By Anthony Garcia (Guest Contributor)
“Do what you love and what you are good at” is typical advice given to students considering their college major or pursue their dreams in graduate programs online. Many students listen to this advice and study English.
That is what I did. I worked my tail off in my program, but when graduation drew near, I began to get a little nervous as I was faced with a big open space. It wasn’t like there was a career waiting for me and the students in my cohort titled “English Manager” that had a specific skill set outlined in its job description. My senior year was amazing academically, but when I went home, everyone was asking me, often condescendingly, if I wanted to teach. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling a bit resentful after getting years of that. I was feeling a bit resentful that I had just slaved away for years and my hard work seemed unrecognizable to others in my community and my society. They seemed to be challenging me when they asked “what are you going to do with that?” to say, “what are you going to contribute to society?”
From my discussions with my peers in undergrad, as well as young students when I was in graduate school, this experience is in no way unique. We English majors are highly skilled, there is just no way to define our skills within the narrow confines that many majors are given. This is of course a benefit, because even as it seems to confuse others, it gives us the advantage of flexibility and adaptability.
The choices for us as English majors are endless, and we do have a highly valued skill set that can be used in almost any career. English majors are generally excellent writers, so many consider careers in the publishing field or in academia. However, competition is quite stiff for these jobs, and there are many other valid options.
In our text-rich environment, we often forget that all of the words posted in Internet ads, billboards, and magazines had to originate somewhere. Someone had to come up with all the scripts for the actors in the newest commercials. Someone had to compose all of the text in an advertising brochure. Someone has to write all of those advertising e-mails that come into your in-box each day. It is very likely that the most successful messages were written by English majors.
One often overlooked area in which English majors do extremely well is marketing. As I work for an internet company currently, I have seen this in action. As I’ve studied this phenomenon more, it has become apparent to me that companies are looking for great writers. English majors are creative, and can easily think of trendy advertising slogans and lively jingles for advertising campaigns. They have been trained to come up with beautiful, rhyming, catchy words and phrases due to their studies of poetry. Because they are so familiar with words and their connotations, English majors can come up with just the right expressions to make a product, service, or company seem most appealing to the customer.
Additionally, English majors are accustomed to plowing through huge volumes of writing and being able to analyze and pull out key points. When a marketing team is presented with an enormous consumer study, this skill is invaluable. Instead of wasting time digging through the pages and attempting to decipher all of the jargon, an English major can quickly figure out the main ideas and present them to the team in a coherent brief. Personally, this skill has helped me in all of my jobs, but I know that it is especially beneficial in marketing.
English majors do very well in public relations, from what I hear. The whole point of a public relations representative is to keep the image of a business positive, and they work extensively with the media to do this. English majors know enough about language that they are often able to craft speeches and press releases that sculpt the image of a company into an appealing one.
The advent of texting has transformed the way people communicate, but that is not to say that text-talk is appropriate in the work place. I cannot tell you how many cover letters and manuals that I have edited for friends who got a degree in business, and use their blackberry as their primary form of writing. Employers want employees to present a professional appearance to all outside the company. Companies are sick and tired of employees with an MBA being unable to write a coherent, professional-looking e-mail.
Because of the technological revolution, having the correct technical skills for a job is generally not an issue. Young workers are good at working with computers, e-mail, and PowerPoint. But we English majors are able to combine these technologically savvy traits with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar usage because of the writing classes they endured during college. This skill set makes English majors extremely attractive to employers.
If a career in “traditional English” field is unappealing or unavailable, you should really consider marketing positions. They can provide interesting and often lucrative work. Working in marketing as an English major gives you an advantage because your skills are valued so highly, and you can earn high recommendations from your supervisors. This field offers a chance for us English majors to feel what a business environment is like, something that is not readily available us during undergraduate coursework.
If you are feeling hopeless or option-less after you graduate, please take my advice and take advantage of our best asset as English majors–versatility. Look around at all of your options, and do not allow people disparage your choice of major or tell you that your English degree limits you to teaching or writing work only, because there are many opportunities to utilize your valuable skills.
Anthony Garcia recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides in Seattle, Washington where he writes about education, travel, literature, and American culture.
