Did you go to school for something unrelated to your job? You are far from alone. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27.3 percent of college graduates were working in a job directly related to their college major. And a CareerBuilder survey reported that 32 percent of people with a college degree have never worked in a field related to their majors. It is fascinating that what may appear on the surface to be a “mismatch” can boost your career -- as long as you keep your passionate interests foremost in mind.
Lest you think that only singular minds can prosper in a field without the “proper” credentials -- like famed Harvard dropout Bill Gates -- the preponderance of evidence suggests otherwise. For instance, physicians often earn more money at nonclinical jobs compared to what they can make in clinical medicine, reports The Physicians Foundation; while 50 percent of senators and 10 percent of chief executives at large companies have law degrees, another study found. Analogous statistics have been compiled for teachers and accountants, who may also go on to do something they feel more strongly about.
People often define expectations based on a conventional wisdom developed in a world that did not place a premium on multidisciplinary knowledge and skills. But the world has evolved, and having a broad base can enhance your value and/or lessen your risk. Possibly more than ever before, each step in your career can increase the “equity” that you have built during your prior roles, even if those roles were in seemingly disparate fields. Imagine for example that you -- as I did -- first trained in medicine, then worked on Wall Street, and then founded a biotechnology company that eventually became publicly traded.
1. You can speak to a wider range of audiences.
Whether discussing the status of your company’s product development with doctors, or meeting with potential investors, you should be better able to customize your message to be maximally informative and have the greatest value for your audience. Your chances of connecting to your listeners should be higher with a balanced and broad background. Further, your audience should have a better experience if you can relate to them in terms that they understand based on their own skill sets. This could otherwise be a challenge if they perceive you to be out of your “comfort zone.”
2. It may be easier to access potential investors.
Having a specific background in business is a major advantage regardless of your core “official” discipline. In my case, having earned an MBA and worked on “the street” helped me navigate the challenges of finding and connecting with interested investors, who may have otherwise been hard to reach, regardless of the promise held by the products my company is developing. Having spent time understanding how companies make money and judiciously deploy capital before I became a biotech CEO yields advantages that I would not have had if I started a biotechnology company directly out of medical school.
3. You are better prepared to make complicated decisions and weather a crisis.
When the going gets tough, those with the widest perspectives and background should be best prepared. If you run a biotech firm, you will always deal with complicated questions and you should expect to face unexpected challenges. These could include decisions about which R&D program to fund, unexpected setbacks in the clinical development plan, difficulties obtaining adequate investor support, or selecting among a range of strategic options. Having wide historical experience should mean that you could draw on more resources to successfully negotiate convoluted paths.
4. It is easier to evaluate the potential of your company’s products or services.
If you were a biotech company CEO with a purely medical background, you could find it easier to understand the needs for a product under development, but analyzing how the market might respond to it and evaluating its economic value could be difficult. Conversely, having a purely business background might allow you to better understand the product’s market potential and its relevance to your stock, but you may be less comfortable understanding and explaining the science and evaluating its probability of success. Having a background in both science and business should make you better suited to both sets of tasks.
5. You have greater options for the future.
When it is time to move on from your current job, having a broader background means you may have greater freedom to choose from multiple new directions. You will have hopefully enhanced the “equity” you have been building within yourself. With a resume that proves you have the chops in more than one field, you can more easily open the doors to a new career. Since no one has a crystal ball and few can predict how their current field will evolve over the coming years, flexibility combined with knowledge and skills from more than one discipline should provide a genuine benefit for your future.
The overall lesson is clear: work on what interests you, regardless of what your official degree suggests, and keep acquiring new skills and knowledge during your journey. You are more likely to be happy—and you just might wind up a lot more successful than you would have expected.