Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Worst and Best Paying College Majors – Are we asking the right question?


Are you driven by high earning potential? I mean real money. Payscale.com recently published their 2011/2012 salary survey by college major. I guess when you have data you can do anything with it.

For some college majors, for some people, the Payscale.com survey data is meaningful. For it to be useful, it has to be a specialized major that connects (strong correlation) to a specific type of work. For example, it is likely that those who complete an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education are teaching elementary education. In that scenario, the Payscale survey is meaningful and helpful. If you are fully self-aware, understand what a career in elementary education entails (what soft skills, continuing education, etc. are required)  and see yourself as a good fit to the job/career, then you can expect to earn right around the median (geographic differences will explain most of the higher or lower pay range). Money won’t be a personal motivator for that career. However, helping others is a personal motivator for the Elementary Education Teacher career path. What that means is that the job of Elementary Education Teacher rewards “work” that helps others.

If you look at the survey list of college majors, there is one fundamental flaw. The data does not take into account what the person is doing job- and career-wise. Isn’t that the better (more valid) question? How you get there is insightful but not predictive of your potential income as much as “what” you do in your career.

I had a boss back in the ’80s by the name of Don J. Redlinger. He was actually my bosses’ boss. Don was business unit VP, Human Resources. His income, including stock options, put him on a trajectory to being a millionaire. He later was promoted to SVP, Human Resources for the entire multi-national Allied Signal corporation. He was in his 30’s at the time. What degree did Don have? A B.A. in History. Looking at the listing of college majors based on mid-career median income, Don should have been at about $69,000. If he had received a degree in Human Resources, his salary might have been around $62,600. Both are wrong. His degree was a strategic choice along with the college he went to. “What” he was doing was most important and relevant to his income. The industry he was in, and the career path he pursued are much greater predictors of income. How he got to the VP position early in his career has a lot to do with the “total package” which includes your “talent” as well as what you did back in high school, college, internships and early jobs out of college.  My learning – a B.A. degree in History can be extremely valuable across a broad range of careers. Your talent and your strategy determine how well you leverage the degree.

Let’s look at another example – a long-time colleague and client of mine, Freddye Silverman. Freddye has a B.A. degree in  Spanish and M.Ed in Spanish and Education. So what is she doing today, 20+ years since her completion of her education? She is Vice President, Eastern Region at Jeitosa Group International. She is a respected and recognized leader in the HR technology solutions field who has more than 25 years experience as a practitioner and consultant in HR IT.  Freddye also has a teaching background in foreign languages which “enhances her global view”. Prior to Jeitosa she was VP, HR Technology Solutions for Cendant Corporation.

Because she has been a long-time client of The Nielson Group (corporate consulting where we use assessments to coach professionals and executives and assist with evaluating candidates during the hiring process using assessments), Freddye has been assessed using the same assessments used in the Career Coaching for Students program. When she reads her assessment results, she quickly says, “this is who I’ve been all my life“.

We know a great deal more than we did 20+ years ago about measuring personal talent and job matching. In Freddye’s case, what we now know, if used back then, might have suggested she look at a double major, Spanish (foreign language is a passion of hers) and Business Management, specializing in IT project management. Instead of starting her career in teaching (she is “behaviorally” a good fit for teaching/training as well) she might have gone directly into a corporate environment where her income in those early years might have been higher and she would have experienced much greater passion for what she was doing.

Hierarchy of Personal Motivators

Freddye's Personal Motivators

Behavior Insights Wheel

Freddye's Behavioral Style

For Freddye to have remained in teaching (lower pay, help others), her Social motivator (see chart above) would have needed to be much higher and her Utilitarian much lower. While Freddye may not have recognized the forces at work, she has the kind of behavioral style that “easily recognizes and accepts the need for change”. She isn’t one to stay in a situation that doesn’t excite her. She made a career shift early on. Over 50% of the population (including student populations) do not have a behavioral style that can shift as easily and dramatically as Freddye’s.