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Tags: communication, English majors, marketing, marketing careers
Fire up Amazon.com and select “Books” from the dropdown list. Then enter “leadership” in the search box and you’ll be presented with a long list of volumes to choose from, almost all of them published within the last 10 years. These books describe everything you can imagine about leadership—the theory and practice of it, its relationship to charisma, leadership “styles,” leadership and spirituality, leadership as a skill, and leadership that’s “situational.” These books are written by consultants, researchers, management practitioners, sports coaches, military leaders and politicians.
If supply is any indication of demand, the need for leadership books appears to be unsatisfiable. That’s because businesses recognize that their future is (at best) uncertain without courageous, inspired, capable leaders. The answer must be in one of these books!
Of course it’s not. Although books about leadership contain some insights and useful advice, there is no answer. There certainly is no how-to approach, no precise, repeatable set of rules to follow. Despite titles like The Laws of Leadership, The Truth About Leadership, and Leadership 101, it’s not that easy. There aren’t “laws,” there is no one “truth” nor any proven elementary lessons for beginning leaders. Which is why, I guess, the market for these books continues to be strong: because no one has nailed it yet. And they won’t, because it’s impossible to nail.
If the lessons of leadership aren’t in books about leadership, where are they? They’re in great works of fiction. Great books put you inside the minds and hearts of people in unusual, complex, character-testing situations in a way nothing else does. No other form of expression or study can bring you as close to the thoughts of others—and the thoughts of leaders—as literature.
Think about it. How close can you get to someone whom you regard as a leader? Not very. An occasional conversation with someone you work for, someone you respect, won’t tell you much. A published interview with a high profile leader won’t tell you much either. But an interior monologue will. A private, candid scene between two adversaries will, too. So will an account of a character’s actions who is caught in a dire dilemma or suffering under extreme conditions. We don’t find this kind of insight in an interview or by watching someone lead a meeting. This level of understanding resides in great books.
If we want to understand others, leaders in particular, we want to know things about them that are both personal and unique. We want to know what they imagine themselves doing and why they think it’s important, even urgent, to pursue their vision. We want to know what holds them back and how they get past uncertainty or hesitation. We’d like to know how they live with ambiguity, operating in the tug-of-war between principles and pragmatism. We’d like to know how they respond when their character is really tested or, to put it another way, what they do when no one is looking.
The nice thing about searching “leadership in books” on Amazon or Google is that people looking for help get a concise list to choose from. The prospect of reading great literature as a source of understanding leadership can seem pretty vast. As an English major, you’ve no doubt received a lot of guidance about what to read—an advantage you have over working business leaders who might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of wading into the sea of great literature.
Here are a few of my personal favorites. http://susandelavergne.com/reading.html I’d love to hear what yours are.
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Tags: amazon.com, character, leadership, leadership books, literature, living with ambiguity, tests of character, understanding others
Here’s why English majors (not Marketing majors) should write emails that go to corporate customers, especially irritated customers.
I recently stayed at a hotel that’s part of a chain I never stay at. It isn’t that I don’t like this hotel chain, it’s just that I’m a Marriott Rewards member so I try to stay at Marriott hotels whenever I can. Marriott isn’t better than this other chain I stayed at. It’s just that Marriott and I have a relationship: I bring my business to them, and they’re nice to me. They award me points I can use for free nights, they give me free upgrades and other perks. I’m loyal to Marriott, not because they’re better, but because I’ve known them longer and I have no reason to change.
But I stayed at this other hotel chain because the company for whom I was teaching had set up the class there, and it was in a city I was unfamiliar with, so it was just easier. The stay was fine, the bed was comfortable, the food was good, and except for the grouchy bartender, I had a nice time. I’m not going to identify this other hotel chain because I’m about to complain about an exchange I had with one of their “communication specialists.” Not that I’m trying to let them off the hook, but this communication problem isn’t unique to them. It’s widespread.
It started when I checked in, and the front desk staff enrolled me in their “preferred” (frequent guest) program. They didn’t ask me if I wanted to enroll. They just enrolled me. I didn’t even know I’d been enrolled until I
got home and received an email letting me know how many points I’d earned on this little visit. I don’t want a second “frequent guest” program. First of all, I rarely stay somewhere I can’t use a Marriott, so there’s no advantage to me to have a second hotel frequent guest program. Secondly, it takes me a couple of hours a month to manage my Marriott Rewards program. A second program will also take time to manage, and who needs another time drain?
So I sent them this email:
I do not wish be a Preferred member. I stayed at <your hotel> two nights this week and was automatically enrolled. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to be a member. How do I cancel my “membership”?
