Are there really any bad degrees?

At least once a month I read a blog that outlines the worst degrees you can get. I often reflect on these with some humor, as more often than not some of my majors are mentioned, at which point I look around my nice house or glance at my Rolex and smile (apologies if this seems overly self promoting – I felt it helped to build the point I want to make). So what are my degrees in? My first degree was a Bachelor of Social Science with a major in Psychology and a minor in Gender Studies (this one usually gets mentioned as a terrible area to study), a Graduate Diploma in Social Science majoring in Sociology (yes a second area of study that is typically frowned upon) and much more recently a Master of Applied Psychology (specified program in Organizational Psychology) – I should mentioned of my masters degree, that I gained my current role before I graduated with that qualification, so most of my roles have been won with ‘terrible’ majors.

Note: while the post concentrates on degrees, the exact same perspective can apply to experience, its all a matter of leveraging what you have, and being able to demonstrate skill/knowledge transfer to the relevant area.

To some extent I agree with the blogs that frame Gender Studies and Sociology as terrible for your career, the politics of Gender Studies means that as a male I could never attend or present at many Gender Studies conferences as these are women only events in the most part (feminism was the area of my study), and outside of university I have never met anyone who called themselves a Sociologist (but potentially I simply hang around in the wrong groups). So why on earth did I study two areas that I would have difficultly progressing within? For the simple reason that I wanted to have some understanding of the challenges that women face (Gender Studies), and I thought having some idea of how groups and their cultures operate would be useful (Sociology). These two areas interested me, and also as a future Human Resource Practitioner I saw enormous value in understanding these areas. The added bonus is that while popular university majors, I’ve met few people in my area who graduated with these majors – most are straight HR majors.

The point which I’m slowly getting around to, which is relevant for those readers who are outside the HR world also, is that degrees can be similar to houses, sometimes it location, location, location. As I mentioned earlier for the most part a career in Gender Studies is off limits to me, however as a knowledge area for a HR Practitioner its really useful, as is Sociology. My more recent degree allows me to apply for registration as a Psychologist in a number of countries, however why would I want to? Why on earth would I give away the advantage of having a unique degree by joining a profession where not only everyone has one, but many if not most have bypassed the masters and graduated with PhD’s? By staying in HR I have a degree which is relativity uncommon (I’ve worked in a number of organizations and only once have I encountered another person with a degree in Organizational Psychology working in HR), but the knowledge of which is incredibly valuable to my employer.

So, for those currently studying majors which are listed as the worse majors to have for your career or some such title, don’t be overly concerned, rather find a career where you can both utilise your knowledge and where your knowledge is useful – and often its not in the places you least expect it.

I’ll give you an example for how this has worked for some people I employed, the organization I was with advertised for some graduate roles in Human Resources. I lead the selection panel, of the four we employed none had degrees in HR, rather they had degrees in Economics, Finance, Communications and Social Sciences. Why in an HR area would I want these kind of degrees? Simple, in a team of 50 we had plenty of knowledge about HR, but we didn’t have strengths in these other areas. In HR we deal with Finance a lot, and having some in-house Finance knowledge would greatly assist us, we also spend a lot of time communicating our vision so again having people with this knowledge base is really important. If there had been some applicants with a solid major in IT I would have strongly considered them also. My point is, that regardless of your degree, and regardless of market saturation, with some creativity you can leverage your qualifications in a space where the knowledge is needed and underrepresented. The criteria for this to work however, is that you need to apply your knowledge to the field that you’re apply for. I did actually have some IT majors apply, but they couldn’t show me how they would apply their knowledge to HR – while the Finance and Communications majors could illustrate in details that they could base their thinking on their academic foundation but apply it to problems in HR.

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