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Answers to "does major really matter?" and other burning questions

Recruiting experts share honest answers to students' top questions, including the importance of major, GPA, and more

In the job search, it can often feel like nobody gets real about the process. With so many unspoken rules, how are job seekers supposed to know how to proceed and when to tweak their applications? That's why we brought together a panel of pros to break down these walls and bring some clarity into the recruitment process, starting with the most commonly asked questions we hear from students. TikTok career influencer Avalon Fenster (AKA InternshipGirl!) kicked off an enlightening conversation with the following panelists:

  • Deana Welsch, Campus Recruiting Manager at RSM, who gave insights about how and when to negotiate an offer
  • Danny Hullihan, Recruiter at Epic, who broke down whether your major determines your career options

For more inside scoops from the pros, watch the full session below:

First, what types of roles do your companies recruit for?

Deana: RSM is a professional services company that focuses on 3 lines of business: audit, tax, and consulting. We have 85 offices in the US and Canada and over 60,000 employees. No matter what you’re interested in and no matter where you’re based, there are a variety of opportunities! Check out our careers page if you’re looking for an internship or a full-time role to start this summer.

Danny: I work at Epic, the biggest company you’ve never heard of. We make healthcare software and hire people from all backgrounds! To give you some perspective on the variety of roles, only 3,000 of our 13,000 employees are software developers. Quite a few others test, implement, and maintain the software, and others work in supporting departments like marketing or human resources.

What if I don’t have the experience required for an “entry-level” job posting?

Danny: Being not too far from college myself, I remember this frustration well! But there’s really no trick to it—just look for companies that want to develop you once you’re there. When it comes to your resume, you all went to college and studied a specific passion or interest—something you’re good at and now developed in—so write about that on your resume! Employers want to see what defines you, including any extracurriculars you put your time into. That said, it’s always best to limit this to things you actually enjoy and can speak enthusiastically about in an interview.

Deana: Also don’t discredit the job experience you do have! I’ve worked with plenty of students who say things like, “I’ve only worked as a landscaper while I was helping my dad last summer!” They think this doesn’t matter, but it absolutely does, because it likely involved transferable skills and hard work. Even if you were managing inventory and supplies, acting as a cashier at a grocery store, or babysitting a 3 and 5 year old (and managing their schedules), this is experience! You can combine this with any other campus involvement, demonstrated interests, and course work to build a great resume. Realize that not every company has a robust campus program or strategy, so they may be looking to fill an associate role with anyone—from true entry level to 2-3 years of experience. I’d give a bit of grace to employers who do this, because they may not actually require the level of experience listed.

Do recruiters care about majors, and do majors determine career tracks?

Deana: Yes, but only sometimes. I studied health science in my undergrad and thought I was going into the medical world, but here I am at RSM, managing a campus recruiting team. A major doesn’t have to silo you into one career field, but recruiters do look for people who are obtaining a certain educational foundation. At companies like RSM, majors do matter, because our audit and tax practices require an accounting background. While we can look at a wider range of majors when it comes to consulting, hiring managers do want business or technology majors. That said, if you chose a major four years ago and have since realized it doesn’t align with your intended career path, start doing things that will help widen your experience, whether it’s adding a minor, extra classes, or a certification in the area of your interest.

Danny: It’s always good to brag about what you know and what your experience is, and your major is tantamount to that. You have a million other things to your name besides your degree, but it does matter, because you worked hard for it, and it may color your career choices. Even so, I’m proud to represent a company that doesn’t typically care about majors. I was an English major with a focus on writing, but now I’m a recruiter. I firmly believe you can find a job regardless of your major.

Does GPA really matter in the professional world, and should applicants add it to their resume? When shouldn’t they add it?

Danny: I’d always include GPA when you’re new to the job market. Job applications take time both for you and for the company considering you, and if a position has limitations based on GPA, you’ll both save time by being transparent. In terms of GPA actually being important in the workforce, the answer is no. Once you get that great internship or job, you’ll never revisit it again once you have a year or two of experience.

