Two Life Lessons From a Career Changer (& Your New LAS Advisor)

Hello from your new Liberal Arts & Social Sciences career advisor! I want to share a bit of my personal background, so you can understand why I’m so passionate about career exploration and using college as a time to learn about yourself.

As a freshman in college, I chose a business major because I thought that was a responsible choice. My mom had a heavy influence in this decision, as she told me I needed to choose a major that would lead to a job. Now, I know she said this with my best interest at heart, but it definitely impacted my major and career decisions. Truth be told, I ended up disliking about 75 percent of my classes—and to this day, I’m still paying off my student loans for those classes. I chose a concentration in marketing because that seemed like the most creative career option, and those classes were among the ones I found most interesting. While I learned valuable skills and met a few good friends in my business classes, I can’t help but wonder—what if I had chosen differently? What if I had followed my interests and the subjects I enjoyed most in high school when choosing my major?

At that time, my college major equaled my career—a statement I now know does not have to be true. In fact, in most cases, it is not true. I had a couple of marketing internships during my junior and senior years, but ended up getting my first job out of college at an advertising agency. I dedicated my career to advertising for nearly 10 years while also trying to find myself by moving around to different companies and roles within the industry.

Life Lesson #1: Employers really do want to hire Liberal Arts & Social Sciences majors.

This brings me to my first life lesson I want to share with you. The last place I worked before deciding to change careers was at a large media communications agency headquartered in Chicago. As a way of exploring different roles within the agency, I joined the campus recruiting leadership team. Through this role, I worked with the human resources department to train employees on how to staff college job fairs and give presentations in undergraduate classrooms. When describing the type of student HR was trying to recruit for entry-level positions, they told me they were looking for a variety of different majors and not necessarily just advertising, communications or marketing. In fact, HR specifically shared with me that they wanted to target liberal arts majors.

My former employer sought to hire graduates with analytical, problem-solving and communication (i.e. “transferable”) skills and found over the years that entry-level professionals with expertise in the humanities or social sciences are “the icing on the cake.” Advertising, much like many other industries, is all about understanding human thought and behavior along with bringing critical thought and creativity to assignments. Now, the “college major does not equal career path” message is nothing new, but I wanted to share my experience with you in hopes of reinforcing this message. I would even dare to say that liberal arts and social sciences majors have a competitive edge, as they are not only learning those transferable skills, but they have subject-matter expertise that employers truly desire.

Life Lesson #2: Career exploration takes time, but it’s so worth it.

OK, onto the second life lesson. As I moved from company to company and role to role, I reflected on why I continued to feel unsatisfied in my work. I decided to take an assessment to learn more about my unique strengths and I read articles on exploring career paths. Then, I brainstormed career options within and outside of advertising where I could use these strengths to grow as a professional and as a person. This is when I had the idea of working with college students. I knew I enjoyed managing recent graduates as a supervisor and being a mentor to students—it made sense. I talked to my friends about my career ideas and they helped connect me to people working at universities around the city. The next thing I knew, I was meeting with professionals to learn about the in’s and out’s of their jobs, while continuing to personally reflect on everything I was learning along the way. This career exploration took time, but it got me even more excited about my future. So, my second life lesson is that career exploration and the decision-making process takes time and patience; you need to give yourself time to reflect on what’s a good fit for you. It took me over two years to decide I wanted to pursue higher education and career counseling, but in the end, it was all worth it. Your happiness and fulfillment is worth discovering; put in the time and effort to learn about yourself and explore your post-graduation options. With all of the resources and support at your fingertips as a student, there is no better time than now.

I feel very fortunate to be here at DePaul as one of your Liberal Arts & Social Sciences career advisors. I’m here to provide space for meaningful conversations around your ideas, thoughts, concerns, and fears for what comes after graduation. Oh yeah, as well as provide internship and job search strategies, resume and cover letter reviews, and all that other good stuff. Feel free to make an appointment directly through Handshake, and remember it’s never too early to start!

