Can’t Get A Job With Your College Degree?
July 18, 2016

Can’t Get A Job With Your College Degree?

Sometimes it’s even tough to order a beer in a foreign country when the locals don’t speak English. That’s why many people enroll in a language class before they take a trip. I wasn’t smart enough to do that. A few years ago, I bumbled my way through France. Frustrated by my uselessness at ordering food and asking for directions I signed up for some French classes after I came home.

That’s when I met Salem. He taught French part-time in a tiny rented room in our town’s industrial district. Salem was one of just two people employed by the local Francophone association. He has a PhD in French literature. Not long after, I abandoned the classes. But Salem and I became friends. We sat on a beach, one summer afternoon. That’s when he poured out his frustration. “I’m a PhD,” he said. “Why can’t I find a decent job?” Small wonder that the August issue of Consumer Reports sports a short quote in large type:

“I kind of ruined my life by going to college.”

Salem isn’t alone. Many restaurant servers, Uber drivers and salespeople at BestBuy sing the same mournful tune. A growing number have college degrees. But they can’t find jobs in their areas of study.

In 2013, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, reported that more than 1.7 million college graduates work as retail sales people, cashiers or restaurant servers. They found that 15 percent of taxi drivers also have college degrees. In 1970, fewer than one percent did.

In some cases--- like Salem--- they had chosen college majors with poor financial prospects. Using data from the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University, Forbes published ten college majors with the worst job prospects. For example, among those with degrees in Anthropology and Archeology, 10.5 percent couldn’t find work. That compares to the 7.2 percent of recent college graduates who remain unemployed, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Ten Worst College Majors For Employment And Income

Unemployment Among Recent Grads Median Starting Salaries
Anthropology and Archeology 10.5% $28,000
Film, Video and Photographic Arts 12.9% $30,000
Fine Arts 12.6% $30,000
Philosophy and Religious Studies 10.8% $30,000
Liberal Arts 9.2% $30,000
Music 9.2% $30,000
Physical Fitness and Parks Recreation 8.3% $30,000
Commercial Art and Graphic Design 11.8% $30,000
History 10.2% $32,000
English Language and Literature 9.2% $32,000

But even among those who do find jobs, are they working at Starbucks or are they utilizing their degree in a specific area of study? That part isn’t clear.

What is clear, however, is that graduates with such degrees face stiffer headwinds. Other majors offer wind-aided opportunity. Using data from, Kiplinger’s compiled a list of the top 10 college majors, based on employment prospects.

Ten Best College Majors For Employment And Income

Median Starting Salaries Mid-Career Starting Salaries Annual Online Postings Best Related Job Projected Ten Year Job Growth
Nursing $56,900 $73,600 911,018 Registered Nurse 16.3%
Actuarial Mathematics $60,800 $119,600 21,782 Actuary 23%
Civil Engineering $55,100 $93,400 152,412 Civil Engineer 17.8%
Statistics $54,900 $103,100 103,270 Statistician 24.1%
Physics $57,200 $105,100 72,732 Physicist 11.3%
Finance $50,900 $89,300 1,029,020 Financial Analyst 16%
Economics $51,400 $97,700 799,117 Economist 15.3%
Software Engineering $61,700 $99,800 735,513 App Developer 23.4%
Management Information Systems $56,300 $95,500 2,306,724 Computer and Information Systems Manager 15.9%
Computer Science $61,600 $103,600 1,874,509 Computer and Informative Research Scientist 15.9%
Median For All College Majors $41,600 $71,650

No doubt, getting a great job is tougher than it used to be. But the degree is just a start. It doesn’t promise anything.

College graduates may also need to be resourceful. That means selling themselves. One classic book that I recommend is How To Win Friends And Influence People. With updates for the digital age, it reinforces an age-old truth. It isn’t about you.

That might sound like a contradiction. But it isn’t. To network well and market their skills, job seekers need to hone their interpersonal talents. Sometimes, it works better to ask questions, rather than tell a prospective employer how great you are.

Dale Carnegie says that people love to talk about themselves. They love to give advice. Seek out employees who work at the firms that you’re interested in. Politely ask them questions. They’re the best sources of insider advice on what jobs may soon be available and how they landed theirs.

If you’re adventurous, you might also consider going to the top. It wouldn’t work if everybody did it. But the detached world of email, Facebook, texting and Snapchat communication has largely neutered face-to-face courage. That’s a good thing, if you want to stand out.

In Dale Carnegie’s book, he told the story of a man who was looking for work in New York during The Great Depression. He walked into a prospective employer’s office and started to politely ask questions. He showed genuine interest in the company and the people. They eventually offered him a job that wasn’t even posted.

Could that really work? After I graduated from college, I wanted to find out, so I conducted some experiments. I walked into different businesses and asked to speak to the company CEOs.

“Do you have an appointment?” the secretaries asked. “The head of the company is a very busy person.”

“I’m a recent college graduate,” I said, “I admire some of the things that your company head has done. I would love to find out more.”

I always did my research first. As Carnegie said, your interest must be genuine.

“I’ll just sit here with a book,” I said. “If the CEO has 2 minutes at some point in the day, I would love to slip in.” The secretaries usually told me that I might be wasting my time. But I sat patiently. In almost every case, I was eventually ushered in for my quick 2 minutes.

Two minutes turned into thirty–sometimes longer. I told the CEOs, right away, that I wasn’t seeking a job. I just admired what he or she had accomplished. I asked, “What would you do, if you were me, with a college degree in English?” Dale Carnegie was right. People like to talk.

Before long, a couple of them even brought out family photos. By showing a genuine interest in them, the CEOs soon took an interest in me. After visiting 7 companies, 2 of them asked me to apply for a specific job at their firm. Those jobs weren’t even posted.

Picking the right college majors offers huge advantages. But honing interpersonal skills (in an era that might be starved for them) could be just as important.

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