Deana: While I’d be lying if I said we didn’t look at GPA, I’d be super proud to share anything above a 3.0. If you’re falling below that but want to apply to a job where GPA matters, I’d suggest working on boosting it while also using some additional tools and resources to get your foot in a company’s door. Even so, there are sometimes very valid reasons for low GPAs—maybe you started with a major and really didn’t like it. If that’s the case, it can help to include a cover letter to explain why your GPA has fallen behind while also outlining other accomplishments that show why you’re a good candidate.

So, are cover letters worth the time?

Deana: Unless it’s a situation like the one mentioned above or if the company requires one, no. If somebody submits cover letter, I scan it and take a look, because it usually means they have something extra (and valuable) to say. If you do feel compelled to write one, make sure it’s addressed to the right company. If it has errors of any kind, you’ll be better off not sending it!

Danny: There is a window into each candidate’s life that you can grasp from a cover letter, but it always pales in comparison to what they can bring to the interview. The general cover letter philosophy is to use it to explain shortcomings, gaps, or special aspects of yourself, but I always prefer to wait for the interview to cover all that.

What are some common mistakes in resumes students should avoid?

Danny: If you’re using an automatic resume creator, quadruple check it to make sure it doesn’t have any generic elements from the templates you used (such as text saying “insert experience here”). Also make sure your dates line up and are truthful—it’s always awkward when someone notices an unexplained gap in your experience. Apart from checking your work, make sure to include the things you care about and will enjoy discussing in an interview, whether it’s a fun project or a great summer job you had.

Deana: My biggest pet peeve is not knowing when somebody graduated. When this happens, I often move on to the next resume. It’s okay to include an anticipated date—just give us a ballpark so we know where you are in your college career. This will let the recruiter know what opportunities you’re eligible for. At RSM, we don’t let recent college graduates do internships, so if you’ve already graduated but want an internship, you unfortunately won’t be eligible. Let us know when you graduated to save us both time!

Is it worth it to do cold outreach via emailing or LinkedIn? Any tips on what not to do?

Danny: I personally read all cold outreaches, but I don’t respond to every one—particularly if somebody is misinformed or acting spammy (like a recruiter trying to poach my network). If you do reach out cold, be upfront about what you want, and know what you’re talking about. Do your research first!

Deana: I’d actually recommend sending cold messages to actual employees in the area of a business you’re hoping to enter—those who are doing the work you hope to someday do. Ask for a bit of their time, and learn about the business that way. Cold outreach shouldn’t scare you, but just make sure you reach out to the right people! Find ones who are willing to help, and ask them to make a personalized intro to the campus recruiter. You’ll likely have more success that way!

When is it appropriate to ask about salary?

Danny: I’d always wait until you’re talking with somebody face to face vs. emailing about it. There are a lot of intricacies when it comes to salary, particularly on the employer’s side. It should come up naturally later in the process, either during or after a phone interview. It’s always worth asking about salary when the time comes, but just realize that some companies—Epic included—don’t allow for salary negotiations for entry level jobs. That said, you earn raises and bonuses every year based on your skills and performance.

Deana: Also realize that pay transparency is a hot topic right now, and a lot of states are now requiring that companies post a salary range on job descriptions. Due to this requirement, quite a few companies are now posting salary ranges proactively. This will likely make early salary discussions a moot point in the next few years. Use Glassdoor and to look at the entry level salary vs. the average salary, because these are typically very different. The time to discuss and negotiate salary based on your experience will come once you get an offer—again, if a company allows entry level candidates to negotiate. It’s worth having a conversation no matter what, particularly if you have a skill or extenuating circumstance that warrants an increase in compensation.

How quickly do you need to make a decision after getting a job offer?

Deana: It depends on the individual! If you know you want to be at a particular company in a particular role, you might accept it right away. Others might need more time—typically up to two weeks or even a month. As you get older and more experienced, the time to make a decision can become less and less. As you consider the offer, ask to talk with others at the company about their experience there, what resources they have available, and what the company culture is like.

Danny: From my standpoint, your decision should come whenever you’re comfortable with it. If you think it’s 100% the opportunity for you, it should be an easy decision. Obviously it shouldn’t take months, so set a general timeline with your recruiter. I consider it a red flag if the recruiter and company try to rush you into accepting and don’t take your comfort into consideration.

Should applicants research a company and their interviewers before an interview?

