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.