When I teach my "Economics Major in the Workplace" classes, I like to show the "Governing Dynamics" scene from A Beautiful Mind  to illustrate Dr. Herbert Simon's concept of a network of possible wanderings-- the creative new places our brains can take us because of the unique knowledge we each possess due to our education and experiences. In this scene, mathematician/economist John Nash further develops his non-competitive game theory by analyzing how he and his friends can best connect with several women in a bar. Talk about your practical use of economic theory.

An economics major is a great foundation for almost any career path-- the study of economics crosses into virtually every discipline from psychology to history to business. Economics is one of the most popular liberal arts majors, and for better or worse is often considered the "business" major within the liberal arts curriculum. Economics majors traditionally report some of the highest earnings among college majors. The economics major offers a variety of employment opportunities and is a popular degree for students planning to become lawyers.

It's easy to identify the skills developed through the major: quantitative analysis, logical thinking, the ability to create and interpret charts, forecasting economic trends and behavior, etc. Economics majors develop strong communication (writing and speaking), thinking, and quantitative skills-- all highly prized by employers. Because economics courses study how society allocates its resources, economics majors naturally focus on efficiency and improving situations.

An economics degree can be the start of a career in a surprisingly broad range of employment sectors including Business/Banking (financial analyst, management consultant, sales manager, investment banker, etc.), Government/law (economist, labor specialist, lobbyist, attorney, etc.), Education (professors, secondary school teacher, etc.) and Nonprofit (management, fund-raising, etc.). Not to mention an array of entrepreneurial opportunities. (If you've read my other blog postings, you know I'm not thrilled with matching majors to careers, so the rest of this post won't assume you're entering a particular career.)

The bottom line is it all comes down to you. It doesn't really matter what careers other economics majors choose-- What do you want to do? And how can you show that your economics degree helped to prepare you to do that?

To succeed in the job search you need to start by clarifying your goals. Many of my economics majors state their career goals as "business" or "management." Too generic. That's like saying you want to work with people (as opposed to turtles?). What type of business would you like to work in? What industry interests you? What problems do you want to analyze-and solve? What types of people do you like to work with? Where would you like to apply your knowledge, education, and experience? (By the way, it's OK not to know all this yet-- but when you're in an interview, you want to focus on the specific position and industry. You can change your mind later.)

The next step is to convey to the employer how your education and experience fit the position you're seeking. But this brings up a particularly interesting challenge to some economics majors I've worked with at several colleges: they struggle to articulate the value of the degree. Many view it as what it is not-- as in, it is not a business or an accounting degree. Some consider it a less valuable degree and perhaps only enrolled in the major because their school doesn't offer a business degree or they weren't admitted to a business school. They understand the theories of economics, but aren't always sure how to directly apply them. And they certainly don't know how to explain the major's value to an employer.

It's time for branding. (If you want to learn more about branding for the job search, see this post or read Dan Schawbel's info on branding. )

Branding the Economics Major

Step 1: Establishing Relevance and Your Brand Position

The overarching mantra of branding your economics degree is relevance, and your brand position is based on your perceived value by an employer. Why would an employer benefit by having you around? Once again, you'll need to analyze your particular array of skills, talents, traits, experience, and education.

  • First off, employers may not realize that an economics degree offers a great way to analyze and study human behavior. Analyzing why people behave the way they do and how their behavior can be changed comprises a major aspect of economic thinking. It is a social science as much as it is a business analysis.
  • Ask yourself why you chose economics and what you have enjoyed about it. How has your major changed the way you think about issues? What mindsets have you developed through the study of economics?
  • Think about how your education applies to a variety of issues. The study of economics can be applied to virtually every topic of interest and economics majors study complex social issues such as poverty, crime, health care, politics, international relations, etc.
  • What skill sets and knowledge have you specifically developed through your major? Not all economics degrees are the same, so start by analyzing the characteristics of your degree. For instance, the math and statistics course you take for your major vary across institutions.
  • Are you particularly adept at logical analysis, numerical problem-solving, or creating and interpreting charts? Are you skilled on certain computer programs or software? Have you studied forecasting? Do you handle details and complex information well? Can you develop business strategies based on theoretical information? How is your education flexible and able to be applied to a variety of settings?
  • Your economics major is one piece of the package you bring to an employment situation. What else do you bring? What else interests you-and what do those interests say about you? Economics majors I've worked with have volunteered on missions in Central America, taught disabled children how to swim at summer camp, interned with politicians and lobbyists, trained new employees at a beach resort, etc. Same degree: completely different experiences and skills. What are yours?

Steps 2 through 7 can be found on the Part 2 of this post along with resources for the job search. 

For now, I'll finish this first post on branding and the economics major with a video about economics from GrantMacEwan University in Canada-- which nicely "brands" the economics major.

Find me on Facebook and Twitter.  Copyright 2010 Katharine Brooks

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