Marketing Your Service Experiences to Potential Employers

By: Mackenzie Canfield, DePaul University English and sociology major ’17 and peer career advisor

For many of us, service is a critical part of our experiences as DePaul students. It’s an opportunity to not only engage with various Chicago communities, but also build lasting, impactful relationships with individuals outside of our immediate DePaul networks. However, as it comes time to apply for internships and full-time positions, it is often hard to envision how these service experiences play into our professional goals.

While the context is different, many of the skills developed through your time spent volunteering are transferable, and therefore marketable to a potential employer. These are skills that will stand out on your resume and cover letter, highlighting who you are as an internship or job candidate.

Skill Identification

First, ask yourself, how do I engage with the communities I’m working with during my service experiences? Often times, the initial response is, I help students in Back of the Yards with their homework, or, I play games with residents at a Garfield Park senior center. While these responses are certainly true, in order to best market service experiences to a potential employer we’ll have to dig a little deeper to pull out the more valuable and unique skillsets being utilized.

Let’s work with the first example of tutoring students in Back of the Yards. Tutoring, as a skill, may be marketable for some professional positions, however, if you’re pursuing accounting, marketing, health sciences, or any other number of fields, it might be less important. Tutoring does not have to be the skill we focus on, though. Let’s think: What else does tutoring students in Back of the Yards involve? It involves listening to students’ stories in order to best help them, supporting full-time staff by continuing to live out the mission of the school or organization, as well as initiating and planning different events for the students based on what they—and the community members—need.

Listening, supporting, initiating, and planning. Those are four skills that an employer within any industry would like to see displayed on your resume or cover letter. Additionally, they will take note of the fact that you were intentional of the skills you mentioned and that you took the time to think of your experiences in the context of the position you’re applying for.

To work on further identifying the skills you’ve used and developed through your service experiences, consider these common transferable skills utilized within volunteering contexts:

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Skill Communication

Now that you’ve identified the transferable skills used in your service experiences, the next step is thinking about how to communicate those to an employer in your application documents.

In terms of your resume, your service experience probably best fits under “Additional Experience” or “Volunteering Experience,” depending on how you’ve organized your resume. Regardless, we will communicate the transferable skills we’ve just identified through descriptive bullet points listed underneath the volunteering experience.

You’ll begin each bullet point with one of the transferable skills you’ve identified. This can be thought of as what you did. From there, you’ll want to add detail to the bullet point so it also includes how you did it, as well as why you did it. This way, the potential employer will best understand your skills and experiences.

With formatting, here is how our tutoring in the Back of the Yards example might end up looking:

Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, Chicago, IL — Sept. 2015 – Present

Volunteer Tutor

  • Listen to students during tutoring sessions in order to develop lesson plans and activities that best engage them as they prepare to apply for colleges
  • Support full-time teachers and staff by providing supplemental instruction and one-on-one advising to students with low attendance records
  • Initiate and plan school-wide events and open dialogues that allow students to identify and solve issues within their Back of the Yards community

When thinking about your cover letter, if you’ve had one or more internships, completed a long-term research project, or studied abroad through a relevant program, it is very possible that you might not mention your service experience. However, if you’re looking for a way to demonstrate relevant skills in one of your cover letter’s body paragraphs, a consistent volunteering experience is a great opportunity to do that.

First, take a look at and highlight the skills being mentioned in the job description. Then, ask yourself, how have I demonstrated these skills through my service experiences? Your answer will most likely connect back to some of the ideas displayed through the bullet points in your resume, however we want to remember that your cover letter is a chance to say more than what’s on your resume. So, rather than just filling a body paragraph with the same skills mentioned in your bullet points, go into greater detail about one or two of those bullet points, thus further focusing on specific skills the employer is looking for.

Volunteering with different communities can be experiences that end up defining us, and how we live our lives. However, it’s common that we instinctively separate our service from our professional development. This doesn’t have to be the case. By considering the transferable skills we develop within service, we can best market them to potential employers.