4 Ways to Make Your Degree Pay for Itself

Soft Skills, Connections, and a Little Creativity Go a Long Way

By now, you probably know that your degree isn’t all you need to land a successful career after college—but, for most, it definitely helps. Here’s how to make that degree mean something in an insanely competitive job market. Hint: it’s all about making your degree mean more than a piece of paper.

1. Make college connections

Did you know that 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking? That leaves just 25 percent to the free-for-all that is job boards—and yet the average corporate job posting receives 250 resume responses!

What this means for you is that getting to know your professors, becoming involved in local organizations, and staying in professional contact with your fellow students are all things that will land you a job more quickly than hoping an e-mail application will stick.

The more connections you have, the more likely it is that someone will think of you when they hear of an opportunity.

2. Your degree isn’t just about book knowledge

There’s more to getting a job than proving you have the knowledge (aka: the degree) to do the job. Nowadays, those soft skills can make or break your career. To make sure you come armed with more than just an impressive resume, spend time thinking about your dream job. Then research the qualities and experience that employers want for that job title.

Interpersonal skills, project management experience, prospecting know-how—whatever it is, you can develop those skills in college to give yourself a leg-up when it’s time to send out that cover letter. If you want to get into sales, for example, take a summer job soliciting donations for an organization you believe in.

3. Create your own job

Sometimes, the market just isn’t there for your skills. Creating your own job is a viable solution, whether you’re still in college or are a post-grad coming up empty on your job search. While you’re in college, look for opportunities to do freelance work to boost your resume. Write for blogs in your industry (even on a volunteer basis), do freelance web design for nonprofits, or even take virtual admin jobs. These are all things that will boost your portfolio and make you stand out as someone who got a head start.

And, if you’re hitting a dead-end out of college, it’s time to get creative. If you majored in Accounting, look for remote bookkeeping positions. If a leadership position is more your style, start pitching classes and workshops to companies in your field.

The secret: some of the best jobs don’t come with advertisements because they’re custom-crafted—by you, for you.

4. Don’t sign up for college blind

Yes, being a mural painter for a living would be just about the best thing ever (and many people do it) …but you can work toward that goal without a degree while working a job that pays the bills.

Instead, pick something interesting that you can see yourself enjoying in a growing field—and that could lead to the perfect opportunity down the line.

Consider your soft skills (are you a people person, great at organization, or really good at persuading others?) and look for a field that caters to those skills.

And don’t pick a major before doing your research. Philosophy majors without a market for their skills abound, and the need for student loans makes situations like that even harder. Research salaries, job markets (demand), and advancement opportunities in the fields you’re interested in before committing.

That way, you don’t find out the hard way: 500 unanswered job applications later.

What landed you your first job out of college? Are you still having more trouble getting hired than you expected? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Marco LeRoc
Marco LeRoc
Author of Activate Your Untapped Potential, Screw College Debt & Cash In with Your Money and the founder Marco LeRoc & Co

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