How important is your college major in landing a job? 3 Austin tech execs weigh in

Kelly O'Halloran
September 29, 2016

While most jobs require at least a Bachelor’s degree, research indicates that what you earned it in doesn’t totally matter. Forbes disclosed last year that 62 percent of recent college grads work in jobs that require a degree, however, 35 percent of them work in roles not relative to their field of study. 
 
We caught up with three Austin executives in the startup tech community to weigh in on what relevance a major played in their roles and if it affects their hiring process when looking for new team members.
 

Kevin Fox, VP of Financial and Media Operations

Fox earned his bachelors in finance from the University of Miami thinking he wanted to get into commercial banking. His path wasn't exactly what he thought it would be. 

How much has your finance degree played a role in your career?

It played little to no role in my career. I earned my finance degree and wasn't able to get a commercial banking role once out of school. I'd land interviews but they'd turn me away for not knowing enough about accounting, so I went back to school for accounting and really liked it. Then I became an auditor and spent 10 years as a CPA before recognizing I needed a change.
 
My brother had started AdAction about four months prior, so when I started to figure out what's next, I looked into what he was up to. Now I work in marketing with a guy on my team who used to be a biology teacher. 

When looking at job candidates, how much attention (or lack there of) do you give to college degree majors? Why?

For me, maybe because of my own background, I don’t take a lot of stock in what they majored in. We have a prerequisite that you have to have a degree from somewhere, but the major is never something that a candidate can't overcome in an interview. 
 
Nobody has a background or degree that is related to what we do at AdAction. I honestly prefer someone who doesn't have direct related experience, because we feel we do things that set us apart from competitors, and if the candidates know everything already they might not mold into how we do it here. 
 
If it’s a rigorous degree like economic and mathematics, then I'd be interested in learning more about that, but that's only one piece.

What advice do you have for job candidates worried about their degree "not matching" job descriptions?

I would definitely not listen to the must-haves in the list of job requirements. As an employer when you're writing the job description, you're writing it for maybe the perfect job candidate. We don't hold it against someone if they don't have the experience. Candidates can address the lack of experience in a cover letter or go into an interview and address it there. Talk about the all of the specific things you can bring to a position, like being productive and a solid teammate. 
 
 
 

Blake Garrett, CEO and founder

Earning his degree in accounting from Boston College, Garrett founded Aceable in 2012 after six years working for Ernst and Young as an advisory services manager. 

How much has your accounting degree played a role in your career?

I think I underestimate what my major meant for my career. I take my ability to thoroughly understand financial reports and key metrics for granted in my day-to-day.
 
In my career, my major gave me the opportunity to work for EY in the Big 4 (Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Ernst and Young, and KPMG). That opened the door to so many growth opportunities. I was able to be part of a team that consistently delivered on incredibly complex projects for the largest companies in the world. It taught me how to embrace challenges while delivering a world-class product. 

When looking at job candidates, how much attention (or lack there of) do you give to college degree majors? Why? 

It totally depends on the role. If it were an accounting position, I'd expect to see an accounting degree. However, for the most part, I focus on experiences and examples of the person demonstrating exceptional work relevant to the job they're applying for.

What advice do you have for job candidates worried about their degree "not matching" job descriptions?

If you really think it's a concern, address it in the cover letter. In sales, there's the concept of objection handling. A cover letter gives you a chance to do just that. Tell me why your experience matters more than an applicable degree and then show me times you've been exceptional.

 
 

Brandi Eppolito, Director of Marketing

Eppolito has over 10 years of marketing experience, including her current role heading the marketing department at Clearhead and her earlier role as an intern at LSU while earning her bachelor degree in communications. She also graduated from the University of Texas with an MBA from the McCombs School of Business.  

How much have your degrees played a role in your career?

While my focus professionally is more on the marketing side of the house rather than PR, my ability to write well and adhere to deadlines has been invaluable. However, more than my major, my internships in college are what really made an impact on the trajectory of my career. They introduced me to marketing, allowed me to get hands-on experience and familiarized me with the ways of the working world. 

When looking at job candidates, how much attention (or lack there of) do you give to college degree majors? Why?

While I do look at what candidates have majored in, it typically carries little weight for me. I focus much more on experience and capabilities. For someone fresh out of undergrad with no experience, I'd likely put more focus on the major simply because there may not be much else to go off of on paper. 

What advice do you have for job candidates worried about their degree "not matching" job descriptions?

In the words of Elsa, let it go. If you can demonstrate through volunteering, internships or extracurriculars that you're a good fit for the position, most hiring managers will not think twice about the mismatch between your major and your desired position.
 
 
 
Images provided by companies, Shutterstock and LinkedIn.
 
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