English Majors and the Job Market: You’re Okay

English majors get a bad rep when it comes to the job market. Frankly, we’re sick of it. A major goal of this blog is to show the versatility of the English degree. As our “Life After the English Major” section proves, we’re not just blowing smoke. One of the most important skills for any business is communication, and do you know what you’re studying in all of your literature and creative writing classes? Exactly.

According to the NY Times.com article, “Young Workers: U Nd 2 Improve Ur Writing Skills,” by Phyllis Korkki, “In a survey of 100 human resources executives…Nearly half the executives said that entry-level workers lacked writing skills, and 27 percent said that they were deficient in critical thinking.” The years of using dictionaries and thesauruses for unknown words can pay off, as well as studied attention to authors’ word choice and conveyance of mood. Much of today’s communication is done over email or similar text formats where mood can be lost, or most likely, misinterpreted. A person who keeps these lessons in mind can end accidentally passive aggressive messages and make for clearer communication, and few are better equipped for this accomplishment than English majors.

In her September 2009 post on Payscale.com, “Jobs for English Majors: They Do Exist,” Bridget Quigg shows that the numbers prove English majors can be competitive earners. Citing this graph of popular careers for English majors, Quigg presents some of the top positions for English majors:

Technical Writer                                        -      $68,900

Paralegal                                                       –     $53,100

Copywriter                                                   –     $49,900

Online Marketing Content Writer      -      $50,900

These are the median salaries after ten years. As Quigg notes, “They don’t top aerospace engineering majors, who come out number one overall at $108,000 a year,” but still, these aren’t exactly wages of destitution. In her article “Working Your Degree,” on CNN Money.com, Shelly K. Schwartz notes that regarding English majors, “The versatility of the degree, in fact, is what makes the post-graduation job hunt so hard.” This means English majors can fit to nearly any career field, and because the possibilities are so broad, it can be hard to zero in on a particular field, or realize the extent of these possibilities.

There may also be the need to sell yourself a little more to job interviewers. While they may know they need people with good communication skills, they may not know they can find this quality in an English major. This will require an explanation of your skills, which could benefit greatly from using buzzwords, such as your aptitudes concerning “critical thinking” or “dynamic (changeable) communication.” Selling yourself is something everyone has to do in job interviews anyway, so this shouldn’t put you off. Knowing the skills you bring to the table ahead of time can help put you a peg above other applicants, especially when said skills are unique and well-practiced.

In her article, Schwartz goes on to say, “…increasingly, insiders say, one of the fastest growing career choices for English majors is broadly defined as ‘business.’ The verbal and written communication skills that English majors possess remain in top demand at nearly every company in America.” Upon graduation, it’s commonplace for English majors to assume they’ve spent their college careers studying what they enjoy instead of cultivating specialized skills, and so they are left not knowing what directions they can take in terms of a career. The good news is that while you spent your studies doing what you love, you were also cultivating one of the most important skills to the job market: communication. More good news: proficiency with this skill means you can be an asset to any company, because even if an organization is filled with the world’s top tradesmen, people with skills not found anywhere else, the organization needs a good communication system to get the most out of these people—to work efficiently. In Schwartz’s article, Professor Ernest Suarez remarks, “Businesses tell us they like to hire English majors because they feel they can think. They’ve got the writing and analytical skills they need. The rest they can be trained to learn.” Don’t be afraid to mention this in job interviews, applications, or personal statements.

Signed,

Jeremy Bauer

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