What can I do with my maths degree?
Graduating from university can leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed. If you don’t have a graduate scheme lined up, then a rising sense of panic about job opportunities for maths graduates can set in. This is completely normal, and the main thing you must remember is to stay positive. Degree subjects that don’t appear to offer an easy route into a career are commonplace.
Most universities ask for top grades to land yourself a place on their mathematics degree programme. So, if you are sitting there reading this with a degree in mathematics under your belt and no idea what to do next, stop worrying. You are well-equipped to take on a multitude of different roles, even if everything feels bit uncertain right now. In fact, over 80% of mathematical sciences graduates are in employment 5 years after they complete their course, so you are in good company.
If you have made the decision not to pursue a career at a large corporate on a specific maths graduate scheme, then you will open yourself up to a range of different opportunities that are less dependent on rigid academic qualifications. Smaller companies such as startups and SMEs look for qualities in potential employees that go beyond a degree title, taking into consideration your interests and ambitions as well.
The jobs for maths graduates at a startup might be one of the following:
If it seems like they span the entire breadth of roles available, then you are starting to get the picture about careers for maths graduates. The restraints on what you are qualified to do are minimal. Unless a job specification has a very niche requirement (for example, a role as a content writer in the field of nutrition would need an in-depth knowledge in that area) you should have the confidence to apply.
If you would prefer to stay within the world of numbers and equations, then here are some maths oriented jobs:
They are all jobs that require a maths degree, so you may have considered similar positions already. If you are certain that you want to move away from maths graduate jobs altogether, then don’t feel cornered into one of these roles – explore the world of opportunities available.
Patrick Ross has built a successful career in SEO consultancy and data insights after gaining a maths degree from the University of Liverpool. He believes his degree was integral to his profession: “as a mathematician my ability to interpret and scrutinise statistics has been central to my progress as a professional. This is partly due to the explosion of data over the last 10 years. The demand for multi data source analysis across all areas of business has grown, and is growing, significantly. This means the demand for highly numerate graduates will only go in one direction.”
Who employs a maths graduate?
As noted above, maths is often a particularly gruelling degree. Even if you are applying to jobs outside of the realms of analysis and mathematics, you will find employers are very receptive to a candidate that has acquired a degree in that subject and you will soon discover many opportunities for maths graduates.
The Top Universities website put it well when they said: “So, what can you do with a maths degree? The answer to this question is as varied as you can get, as mathematical experts are in demand across all kinds of industries, the world over. Study maths and you’ll have access to career opportunities in sectors you may never have even considered.”
When a graduate is seeking their first job, they might not have much work experience to their name, so their degree will count for a lot. Hiring managers and recruiters have an average of six seconds to scan your CV and decide whether you are worth considering for a role. Along with indicators such as the name of the university listed and title of previous employment, the name of the degree will cause a pause. Mathematics is a classic degree that will almost always need good grades at A level to get onto, so it stands to reason that the candidate in question will have a high level of intelligence and work-hard ethic.
The most obvious employers of maths graduates are any that require analytical candidates. Jobs that focus on data and the analysis of figures will benefit more directly from a maths graduate (compared to an arts graduate, for example). When an employer is hiring for a role in that space, they will likely push degrees that have relevant modules to the top of the pile, so in this instance you would be in a very good position.
However, if you are certain that you want to move into something completely new, you will need to be a bit cleverer about how you write your CV and approach employers. Research startups that look interesting and don’t feel restricted by your degree. Use your background as leverage by positioning yourself as having skills outside of the usual remit.
As the University of York put it: “Mathematics graduates are in great demand by a wide range of employers, who value the skills developed over the course of the degree. The ability to communicate and solve complex problems and critically analyse information in a logical way are all much sought after from organisations in both the public and private sectors.”
What sorts of jobs do maths graduates do?
