspects of the design and construction process of a project–from developing and reviewing site plans to making sure a project meets environmental and zoning standards. Those same skills apply to projects at any job. Also, communication! Communication is the most valuable tool in any profession.

Be able to take criticism and learn from it. I was fortunate enough to have awesome coaches throughout my high school career. Each of the people taught me to listen to their advice, acknowledge when I was wrong and learn to be better. Those were valuable skills in architecture school as you are constantly getting critiqued on things you design. I remember staying up all night working on a model. I made these beautiful tiny staircases…only to have the architecture instructor tear them off the model the next day. He was showing me how much better space looked without a silly staircase in the middle of it (looking back, yes, he was right), but it was hard to not react after that much time was put into something. Working as a designer, clients dictate what you build. It doesn’t matter if you love the layout for their garden and the elaborate deck you spent two days designing in a 3D modeling software looks amazing. If you show it to the client and they say no, they wanted it to look west instead of east, you start over. Your work will always be criticized, and that is okay! The key is to listen and learn and keep pushing forward. There are times when you need and should defend your ideas against criticism and skepticism but also listen to critiques objectively and see if there is an opportunity to make something better.

Why are soft skills like teamwork, effective communication, and problem-solving important in your opinion?

Things like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving are how you get through every aspect of life. Learn them. Hone these skills. You could be the most brilliant, amazing, innovative architect on the planet, but if you can’t work on a team, communicate your ideas and solve problems, then you will fail every single time. So, get involved in active groups. Or, get a job or internship. Even if you can only work a few hours a week, get some real-world experience. There is nothing more valuable than learning through doing.

What other soft skills not mentioned do you think are important to cultivate?

Not sure if this is a soft-skill, but I think a willingness to learn is important. And part of that is being a self-starter. For example, say you find out that your office has to implement a new piece of software for tracking billable hours in a few weeks. Be a self-starter and start learning how to use it. Instead of sitting at your desk and complaining that you have to learn something new, take the challenge head-on as an opportunity.

How has continuing education played a role in your life?

I am currently working on my master’s degree. I should earn a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Idaho State University in spring of 2021. I wanted to start the program to grow my future job opportunities…[and] gain more knowledge in the professional field where I now work.