I received this reply:
Dear Ms. de la Vergne,
Thank you for your email. I am pleased to assist you today.
I have received your email message requesting that your <hotel> membership be canceled. I am sorry that we may no longer serve your frequent traveler needs. As requested, your <hotel> membership has been closed.
We would welcome the opportunity to provide for your frequent traveler needs in the future. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us. Your account can be reopened at any time.
I hope you enjoyed your stay at <our hotel>. Have a good day.
She hadn’t addressed my chief complaint which is that I was enrolled in a program without being asked. So instead of leaving well enough alone, I replied:
You understand that <your hotel> never has served my frequent traveler needs, so saying you’re sorry “no longer” to be able to do so is peculiar. It isn’t that I don’t like <your hotel>. It’s that I participate in a different program, have for years, and it’s plenty to manage just one. I don’t want to manage two, and it seems presumptuous of <your hotel> to simply enroll me without asking.
And then she said:
When you stayed at <our hotel> you were enrolled by the hotel as a courtesy. This way they were sure you would receive the eligible points for your stay. If you would like to consider keeping the membership any time within the next 12 months, I would be happy to reactivate the account. Please click here to see all that <our program> has to offer its members.
I would be very happy to welcome you back to the <our hotel program> anytime. It has been my pleasure to assist you in this matter.
Have a terrific day.
From an English major’s viewpoint, there are some obvious good points about these emails, qualities that business writing often (believe me, I mean often) lacks. It’s punctuated and spelled correctly—even my name! Sentences are complete. Replies are timely.
But everything she wrote rings hollow. She’s a smiling marketing rep essentially ignoring me, her glazed expression staring mechanically and vacantly into the face of this irritated customer. Her message is just the empty pitter-patter of hotel-approved script (“I’m sorry we may no longer serve your needs” and “If you would like to consider…I would be happy to reactivate…” and don’t forget how “pleased” she is to assist me”).
What would a real writer have written to this annoyed customer?
Dear Ms. de la Vergne,
I understand you were surprised to learn you were enrolled in <our hotel’s> program, and I appreciate that you would rather not be a member. Please let me cancel your membership immediately. I’ll also let the team that manages our program know of your objection to being enrolled without requesting it, so they can take that into consideration as they plan future program updates.
I hope you enjoyed your stay with us.
That email acknowledges my core concern (being enrolled in a program I didn’t ask for), sounds like an actual human being wrote it, is professional, not impersonal, and it doesn’t have the ever-cheerful marketing whisper hovering over every phrase.
Someone should leave corporate writing responsibilities to writers. Get marketing and legal out of it so messages have life, purpose and energy. It’s a job for an English major.
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Tags: corporate communication, English majors, frustrated customers, hotels, marketing, Marriott
We know that, in order to attract viewers and bolster ratings, the “news” is always looking for ways to alarm us, to find imminent dangers we hadn’t considered that might, in fact, do us considerable, immediate harm. Bloody, dramatic stories that used to lead “newscasts” are no longer enough to capture our attention. Now the stories must be about impending personal threat. You are in danger. You are under significant, looming threat from drinking water, kidnappers, bicycle thieves, fast food, Halloween candy, parking lot stalkers, falling trees, irritated restaurant employees, and much more.
One more news report of the be-very-afraid variety is the frequently re-told story about how worthless a college education is these days. There seems to be no shortage of these cautionary, slightly compassionate tales of woe: Spend $100k on your education, and you, too, can look forward to a disappointing future as a dog-walker.
These stories appeal to contemporary newscrafters because they fulfill the mission—i.e., keeping viewers and readers on edge and always ready to tune in. The audience for this particular scare tactic are parents investing in their children’s higher education who are likely to pay attention to a story that asks “Are you wasting tens of thousands on college when the future holds no lucrative promise for college grads?”
Kevin Carey, the policy director at Education Sector—a non-partisan think tank that challenges conventional thinking about education—says such stories “…are really missing a lot of long-term trends.” In a recent interview on National Public Radio, Mr. Carey said that examining wage data reveals that “People with college degrees are making more and more and more money, and basically everyone else is either staying the same or falling back.” Not only that, but as the economy tries to regain its balance, “college graduates … are the only segment of the economy where employment has actually gotten better during the first five months of this year,” he says.