Deana: Absolutely! It’s a huge plus when you do this. It’s a big no-no to show up for an interview not knowing much about a company or job. I’ve also heard good feedback from hiring managers after candidates have said, “I saw you went to X school and studied Y, and I saw your first job was at Z company,” because it made the interviewer feel as if the candidate put in the time and effort to prepare. I think an average of 30 minutes of research should be sufficient before an interview, but this might vary depending on the job and person. Just know who you’re interviewing with and why!

Danny: Also take note of what other people working at the company think of it (i.e. read Glassdoor reviews). Be very aware of how much the company is telling you during the company and how many people they introduce you to during the process. If the company isn’t putting in their best effort to introduce you to the role, it’ll be hard to know what you’ll actually be doing once hired. As for researching your recruiters and interviewers, definitely do your research, but be careful not to bring up too many personal details about them, otherwise it could be jarring.

Should you share whether you’re interviewing with other companies, and if so, when?

Deana: I typically ask candidates about this upfront—not to see who the competitors are but to see if the other roles compare to what they’re interviewing for at RSM. If you’re interviewing for a tech risk job but then tell me you’re also interviewing for investment banking roles, I’ll be wondering just how interested you are in the role I have. If you’re applying for similar jobs elsewhere, I’ll know you have a solid career direction. I also like to know where you are in the process with other companies so I can do my best to expedite the interview process if needed. This helps us tailor our process to help you!

Danny: We also ask about this so we can let you know how your other offers will compare to Epic (particularly when it comes to location, relocation details, salary, etc.) Our process is personal, and we care about our candidates. We always want you to be comfortable with your options.

Does a thank you note make a difference, and if so, how quickly?

Deana: Yes, and always within 24 hours of an interview! We actually just had a situation where the hiring manager had interviewed a candidate they considered to be the best, but the candidate didn’t send a thank-you note. We had to ask ourselves if we were old school for caring about this, but the consensus was that no, we weren’t. It’s a courtesy thing—and a great opportunity to stand out.

Danny: If you don’t have contact information for everyone, it’s always best to ask the recruiter to forward your thank-you message to the individuals who interviewed you. This saves everyone’s time while still showing that you care.

How can students with liberal arts degrees stand out and sell their value to recruiters?

Danny: I got lucky as an English major, because for my job, they looked for people with liberal arts degrees. Go find a company where you don’t have to sell your degree—one where they’ll celebrate you for who you are. If you really want a job at a big 4 accounting firm and have to get past the liberal arts hurdle, by all means do what you need to do, but my advice is to find a place that doesn’t make you work to fit in. Find one that believes in you.

How much does age factor into getting an internship, particularly for non-traditional students?

Deana: Not at all. There’s such a thing as age discrimination, and we are very mindful of it. It won’t come up at all in the application or interview process!

How much does a student’s minor matter in getting a job?

Danny: It’s always interesting to explore minors (or double majors) with a candidate, because it’s impressive! The subject isn’t all that important; it’s more that you took the time to do something extra that you were really passionate about.

Does the ranking of the school you graduated from matter?

Danny: Of course it matters if you go to the top school in the nation, but realize that there’s a long list of schools that aren’t that top school. It’s just you as a candidate in the interview process. If you’re proud of yourself and have done things you’re proud of, embrace it. Believe in yourself. Epic’s policy is to hire “smart new grads.” Your school generally has no bearing on your potential, other than possibly limiting networking opportunities. But these days you can always make your own network!

As a transfer student, should I include my transfer GPA on my resume if it’s higher than my university GPA?

Deana: Sure. Again, a resume is the best representation of yourself.

Are social science majors able to get jobs in the private business consulting sector?

Deana: It’s tough but not impossible. If you are a psychology major, are part of the consulting club, did a certification in data analytics, and want to work in financial consulting, that’s great. If you’re a sociology major with no other experience, it’s going to be tough to break in. I strongly encourage you to figure out what you want to do, then set yourself up for success by being part of clubs, extra projects, or national events. Your career advisors on campus can help you gain the experience you need to get a job you want.
Danny: If you apply for the “wrong” role based on your degree, Epic’s recruiting team will find the role that most applies to you. We won’t reject you immediately, but we’ll move you toward something you should be focusing on instead. Transfers can happen internally later. Just realize: your major isn't your end-all, be-all!

Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

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