Many maths graduates enter the world of business or finance. Accountancy is a popular choice, as are roles in investment. These jobs are often entered via a graduate scheme, for which a mathematics degree is prized along with economics, business studies and sciences. If you decide to apply to corporate grad schemes, you will need to prepare for an intensive process involving multiple interviews, online tests and assessment centres. The salaries are often substantial, but the work is tough and you will need to be focussed on being outstanding in your day-to-day activity to ensure you are noticed and kept on.
If you want to head down an alternative route and look at jobs in fledgling companies attempting to disrupt the status quo, then you will need to delve into the startup world and see what’s on offer there. Below is an inexhaustive list of the types of roles that are usually available:
- Dealing with clients means you must keep on top of your accounts and maintain positive professional relationships.
- In a mathematics degree, you will have learnt essential problem-solving skills, which will come in useful when dealing with difficult client situations that require you to think on your feet.
- Having a head for figures and analysis is what sets a maths graduate apart from most other degrees. Understanding the rules of logic and mathematical language will be helpful when looking at company data for analysis.
- Maths graduates should also able to translate complex ideas into logical arguments and present that to a customer or client to move forward with a business solution.
- You should have a solid grounding in calculus and linear algebra that will help you in a role that is more scientific.
Customer Experience and Operations
- Organisation is key to succeeding in a customer experience position. Knowing how to prioritise tasks and work towards a goal is essential.
- Detail-oriented maths graduates will find customer experience and operations roles a good match, as you must be able to consider specific parts of a case as well as the whole.
- Deductive reasoning will assist you in looking at issues and assessing what you can and cannot do to fix it.
- Communication skills are a staple to almost any degree. Across the board, graduates develop the ability to deal with people and collaborate on projects.
- In HR and recruitment, the human aspect is crucial. Building relationships with both candidates and clients requires a sensitivity towards certain behaviours and adjusting your own behaviour in response.
- Fintech is a relative newcomer to the finance scene, but it is quickly gathering momentum. The skills needed for a role in this space are very similar to the traditional finance industry – keen maths skills, a logical work methodology and general intelligence.
- As fintech is also heavily involved in technology, you would do well to draw on any programming experience you have picked up, particularly if it was related to mathematical software.
- Sales and business development have become highly sought-after jobs for graduates. They only really require a savvy mind-set and a friendly manner. Like an account executive, you will need to be on top of client relationships 24/7.
- Being a good listener, as well as a confident talker will be useful when selling a product or service to new clients. Maths graduates are often comfortable working independently, without supervision from teachers, which is a necessary component of a business development role.
- Marketing contains two separate elements. One part is primarily made up of content and copywriting, social media and often some PR; the other looks at advertising and analytics to assess how best to reach a wider audience.
- Many smaller companies combine the two parts into one role, so if you have a creative mind as well as a mathematical degree, then you will be in high demand.
- Most graduates are more than qualified for a job in administration, because it requires very few specific traits.
- If you are organised and extremely detail-oriented, then you will find yourself at home in an administrative role.
The Maths Careers website has a great page on the different options open to graduates, and they are careful to emphasise that you don’t have to stick to the traditional jobs that are out there: “you'd be surprised at the great diversity of jobs that are open to mathematicians; from developing computer games to studying climate change to working with a Formula One racing team on aerodynamics.”
What skills can I put on my CV?
If you have decided to work towards getting a graduate job not directly related to mathematics, you may need to highlight a few other things on your CV. Soft skills that you have picked up throughout your degree won’t always be the first thing you think of, but they can be very valuable to employers.
Most graduates leave university with a few shared experiences that can be put in bold on a CV. For example, working to a deadline, collaborating on group projects, self-motivation and research skills are all generic, but important. If you were part of a sports team or involved in a society, you will have been part of many situations that are transferable to a business scenario. Summarise the most relevant points and leave the rest to talk about at the interview.
As a mathematics graduate, you should pick out the modules that are particularly aligned with the job specification that you are applying to. Emphasise where you have learnt things that might be particularly important, such as a project you headed. Any scenarios that have meant you gave presentations, or worked in a group, are good indicators that you understand how to work with people and are confident explaining yourself clearly in front of others.