Stories about recent graduates entering the job market who question the practical worth of their degree, or take on work they think is beneath them, are nothing new. I’d love to know just how many recent grads in the last few decades have sold shoes, parked cars, waited table or unloaded freight. I bet it’s a lot. Then they move on to better jobs, maybe in a year, maybe longer.
My own first post-college mind-numbing job was working as an administrative assistant in a university library. I entered and reconciled monthly library expenditures across departments. I collected and counted change from change machines (back when libraries had change machines). I maintained inventory records, which meant I climbed around under dusty library tables to find serial numbers and determine whether the tables were on a list. Fascinating work. To complete this bit of employment paradise, my supervisor at the library was a fussy, overly energetic control freak. I learned many valuable lessons from her, among them how not to manage employees.
While the library job was a miserable experience, friends of mine—also humanities grads—thought they had it worse, and maybe they did. One sold used Volkswagens. Another worked as a receptionist at a nursing home. Another solicited credit card applications outside grocery stores. But we didn’t stay in those jobs. What enabled us to move out on to better employment adventures was our education, and the same will prove true for today’s recent grads who are pet sitting, collecting and re-selling junk on Craigslist or doing other work they think they’re too good for.
I wish the news media would stop re-telling the story that college is a waste of money. In their continuing quest to get attention, they’re doing some real damage, like contributing shallow observations to the groundless argument that the liberal arts should be discontinued because they’re not narrow vocational training. And they’re taking attention away from real educational concerns, like the dastardly effects of letting human resources recruiters dictate what’s important in a college curriculum, or the high portion of tuition at state schools that students now have to pay since corporate taxes no longer fund state coffers at levels that actually sustain education.
Well, at least the next time you hear another one of those “college isn’t worth it” stories, you’ll know better.
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Tags: Education Sector, human resources, Kevin Carey, liberal arts, National Public Radio
Okay, I couldn’t resist. I discovered Xtranormal movies, and I had to make one, “The Human Resources Recruiter and the English Major.” Enjoy!
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Tags: English majors, human resources, recruiters, xtranormal movies, youtube
By Vincent Barr (Guest Contributor and Gainfully Employed English Major)
“Well, what do you plan to do with that?”
The question that I heard time and time again from peers after disclosing that I was one of “them,” an English major and recent graduate (2008, College of William and Mary). Telling prospective employers you’re a recently graduated English major is like mentioning you’re a Yankees’ fan at Fenway Park, or — worse — that you don’t even watch baseball. You’re dismissed.
Add to that that seemingly every job listing required a business or technical background, and I was intimidated. This was a barrier to entry that, no matter how creative, attention-getting or artful the cover letter I drafted, I did not think I would be able to hurdle. The fact that I had not one internship on my resume did not help my cause, and I learned the non-profit summer jobs I’d had did not replace the meat and potatoes of business-relevant experience.
Marketing and public relations were two fields said to value writing ability and creativity, so that is where my search began. After nine long months of tirelessly submitting resume and cover letters, I finally landed an interview at a small firm.
There, a young senior account executive was concerned about my background or lack thereof. She explained, “I would try you out on the farm team first. Then we can teach you how to play in the Majors.” I imagine this transition was to happen under her tutelage. No autographs were signed, and the interview concluded.
I never heard back.
Maybe I just got lost in the line-up. Months passed and I caught word that Joe DiMaggio—the hiring manager I had interviewed with—had hung up her mitt. So I followed-up, the company remembered me, and I landed a second interview. This time, I met with a person who saw me as an eager college graduate who had researched the company, could write coherently and was willing to learn; not as someone asking for round-trip tickets to the moon. The playing field felt like it was leveling; this was my “chance.”
That was refreshing, reassuring.
Fast forward to my first day, and I was nervous! I was waiting for my boss to ask me to take on the impossible, to reverse engineer Pi or interpret Stephen Hawking algorithms. I was waiting for that omnipresent, invisible barrier to entry to materialize and say, “Aha! Not so fast!”
That day never came.
Instead, positive feedback, encouragement, and eventually a full-time offer came in its place. I knew I had to prove myself, so that I set out to do. When I left work, I went to the library and researched public relations techniques and marketing plans. I kept a running list of the vocabulary I overheard but didn’t quite understand. I still have that list, and I still add to it. This comes partly from my background as an English major, trained that understanding is an ongoing process requiring time, effort, and research, and partly from my desire to show my employers what English majors are made of.
