Monday, February 14, 2011

Degrees That Get You Noticed

Find out which college degrees really stand out to HR.
By Chris Kyle

Struggling to get noticed by employers?

Want to separate yourself from the pack?

Make sure you earn the right degree.

"Right now employers are focused on finding people who can hit the ground running," says Cheryl Jacobs of MCG Partners, a career search and management firm. "To get hired, you need to be able to demonstrate some kind of specialized knowledge."

The right college degree can confirm that you have the expertise that employers want, particularly for those new to the workforce or looking to transition careers, says Jacobs.

If you are contemplating what to study or thinking about going back to school for more career training, here are five degrees that HR experts say can help elevate your resume to the top of the pile.

#1 - Accounting Degree
Average Starting Salary: $46,400
Average Mid-Career Salary: $77,500

According to our HR experts, accounting graduates are in serious demand as companies look to abide by more stringent accounting rules and regulations coming out of Washington, D.C. In fact, accounting is one of the first majors that recruiters mentioned when we asked what degrees are getting noticed in today's tough job market.

Right now the market is stronger for accountants than most other professions, according to Brett Good, senior district president of global staffing firm Robert Half. "We're finding a lot of opportunities for entry-level tax accountants that typically pay between $40-49K," Good said.

Related Careers and Salaries:
Auditors: $67,430
Budget Analysts: $69,240
Financial Analysts: $85,240
Actuaries: $97,450

HR Tip: "Learn how to use QuickBooks and include it on your resume," said Bob Kelleher, CEO of the Employee Engagement Group, "especially if you're thinking of working as an accountant for a small business, which is where most of the jobs are right now."

#2 - Health Care Administration Degree
Average Starting Salary: $37,700
Average Mid-Career Salary: $60,800

An increasingly specialized health care industry demands workers with a very specific skill set. Majoring in health care administration or studying to become a medical technician are just two of many great options in this massive industry.

"It's hard for communications and business majors to break into the health care field," said Jacobs. "Having a health care or nursing degree gives you a real advantage," she said.

Related Careers and Salaries:
Medical Assistants: $29,450
Surgical Technologists: $40,710
Registered Nurses: $66,530
Medical Managers: $90,970

HR Tip: According to Kelleher, enrolling in a two-year associate's degree program can be great preparation for becoming a medical technician or radiologist, two jobs that are showing real growth right now.

#3 - Information Technology (IT) Degree
Average Starting Salary: $49,600
Average Mid-Career Salary: $79,300

In today's cost-cutting times, companies are turning to technology to find ways to operate more efficiently. As a result, new IT grads possess the kinds of skills that companies need right now.

"In a booming economy, a sharp kid with a liberal arts degree would find a job easily, but not today," said Kelleher. "In this job market, specific in-demand degrees like IT give you a far better chance of getting hired."

Kelleher singled out information systems and web design applications as two of the hotter IT degrees. "It's also a big help to master applications like WordPress," he says. "The more you learn, the more marketable you become."

Related Careers and Salaries:
Network and Computer Systems Administrators: $70,930
Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts: $76,560
Computer Software Engineers, Applications: $90,170
Computer and Information Scientists: $105,370

HR Tip: Get certified. According to Good, "Professionals with Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) or Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) certifications are in-demand."

#4 - Communications Degree
Average Starting Salary: $38,200
Average Mid-Career Salary: $72,200

In tough economic times like these, marketing/communications majors will find themselves competing against English and other liberal arts majors for many of the same jobs. The fact that they have a more specialized, career-focused education can be a plus, says HR expert Kelleher.

"The people who succeed in business all have strong communications skills," says Kelleher. Knowing how to get a company's message or product out the door will always be a valuable skill, in good economic times or bad, he says.

Related Careers and Salaries:
Public Relations Specialists: $59,370
Market Research Analysts: $67,500
Advertising and Promotions Managers: $97,670
Marketing Managers: $120,070

HR Tip: "Recent graduates who are able to show how their skills have helped solve business problems, whether as part of a school project or internship, and contributed to a successful campaign will most impress hiring managers," Good said, "particularly if the examples are relevant to the company they are interviewing with."

#5 - Criminal Justice Degree
Average Starting Salary: $35,600
Average Mid-Career Salary: $58,000

Criminal justice majors study law enforcement techniques and develop critical problem-solving skills at a time when their services are in demand, whether it's as a criminologist, homeland security agent, or police officer.

According to a 2010 post-recession poll by the Society for Human Resource Management, 76 percent of federal government HR managers say they are currently hiring. As an industry, that places the feds second only to health care in hiring. Criminal justice grads are well-positioned for many government jobs, whether it's as a customs agent, probation officer, or federal investigator.

Related Careers and Salaries:
Correctional Officers and Jailers: $42,610
Firefighters: $47,270
Police Officers: $55,180
Detectives and Criminal Investigators: $65,860

HR Tip: Showcase any military experience you may have. An interest in fitness can also help demonstrate your drive. Sign up for a race or hike a mountain - and don't be afraid to brag about it!

*All college degree salary information comes from PayScale's 2010-2011 College Salary Report that details average earnings for graduates with a bachelor's and no higher, while all career salary data comes from the U.S. Department of Labor and indicates mean annual wages as of May 2009.

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