Career Advice Aug 31 2011

The Best Majors for Your Career

By elizabeth garone

Majors matter—even if you're not exactly sure of the career you want.

While some prospective college students may pick their undergraduate major without much thought, five majors are more versatile than others when it comes to job-hunting, according to Seattle-based online salary and career data provider marketing, economics, business, communications and psychology.

Here are the career paths and salaries that, according to PayScale, are most often associated with these majors, along with what experts say are the majors' most valuable skills.

Major: Marketing

Most valuable skills: understanding of supply and demand; ease and skill with numbers; clear and effective oral and written expression; ability to think strategically and plan in advance; presentation and project management skills; familiarity with social media and emerging digital applications.

What the experts say: At Olympus Corporation of the Americas, marketing majors are in high demand, according to Caryn Dashukewich, Olympus' corporate vice president for human resources. "This year, when senior Olympus leaders were asked which college degrees they preferred human resources to target during recruiting efforts for our Olympus Fellows Program, marketing was the most requested," she says.

Typical starting pay*: $38,200

Career paths:

Business operations (business development manager, employment/recruitment/placement specialist

Finance/Insurance (certified financial planner, risk management manager)

Marketing /Advertising (advertising account executive, brand marketing manager, marketing consultant)

Communications/PR (public relations manager)

Product management (product development manager in marketing)

Sales (account executive, general sales manager, director of sales and marketing)

Major: Economics

Most valuable skills: ability to interpret and communicate quantitative information to others; ease and skill with numbers; analytical problem-solving skills; understanding of the effects of economic changes and global events.

What the experts say: "People who have studied economics know how to use theoretical models and factual knowledge to solve problems, and in many jobs and occupations that technique produces better decisions than going with one's gut or being the loudest voice in the room," says Laurence Shatkin, author of "50 Best College Majors for a Secure Future" and "10 Best College Majors for Your Personality." "Economics teaches reasoned ways to make business decisions. Almost every workplace needs that."

Typical starting pay*: $47,300

Career paths:

Accounting (accounting consultant, tax accountant)

Business operations (business development analyst, healthcare benefits consultant, human resources consultant, management analyst)

Finance/Insurance (certified financial planner, credit manager, investment banking analyst, investments analyst, risk management manager)

Product management (assistant product manager, product marketing manager)

Sales (inside sales manager, international sales manager, software sales representative)

Government (economist, research analyst, data analyst)

Major: Business

Most valuable skills: understanding of organizational behavior and structure; research and analytical skills; effective written and oral communication; ease and skill with numbers and the ability to interpret financial data; time and project management skills; ability to work as part of a team.

What the experts say: Nathan Bennett, co-author of "Your Career Game" and a Georgia Institute of Technology management professor, considers school's business departments a "logical place" to look for talent, especially if students have been given the opportunity to learn through co-op programs and live case study courses. "The ability for students to apply what they are learning as they are learning it is so valuable," he says. "And, it builds a student who already has experience in solving real business problems, presenting solutions to executives, and in some cases leading the implementation of solutions."

Typical starting pay*: $41,000

Possible career paths:

Accounting (accounting manager, financial controller, tax manager)

Architecture/Construction (construction cost estimator, construction project manager)

Business operations (business development analyst, human resources consultant, management analyst, recruiting manager)

Finance/Insurance (certified financial planner, credit manager, investments analyst, portfolio manager)

Government (intelligence analyst)

Healthcare (assisted living administrator, nursing home director)

Information technology (business management software consultant, software quality assurance manager, systems analyst)

Marketing/Advertising (brand manager, marketing manager)

Nonprofits (nonprofit business administration manager, nonprofit development manager)

Product management (assistant product manager, e-commerce product manager)

Sales (account manager, general sales manager, inside sales manager, insurance broker)

Major: Communications

Most valuable skills: strong oral and written skills; experience with research methods and practice; ability to work as part of a team; fluency with social media.

What the experts say: "Communications majors always get a first look from us," says David Ratner, president and COO of Newman Communications in Watertown, Mass. "As a PR agency that deals both heavily with clients and media, it is essential for our team to have strong interpersonal skills and the ability to write well. Trust is an important factor in our business, and solid communications skills help build that foundation."

Typical starting pay*: $38,200

Possible career paths:

Business Operations (Employment/Recruitment/Placement Specialist, Recruiting Manager)

Marketing/Advertising (Advertising Account Executive, Brand Manager, Marketing Consultant)

Communications/PR (Public Relations Manager, Creative Director)

Nonprofits (Nonprofit Development Manager, Nonprofit Director of Development, Nonprofit Director)

Product Management (e-Commerce Product Manager, Product Marketing Manager)

Sales (Account Executive, Outside Sales Rep, Pharmaceutical Sales Rep)

Major: Psychology

Most valuable skills: excellent writing and communication skills; good interpersonal skills; ease and skill with numbers; understanding of statistics and research methodology; ability to critically evaluate and interpret data; understanding of the human mind and behavior.

What the experts say: "When hiring, we look for talent that brings a perspective on what we need to control and how we need to control it and insight into the resulting perceptions," says Robert Shively, CEO of Metadigm Services, Inc., a smart meter services company in Atlanta. "Therefore, a background in psychology is not only highly useful but also desirable."

Typical starting pay*: $35,000

Possible career paths:

Business operations (employment/recruitment/placement specialist, health-care benefits consultant, human resources consultant)

Healthcare (assisted living administrator, clinical research associate, nursing home director, clinical data analyst)

Nonprofits (nonprofit business administration manager, nonprofit development manager, nonprofit director, nonprofit director of development)

Product management (marketing product development manager, product marketing manager)

Sales (account executive, inside sales manager, outside sales rep, pharmaceuticals sales rep)

* Typical pay for all jobs associated with the major

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