On February 21st, Dr. Adam Beach and English department intern Tyler Fields attended the Ball State Job Fair to ask employers about their views of job candidates who hold a degree in English. In this post, Tyler writes about the suggestions of the company recruiters for ways that English majors can make themselves more marketable. Click here for Dr. Beach’s previous post about the recruiters’ positive views of English majors.
From parents of prospective students to graduates entering the job market, many find themselves asking the same question, “What do you do with a BA in English?” A creative writing major myself, I have asked my share of similar questions; however, after visiting Ball State’s job fair this past February with English Department Assistant Chair Dr. Beach, I discovered that the answer is, “Quite a lot, actually.” After visiting 30 job fair booths and talking with representatives, Dr. Beach and I began to notice the distinct pattern that many professions – ranging from insurance to media – were not only accepting of the idea of hiring an English major, but were often excited about the prospect. Many representatives noted a lacking skillset in their work force such as communication, critical thinking, and leadership among others. The English major can offer many of these skills and also allows for unique customization, where many other majors cannot. The question should not be, “What can I do with a BA in English?” but rather, “How can I enhance my BA in English?”
Minors and Additional Coursework
The English major offers students a myriad of skills such as effective written communication, strong speech, and critical / creative reasoning. But for those seeking particular career goals or professional opportunities, adding a minor or second major to the English degree can greatly broaden their future opportunities or can aid in honing in on a specialization. The English major pairs well with many minors across various departments: marketing, entrepreneurship, business, digital media, environmental management, and campaign communications. For instance, a Professional Writing Minor affords students the opportunity to develop their writing skills, especially as it pertains to academia and professionalism. While this skill can be applied to a myriad of prospective careers, it is especially pertinent to jobs which manage copy, marketing, professional correspondence, etc. Another minor that pairs well with the English Major is the Digital Publishing Minor housed in the Technology and Graphic Arts Department. This minor prepares students for prospective careers in publishing. The Digital Publishing Minor helps students develop skill sets in Adobe software (InDesign, Illustrator, PhotoShop, and Acrobat), photography, and printing. This minor may be especially valuable to Creative Writing Majors who are seeking careers in magazine or book production. As a final example, the English Department has recently joined forces with the TCOM Department to institute a new Film Writing Minor. This minor spans courses from English and TCOM to afford students an in-depth and expansive curriculum in film history, theory, and writing. This new minor can help students more effectively enter into careers in television and film.
Unfortunately, in some cases, students are unable to add a minor to their schedules. If this is the case, there is an alternate route students can navigate in order to demonstrate their interest in areas outside of English: additional coursework. At the job fair, representatives from the tomato company Red Gold told Dr. Beach and me that English Majors would be perfect for their human resources and marketing departments due to their skills in written and spoken communication. They told us that, beyond good communication skills, however, their potential employees should also show an interest in fields relating to marketing, business, entrepreneurship, etc. Even if a student cannot add a new minor or major, they can take classes to build their experience in areas outside of their degree coursework. In addition to jobs not directly related to the English Major, these additional courses may also aid students who are seeking internships related to their prospective careers.
While many job fair representatives told us that they require a trial of in-house training, a number also stressed the importance of their future employees having internship experience. Internships provide practical and specific training for professions seeking particular skill sets. Rather than relying solely on classroom experience, internships afford students or recent graduates the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in an immersive, job-like setting. In many cases, certain internships plug directly into a specific job or profession. To find out more about particular internships, be sure to see your advisor or prospective career representative in the Career Center.
In addition to specific classes, minors, or internship programs, many job fair representatives also noted that superior candidates for future careers would have a strong representation of skills gained via extracurricular activities. One common activity for students to join is an on-campus organization. These organizations can help students gain skills in leadership, organization, teamwork, and interpersonal communication. Indeed, one of the most prominent features the job fair representatives noted was missing from their workforce is the ability to work well with others. By joining various organizations, on campus and off, students can greatly increase their marketability.
Finally, while many of the job fair representatives discussed the advantages of specific majors / minors, internships, and extracurricular activities, several also noted that they looked for applicants who had developed great interpersonal communication skills, who were personable, and who were eager to learn and develop new knowledge. They felt that students should take advantage of the opportunities that the college experience affords to become smart, personable, and curious human beings. While not all of these traits are necessarily those learned in the classroom, they can be used across a myriad of applications and are especially pertinent in the job market, as pointed out by a number of representatives.
In my mind, our experience at the job fair reinforces the idea that students need to have an idealistic approach to their education. Instead of viewing college as a series of classes and assignments to be completed, students should rather embrace their university experience as an opportunity to gain skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will serve them throughout their lives and careers.