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I got an email from an English major the other day who was about to attend a career event at his university.  Here was his question:

“I am going to an event on Wednesday put on by Career Development called ‘Evening with Professionals.’  The goal of the event is to learn how to network with professionals in a casual setting and also to make connections for potential career opportunities.

“They told us to come prepared with short introductions that fill in the following sentence:  ‘Hello, my name is  _________ and I’m a senior ____ major looking into [insert field of work].’

“Maybe it’s just my misunderstanding about humanities’ relationship to the business world, but I have a bad feeling that I may get some raised eyebrows from potential employers when I say I’m an English major looking into project management or business analysis.  I’m going to…prepare a case for myself about why I’m qualified for such positions.  But in the meantime, do you have any quick thoughts on how I can present myself well at this event?”

Indeed.  Good instincts!  (And, I might mention, an excellent example of sizing up one’s audience in advance—something English majors are notoriously better at than their counterparts in so-called vocational majors, like business and technology.)

Employers are, alas, part of the problem—conditioned as they have become to scouting for a few majors and not considering the outstanding credentials English majors actually offer.  So announcing your major first will baffle some industry professionals.  What you don’t want is for a prospective employer to hear your major and think, “Oh, English major.  How nice for you.  Next candidate please!”

Save your major for later, and instead say what you want to do. You could say something like this:

“Hi, I’m interested in business analysis, helping businesses to become more efficient, to analyze and document how things work.  Many people don’t realize that analytical skills and communication are what we specialize in, those of us who study the liberal arts.  We manage qualitative information, study global cultures, and analyze behavior and motivation.  That’s what I’ve done as an English major.”

Or

“Hi, I’m interested in project management, not that I’m ready to start managing a project today immediately, but I’d like to work towards that goal by participating on project teams.  I can contribute to projects in a variety of ways—analysis, research, documentation, or administrative tasks.  Majoring in English has prepared me in all of these ways.”

Modify accordingly, of course, to make sure what you say really reflects your actual educational experience, but to the extent you can include global, culture, foreign language mastery, analytical skills, understanding human motivation, and good writing abilities—do so.

As the conversation progresses, you could point out that better writing skills reduce business expense.  See my blog post called “The ROI on Better Writing” (ROI = Return on Investment).  In these economic times, anything you can do to reduce expenses or improve revenue will be well-received.

3 thoughts on “English Majors at Career Events

  1. Great topic, once again. I am just playing devil’s advocate here but why do you believe English majors would be better at sizing up their audience than people in business or technology? I’m not sure I see that particular connection…

  2. Because English majors study subtext and character motivation. Studying literature is, in part, about observing characters’ behaviors and figuring out why they do that, what underlying emotions, agendas, and questions lurk beneath the action. The student who asked the question about whether prospective employers might wonder about an English major’s interest in business is doing the same thing, though on a simpler level, taking time to think through how someone else is likelly to think, feel, and react.

    Of course I’m generalizing–I’m sure there are business majors (I’ve met some!) who are better at this than some English majors. But I’m sure that studying literature for a few years fortifies one’s understanding of people and helps to develop empathy.

  3. I wish I could’ve had this on hand 2 months ago at my school’s career fair ! I definitely got those confused looks from employers when I told them my major (I attend North Carolina A&T and more emphasis is put on engineering and IT majors than any other) . I did stress analysis and research as part of what I was interested in but it was a little disheartening since most conversations started with, “Well we don’t really have anything for English majors…”

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