Students shouldn’t fear career change, alums say

It can be a stressed student’s regretful thought and a concerned parent’s top anxiety. Once a bachelor’s degree is earned and four years worth of tuition has been spent, the last thing a college graduate wants to prepare for is switching careers. But when about 60 percent of students change their majors during their undergraduate study, what are the odds of having to make the switch post-degree?

They’re not as low as students would like. According to a Fast Company article, the changes in the job market have created a Generation Flux — a demographic designation that “embraces instability, that tolerates — and even enjoys — recalibrating careers, business models and assumptions.” In this era, success is not really based on the skills learned for specific purposes, but the ability to learn new skills. Dominic Hahn, 2011 University alum and creator of Noshfolio, an online portfolio of Champaign-Urbana restaurants, recognizes the value of this skill.

“I think the argument for college is that it gives you a structured environment to learn new things, and a lot of different opportunities are presented around you,” he said. “I definitely think the value of college for me was just learning to become interested in new things.”

After becoming a neuroscience major in his sophomore year, Hahn always made sure to fit in at least one class irrelevant to his major each semester, such as philosophy, history or literature. During the summer after his junior year, he began to consider pursuing a career in management consulting, when he instead became fascinated by entrepreneurship.

Hahn was able to seek advice from friends in the industry, people that had about a decade of experience in the professional world.

“What they told me was, ‘You’re in your 20s, you don’t have anyone depending on you — you just have your own lifestyle to maintain. If you want to take any risks, this would be the time to do it,’” he said. “As long as you’re getting some good experience out of it, it’s going to be useful somewhere down the road.”

The recession has also forced many college graduates to reconsider their careers. Matt Schlachter, 2007 University alum, and Chris Craine, 2006 University alum, both majored in architecture during their time at the University. Neither of them currently work in the architecture field.

Schlachter was hired by a high-end custom residential architecture firm right out of college, but was laid off after the field was hit hard by the recession. After a year of unemployment, he considered pursuing his other passion, music, and obtained a two-year degree from the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy for audio engineering. He moved to Nashville, Tenn. in search of internships, before he became project designer at Steven Durr Designs.

“I’m basically fusing my two degrees into designing acoustical environments, and, on top of that, we have a recording studio, so I run recording sessions, mix music and do audio production,” Schlachter said. “I think I’ve found my place. I absolutely love what I do. … It’s hard to convey a struggle because I’m in such a good place now, but it took a lot to get here.”

After working for different firms, Craine realized the architecture he learned in school — theoretical and hands-on — didn’t match the practice in real life. He obtained his master’s in architecture at the University of Southern California, although he reflects now that it was a platform to buy himself more time. Pursuing film-related work had always been in the back of his head, and he thought Los Angeles was the place to do it.

Graduating in Spring 2009, Craine knew architecture firms were not likely to hire in the middle of the recession. He had to make a decision.

“It was actually easier to get into film than it was into the field that I went to school for,” Craine said.

He began working in the art department, creating sets and the overall look for films, where he was able to fuse his love of architecture, design and film into one. In 2012, he moved to New Orleans and has worked under titles including assistant art director, production designer and concept illustrator.

He gained experience with movies such as “Cowboys & Aliens” and the upcoming “Grudge Match,” which stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone. Craine has also recently released his first feature film with his brother, “Get Serious.”

Craine said he and his brother reflected a lot on their experiences finding work during the recession to create the film.

“I wouldn’t say I’m exactly living my dream yet. I have a long way to go. But I think things now are more on a path that I’m happy with than they were even a year ago,” he said.

When it comes to the advice they would give to others, all three graduates said to prepare for and embrace the changes that come, which includes being willing to move in order to pursue work. Most of all, they said to pursue work that one genuinely enjoys.

Craine reflected on a piece of advice he received from one of his professors during graduate school. 

“If there’s that one thing that you keep going back to, even though you try to move on and you try to go into a different subject, … you know that is what you’re meant to be doing.”

While a bachelor’s degree might put someone a step ahead, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee every recipient job security, or even a job in the first place. In this ever-changing, fast-paced job market, it’s best to have a back-up plan, just in case.

 Sarah is a sophomore in Media and can be reached at [email protected]