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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

You’re More than Just Your Major

You’re More than Just Your Major

By Jonathan Lewis '11

Choosing a major was easily the most stressful part of my years at Stony Brook. Thinking pragmatically, I knew that studying engineering would set me up for a lucrative career. But I found myself much more engaged in my history and political science courses. Ultimately, I decided to make the switch from STEM to humanities in my sophomore year.

Once I changed to liberal arts, I found that I loved going to my new classes every day - but I secretly dreaded the thought of one day graduating and having to find work. What I had lost sight of was the fact that classes are just one part of the university experience. Today, I work as a supply-chain engineer for a major food distributor. In a blog article for the American Historical Association, I detailed how my major helped me develop useful skills for my job; but this time, I want to speak more to how my hobbies and extra-curricular activities during college helped me stand out among applicants during my job hunt.

Back when I was going on interviews, I was often asked by hiring managers about what I was doing outside of class. I told them how during my junior year, some friends and I started doing an annual online charity telethon to raise money to help buy games and toys for children’s hospitals. Running a 24/7 live event involves a substantial amount of data analytics. For the event, I was tasked with determining peak times for viewership to maximize the potential donor draw when scheduling on-camera special events. As it turns out, my current position also requires a lot of manipulating data and drawing conclusions useful to developing business strategies. The hiring managers at my company were impressed that I’d not only used real-world data to implement decisions, but had done so on a project of my own initiative.

Even if your major is going to feed directly into a dream career, you can use your extra-curricular experiences to stand out among a crowded field of applicants. The interview process is not just about screening for job skills, but also determining if an applicant is a good fit for the office culture. My extracurricular experiences helped in this area, too. I did two study abroad programs: one to Shanghai through Stony Brook University, and another to Southern France as a non-traditional student. I found out during my interview with my current boss that he was a non-traditional student for a semester in Sweden. Making that small personal connection changed the whole tone of the interview. The conversation was more relaxed, and I felt more confident when discussing my job-specific skills because the person interviewing me was no longer a stranger.

Applying for jobs as a freshly minted graduate can be difficult, especially when many companies are looking for applicants who are experienced with applying skills to real-world situations. When building your resume, remember that you have been developing skills not only through class, but through your extra-curricular activities as well!


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