Many adults are in roles they chose while in college – by default. For those where the choice was a good one (the job’s talent demands fit the person’s talent make-up) it worked out well. For those that weren’t so lucky (around 50%), the chance of watching ten or more years tick off while they feel less than fulfilled and mediocre is high. Choosing a major based on “earning potential of that major” isn’t a good strategy.

We can’t predict the future. But we can do a much better job of helping students look at careers/jobs that match their talent design (behaviors, motivators, sometimes referred to as personality). If a student has a clearer idea of what makes them excited to get up in the morning and how the work they do feels natural to them, they will be much more likely to be successful. Money is one type of reward. There are other types of rewards that are equally powerful and important for success. Look at the job or career-match to your talents rather than the income potential of a major as a first step. Then look at the possible educational strategies that will support your career aspirations. If your career choice is aligned with your talent, any major that allows you to enter that career will work.

Degrees
Degrees
Methodology
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.

By the way, there is no “best major” for a Sales career (see article about groundbreaking research on top performing sales professionals) yet, sales is one of the highest median income career paths. The type of sales and choice of industry are much greater predictors of potential earnings.

Best and Worst Undergrad College Degrees by Major - Are we asking the right question?

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.

Fear of Failure, Success, the Unknown: Which One Controls You?


Your key to successFear of Failure. Fear of Success. Fear of the Unknown. Any of these can be the handcuffs for teens looking at the future and wondering what it holds. What career direction should I pursue? What educational strategy is best for me? What college should I choose? Any of these questions can play an invisible role in hindering pursuit of our potential.

High school academics doesn’t reveal much when it comes to identifying those that have a fear that hinders their success. A student can excel in academics, even be labeled “most likely to succeed” by their class mates. Yet, we see many of these enter college, change majors multiple times and procrastinate as they approach college graduations.

Teens that are academically performing at a level lower than their potential may also be challenged with fear. Today’s educational system allows just about anyone to excel if they have the ambition. Most students are very bright and capable regardless of their academic standing. If they missed developing the foundation for success in reading, writing, math, it is harder to show academic excellence but that does not change the fact that they are likely very bright.

If fear is playing a role in limiting a person future, it is helpful to understand which fear it might be. Fear of success, fear of failure and fear of the unknown are reviewed in this article. A few strategies are also offered for conquering the fear.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is related to fear of criticsim and rejection. Successful people see failure as simple feedback and nothing more. Unsuccessful people or those not moving forward look at mistakes as permanent and personal.

Most people self-limit themselves. They don’t achieve a fraction of what they are capable of achieving because they fear they will fail.

Fear of Success

Fear of success can be just as paralyzing as fear of failure. Many people fear success because it tests their limits and makes them vulnerable to new situations. Even worse, success can expose weaknesses and force people to deal with their flaws.   Success is scary because it involves change.

For people with a fear of success, the internal feelings when thinking about the possibility of success are very close to what is felt when we are failing at something. Success can be intimidating and hard to handle. With success comes more challenges and responsibilities – and that can be threatening.

Sometimes people fear success because they don’t know if they can live up to their achievements. They don’t think they’re good enough or smart enough. They’re afraid they don’t have what it takes to rise to the challenge, and they don’t know if they can sustain their success.

There is another condition that feeds the fear of success. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” – which threatens to lead to disappointment. And many of us-especially if we’ve been subject to verbal abuse-have been told we were losers our whole lives, in one way or another. We have internalized that feedback and feel that we don’t deserve success. Even those of us who were not abused or otherwise traumatized often associate success with uncomfortable things such as competition.  Take a simple Fear of Success quiz.

Fear of the Unknown

Fear of the unknown is a peculiar condition in most of us, where we find ourselves freezing up as we think of embarking upon something we are not acquainted with.  Fear of the unknown can leave a person in a frozen status. They are afraid of entering and exploring the new ground, because they think they might get in trouble. They are afraid of losing what they already have by jumping into the unknown.

Fear of the unknown is a common phenomenon with young people, when they don’t wish to accept or pursue anything unfamiliar. There is a certain safety radar in our body that keeps us alarmed of the various dangers that come into our life.  These safety limits are learned during our growing years as a child.