Don’t overlook personality traits either! The University of Warwick lists a whole page of transferable skills that maths graduates can boast, including this anecdote: “One mathematics professor used to tell each incoming first year class that doing a Maths Degree would change them for life. Battling successfully with ideas that are hard to understand and problems that are hard to solve fosters determination, perseverance, creativity, self-confidence, and intellectual rigour.”
How do I improve my employability after a maths degree?
Improving your employability depends on a variety of things. The roles you want to apply to, the industry you are looking to get into, and your previous experience, will all influence the steps you can take to improve your CV.
If you are still interested in the realms of mathematics and want to pursue something in that area, then you will need to focus your energies on building up your knowledge. This might be a case of further studying, for example at Master’s level, or taking a short course in something like computer science. Proving your interest and willingness to explore the subject more in-depth will be a good sign to employers that you are dedicated to the profession.
If you want to head into something unrelated to your degree, you should look for inventive ways to gain experience in that area. For example, digital marketing roles usually need a proven measure of social media experience – easily demonstrated by having your own blog and promoting it on social. Familiarise yourself with the world of sales by getting entrepreneurial online via sites such as eBay, and read up on what’s happening in fintech through online blogs. There are many ways to educate yourself and have a go at different roles without having to make too many sacrifices; you just need a bit of ingenuity and imagination.
Looking for paid, short-term internships can be another way to get some experience when your CV is looking a bit sparse. Often, they have less specific requirements, meaning you have a better chance of being hired fresh from university based on your enthusiasm alone. Internships are the perfect way to scout out an organisation before you commit to working there fulltime – use the time to build up your network of business contacts and always leave on a high note.
How can I build on a maths degree?
If you know what you want to do next, then you won’t have any trouble building on your current degree. You can research the industry or role that you are aiming for and shoot towards that via internships or top-up courses.
If you are still unsure, and only know that you don’t want to do maths anymore, then you should be proactive about all areas of your life. That means developing hobbies that genuinely interest and excite you, and volunteering for projects that grab your attention. Doing this will introduce you to a wider variety of people as well as increasing your skillset. Ensure that you are using your time on things that you will be happy to talk about when you are applying to jobs, as it will give you something extra compared to other candidates.
Consider the careers services at your university and don’t be afraid to ask for their advice. If there are careers fairs coming up, then sign yourself up head down to chat to employers and representatives from companies that you might not even have considered yet. Making a good impression at this sort of event can be beneficial when you are applying further down the line – drop in the name of whomever you were talking to and hopefully they might remember you!
The bottom-line is that you shouldn’t despair if you have left university feeling disenchanted with your degree course. Most people forget that university itself will have afforded them more transferable skills than they realise, meaning that moving into a new profession is entirely possible. You are at the very beginning of your career, and you have a lot of time to try things out before you settle into something for the long-term. Here’s how one graduate from the University of Bristol sees it:
"I graduated in 2015 with a joint honours in Maths and Philosophy, and I currently work in Parliament for an MP. I prepare research briefings, draft press releases, and write speeches. I was shocked to discover that second year modules in Calculus and Set Theory hadn’t prepared me for any of these tasks. As it turns out, penning passionate orations on behalf of a politician isn’t any easier if you've studied Linear Algebra.
"Frankly, my maths degree is useless when it comes to politics. And yet, studying maths has kept open so many doors when it comes to a career. Counterintuitive, huh?
"Well here’s my thinking. For starters, if you’re applying for any job that’s vaguely ‘analytical', for example as a researcher, a maths degree will give your application an instant head-start.
“Secondly, and regardless of the industry in which you want to work, your maths degree is darn impressive. It impresses prospective employers and recruiters. It also impresses those arbitrary family friends you see occasionally at weddings and funerals and have to make awkward small talk with. You know the ones.
"For employers or recruiters scanning CVs, a maths degree instantly tells them that you’re a logical thinker, a problem-solver, and a rigorous and methodical worker. Even if this isn’t how you view yourself, employers will still assume as much. Accordingly, if you can turn up to interview and demonstrate even a modicum of charisma, you’ll have a job in no time."
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