Now, I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t learned something from the experience. Skills, particularly at the entry-level, are learned on the job. I know now there is no education that can teach you a firm’s process or structure; no one is “job-ready” on day 1, not English majors, not business majors—no one. There are, however, two ways we English majors can set ourselves apart from the competition: demonstrate a fresh perspective and be ambitious.
So, what if I’d had round two with DiMaggio and was asked what an English major brings to the Majors? I’d have said we bring in new perspective, one different from that taught across undergraduate business courses. I like to think of Nike in this case. They became a giant in the sneaker industry when they changed consumer perception of its shoes from one of function to one of luxury. It became a status and fashion symbol, rather than just-another-running-shoe. That’s differentiation, new perspective.
Successful businesses rely on differentiation. Differentiation depends on the people who can drive it—with creativity, resourcefulness, initiative. And that’s what we English majors bring to the plate.
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Tags: careers for English majors, College of William and Mary, English majors, marketing, public relations, Vincent Barr
I read job postings from time to time to keep up on who’s hiring what. Recently, I came across a job posting that listed a “required” qualification so ridiculous I almost laughed—until I stopped to think how symptomatic it is of what’s wrong with hiring practices. In this job description, in order for a potential candidate to be considered, to make it past the first hurdle, he or she must be “certified” in salesforce.com administration.
In order for it to hit you how absurd this requirement is, you have to know a little about the product. Salesforce.com is a useful, robust “customer relationship management” system. It’s for keeping track of current, potential and past customers, as well as what business your company has done with them, hopes to do with them, is doing with them and—most important—how much money is associated with those deals. It lets you track how “hot” a prospect is, also how close you are to “winning” the business, and if you really exploit the heck out of it, it can be a vast repository of information associated with all customers—everything from exactly who their money-spending decision-makers are to every email exchange you’ve ever had with that customer.
For a marketing person or a senior manager tracking marketing progress, it’s quite a system, and using it to its fullest extent can keep a mountain of details well-organized.
But it is not rocket science.
The kind of information in salesforce is hardly specialized—things like name, contact info, dollars, a little marketing vocabulary. No knowledge of anatomy, nanotechnology, physics, Mandarin Chinese, advanced math, or medieval history is required. Just English, basic math, common sense and some knowledge of human relations, like how to distinguish a “warm” exchange with a customer from a “cold” one.
But back to our “required” job qualification, if you’re not a certified, stamped and sealed expert in this relatively simple product, you’re outta here, quickly relegated to the reject heap. (The must-have certification class, by the way, is only four days long.)
Now here we are in the most complicated business environment that’s ever existed in human history, trying to navigate a treacherous and unpredictable path which we hope leads us out of a deep recession. Meanwhile, recruiters, desperate not to take chances, are making “required” job qualifications something as trivial as “salesforce.com certification required.”
I don’t believe that recruiters represent hiring managers’ and company leaders’ opinions on the subject. Steve Jobs has been quoted often lately because he recently championed the liberal arts, saying that, at Apple, “…it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” But good luck going on the Apple website and finding a job description for which a degree in the humanities is required. I tried. I read job descriptions in many categories they’re hiring for (administrative, applications, HR, facilities, finance, IT, internships, legal, marketing, operations, retail, sales), in every country. I didn’t find one.
I know what you’re thinking: Okay, then, what’s a literate, analytical, informed, culturally savvy English major to do if the recruiting world has gone certification-hoopy?
First, go ahead and apply for jobs even when you don’t have the precise qualifications. But in your cover letter be sure to address what they’re asking for that you don’t have. In this example, you could go online to the salesforce.com website and learn about the product, even take a free demo cruise to get an idea how it works, what the salesforce-specific terminology is, and then share your familiarity with the product in your cover letter:
“I have some knowledge of salesforce.com and would welcome the opportunity to apply my analytical abilities to the data you maintain in salesforce to help your company win future business.”
If you were feeling really bold and bratty, you could in your cover letter say something about how, although few jobs specifically require your major, many business leaders have had that very same academic credential—Michael Eisner (former Disney CEO), Mario Cuomo (former Governor of New York), Sally Ride (astronaut), Kathryn Fuller (Chair of the Ford Foundation), and Herb Scannell (President of BBC Worldwide) to name a few.
Just so recruiters can start to picture the future leader you may indeed turn out to be.
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Tags: Apple, careers for English majors, certification, cover letters, English majors, HR, Humanities majors, recruiters, Steve jobs