BLOOMINGTON - Lauri DeVault learned a lot about science, nutrition and food in college - none of which have anything to do with her job at Country Insurance & Financial Services today.
Maybe the main thing the Bloomington woman learned in her four years as a foods and nutrition major at Illinois State University was perseverance.
"Your typical four-year degree, it shows an employer that you can stick with a job long enough to get it done," said DeVault, a litigated claims assistant. "You can complete that four years. … You can stick with it and get the job done and graduate."
DeVault is one of a number of Americans who work in a field outside of their college majors. Some people may have as many as five careers over their lifetime - some small deviations, others radical changes, according to careerplanner.com.
Some people switch career paths because they realize they made a mistake with their choice of a major, said Randall Hansen, founder of Florida-based Quintessential Careers, a career development Web site at www.quintcareers.com. That realization can come in college or later when they become bored at work or find they're interested in another job, Hansen said.
Others take the first job they can get after graduation, regardless of whether it's what they studied in school. And sometimes technology advancements create new career paths that weren't an option before, Hansen said.
It's a similar story for some workers in Central Illinois, who also find sometimes life just takes a different path than planned.
Life is much different for DeVault that what she first intended.
Originally, DeVault thought she'd head to Chicago after college and work for a big company like Kraft Foods. In the meantime, though, she met her husband and knew Bloomington-Normal was more home for them.
The first job DeVault took after college was as the assistant to the head chef at a hotel restaurant in Normal.
"That wasn't necessarily in my field, but it was in foods," she said.
But the food service industry wasn't up her alley, and from there, her career path led her farther and farther away from nutrition and food.
She worked at Bloomington Federal Savings & Loan until it merged with National City. In her 15 years with the bank, she worked in a number of areas, including as a receptionist, in the mortgage department and with desktop publishing and marketing.
She's been in the litigated claims department at Country Insurance in Bloomington for nine years and is plenty satisfied with the way things have turned out.
"I enjoy the work that I do," DeVault said. "I enjoy the people I work with."
She admits she still has an interest in foods and nutrition, but she really doesn't have the same excitement she used to have about the idea of a city life.
She said her time in college and her grades showed prospective employers she could do a job well. Specific on-the-job training came easily enough after she was hired.
"That was something you were taught when you came in the door and started working for somebody," DeVault said.
Change of heart
Sometimes what you learn on the job is similar to past work experience - even if it has nothing to do with your college major.
John Ten Haken of Stanford did some siding work while he was in college. He's now had a 16-year-career in construction since he graduated from
Western Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in non-teaching physical education, including an emphasis on athletic training and a second major in psychology.
"I can bandage myself up a little better than the other guys," said Ten Haken, an installer with House Doctors Handyman Service in Bloomington.
At one point in his life, Ten Haken wanted to be a pastor. He chose a psychology degree because pastors counsel people.
He could have had financial aid to pursue a master degree in divinity to become a pastor, but changed his mind. He didn't have other job opportunities just from his undergraduate studies, nor did he have the money to continue school for anything else at that time.
"I needed to eat," Ten Haken said.
He's thought of returning to school but says he likes the variety at his job now.
Finding your passion
The desire for stability and a job leads some people to work outside of their college majors, but that's not necessarily the right choice for everyone, Hansen said. Some people will eventually find their way back to a job related to their major.
Crystal Gipp of Bloomington might be on that path.
The summer before her senior year as an elementary education major at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, Gipp began to doubt her career choice.
"I was afraid I would have to fight the school system more than I wanted to at the time," she said, noting she disagreed with teaching methods that focused on book learning instead of hand-on learning.
She graduated with a degree, but she didn't complete her student teaching to become a certified teacher.
Since then, she said she's bounced around from job-to-job, trying to find what she likes. She's worked at a library, a day care, retail stores and corporations. Now, she's an external employee at State Farm Insurance Cos. Corporate South.
Too many people go to college with a certain career in mind and don't consider anything else, Gipp said.
"I think they kind of shoot themselves in the foot," Gipp said. "That's what I did."
Instead of exploring her options in college, she has explored outside of school. If she had looked at other options sooner, she thinks she would have been more confident with her choice to be a teacher. She said it's likely she'll head back to school once her fiancé finishes his degree.
"I think I'm more passionate about it because I've looked around and seen what I do and don't like," Gipp said. "Teaching seems to shine through everything I do."