Leveraging your communication degree

Has this ever happened to you? You meet someone new, and since you're a student, one of the first three questions that comes up in conversation is: What's your major? Your response - communication - elicits a funny look ("You can major in that?"), joke ("So you have to study what the rest of us just do naturally?") or blank stare.

If you've been in this situation before, you're not alone. People who are unfamiliar with the field often fail to understand the complex, multifaceted definitions of communication as more than the act of talking. As communication scholars, we see the relevance of our discipline in every facet of life, including the pursuit of careers in journalism, advertising, public relations, human resources, nonprofits, event planning, teaching, counseling, law...the list goes on.

Communication majors - and liberal arts students in general - tend to take a lot of flack, but they shouldn't have to. As a comm student, you're developing evergreen skills that will be useful regardless of the career path you choose. You're actually becoming more prepared for post-grad life because of - not in spite of - the major you have chosen. Once you have that nice shiny diploma in your hand and are ready to head into that first big interview, though, you'll need to be able to articulate just what it is about your new degree that makes you such an excellent candidate for the job.

The ability to ask meaningful questions, analyze data and find credible answers is an incredibly marketable skill in today's world. Research likely played a significant role in your undergraduate experience, and even if your future career doesn't involve traditional forms of research, many of the things you've learned can be transferred to more applicable contexts (e.g., conducting needs assessments, analyzing key performance indicators or interviewing employees for a re-branding effort, for example).

Another key takeaway (perhaps the one people most regularly identify) is your ability to prepare and execute an engaging presentation. You've taken public speaking, given loads of speeches and presented to a variety of different audiences. This is great! Even if you're not the most confident public speaker, you still know what goes into a successful presentation and you're able to put one together.

You would be hard-pressed to find a job application that does not include excellent communication skills or the ability to function well within a team environment in the requirements section. This is where the lessons you learned in interpersonal, intercultural and organizational communication come in very handy. As a comm major, you understand how to interpret and analyze communicative behaviors at macro, mezzo and micro levels, and that understanding has turned you into a communicatively competent person who can easily adapt to different audiences.

Pro Tip: In your classes, you've likely conducted a few significant projects related to your field of interest. Assemble some of your best, most relevant work into a portfolio that can be shared with future employers. Also be sure to list any foreign language skills (with proficiency included) on your resume.

In addition to these specific communicative strengths, never underestimate the "soft" skills you've developed during your time at SLU. Things like critical thinking, empathy and creativity make you more desirable as a prospective employee because they are much harder to teach in non-university settings.

Pro tip: Think of a few specific examples that you can use to illustrate your maturity in these areas in your cover letters and interviews, instead of just saying you are a "creative, empathetic critical thinker."

As a communication student or recent graduate, you have used your time in school to develop a way of being in the world that will never be replaced by new software or updated technology. As an excellent communicator who can adapt, understand teams and employ emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills, you will always be in high demand.

Now the next time someone gives you a strange look when you say you're majoring in communication, you'll be prepared to respond with some pretty compelling support for studying in this field. Who knows? If they're a student, you might even convince them to change their major.

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