While as a child we were often restricted by our parents or taught to fear unusual situations. We then become apprehensive about meeting anything new and foreign. This fear, in a way, restricts an individual into a particular fenced area of the “known”, depriving him from the excitement of meeting the future with enthusiasm.

If allowed to persist, the fear can ultimately lead to a very restricted lifestyle, devoid of the various essences in life. They know what they should be doing, but they can’t take action because they think there is a risk involved with this big life transition.

The Internal Conflict Between What You Want and What You Already Have

Yes, you will be leaving your well known life and begin to embrace a totally new lifestyle. But, here’s something that’s worth thinking about: Aren’t you already in trouble? What urged you to search for your true passion? Aren’t you hungry for a meaning in your life? Aren’t you already feeling the fear of being lost and wandering aimlessly through life lacking a real purpose? Are you happy with the idea of doing work that has no meaning and wasting your precious time doing something that doesn’t really matter to you?

Be Smart About FearSo what can you do?

If you think you have a fear of failure, start looking at life with a new paradigm: there is no failure, only feedback. The only way we learn is through trial and error experience. The only way you have learned anything is through mistakes. The only way to be successful is to learn (fail).

To overcome the fear of failure, first take action. Bold, decisive action.  Fear of failure immobilizes you. To overcome this fear, you must act. When you act, act boldly.   Action gives you the power to change the circumstances or the situation. You must overcome the inertia by doing something. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? As the Nike commercial says, just do it. If it doesn’t work out the way you want, then do something else. But DO SOMETHING NOW. Second, be persistant. Successful people just don’t give up. They keep trying different approaches to achieving their outcomes until they finally get the results they want. Third, don’t take failure personally. Failure is about behavior, outcomes, and results. Failure is not a personality characteristic. Fourth, do things differently. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something else. There is an old saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” If you’re not getting the results you want, then you must do something different. And finally, look for possible opportunities that result from the experience. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, says “every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.” Look for the opportunity and the benefit.

If you think you have a fear of success, first differentiate between feelings of excitement (positive) and a “trauma reaction.” Think of a time in your past when you were very successful. Recall your body’s physical response. Perhaps your heart rate was up. What other physical responses can you recall? Now think of a time when you failed and the failure was a public embarrassment. What was your body’s physical response? What we’ve found is that failure (stress) and success (excitement) produce similar physical reactions in our body. So differentiate your feelings of success as positive, not negative.

Second, look for actions or behaviors that are self-sabotaging. For example, partying or watching TV the night before the big exam or presentation at school, or you somehow always ruin the opportunity for a good night’s sleep. Third, stop procrastinating. Putting projects, assignments, or duties off while you take care of non-essential fluff or “make-work” chores can be a sign of fear of success. If you putter around instead of taking care of business, you may be subconsciously sabotaging yourself.

Fourth,  stop talking about it and start doing. Sometimes certain behaviors look like laziness, but they reveal a fear of success. For instance, you may talk about your life dreams and goals all the time, but you watch TV every night and surf the Internet for hours every day. You never actually take practical steps or exert self-discipline to move in the direction of your goals.

And last, stop creating negative, pessimistic talk. Fear of success can involve an extremely negative perspective of life. “What’s the point of dressing up for the job interview? I probably won’t get it anyway.” Not trying – and focusing on all the things that can go wrong – is self-sabotaging behavior.

If you think you have a fear of the unknown, first know this type of fear is not that fatal to an individual, yet it should definitely be remedied in order to enjoy a healthy life. For that, first of all, we have to turn the unfamiliar into the familiar.

This can be successfully achieved through meditation and by playing upon our imagination. Our mind does not care for any restriction. Neither does our imagination. Our thoughts and imagination, if applied, can definitely solve much of the problem of the fear of the unknown. As Steve Jobs says, “You’re already naked, so there is no reason why you don’t follow your heart”.

The only way to beat the fear of the unknown is to take the first step. If you’re afraid of getting in trouble, remember that you’re already in a bigger trouble by not following your heart. If you listen to the voice of your fears, you’ll live an empty life. But, if you listen to the voice of your heart, you’ll live a remarkable life.

Take the first step and beat your fears. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.