When I began applying for professional internships during sophomore year of college, most recruiters heard the words “English major” and quickly discarded me as a viable candidate for corporate work.
I began to wonder if I should have studied business or communications instead, and simply pursue my love for literary analysis and poetry on the side. But in the end, deciding to pursue my English degree is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and has prepared me for the corporate world in ways I never would have expected.
Through numerous calls to HR and unending perseverance, I was able to secure work with a public utility (a company busting at the seams with engineers and technical buffs), and I’m now working successfully in an area of the company that originally rejected me because of my English degree.
The fact is, English majors are primed with the top skills that recruiters are looking for. We just need to do our part to make sure they recognize everything have to offer.
Here’s how to effectively market your English degree to recruiters and hiring managers:
English majors take “critical thinking” to the next level.
It seems like half the job postings we see out there are looking for candidates with excellent critical thinking skills. English majors fit this mold to a tee.
While our peers may think that all we do is casually read T.S. Eliot all day and night, we know that every time we pick up a book, we are critically dissecting it. We’re analyzing the structure and rhythm. We’re picking up on minor details and drawing conclusions from multiple points of view. We’re studying all the big theories, and then we’re going to come up with a theory of our own and write a twelve page essay on it. And you can bet it will be a damn good essay.
For English majors, reading a text is like diving into a problem (a really fun problem!), and we know that there are countless ways to work toward an answer. We are pushed to find uncommon solutions. We are forced to support all of our claims with textual evidence, and we know that it is okay to bring light to inconsistencies when they arise. We’re taught to think, hard. And this skill carries over into the ways we address problems in the corporate world, too.
Steven Strauss says it all in his article “Why I Hire English Majors,” “…what I need is to be able to give someone an assignment and have them do it. Period. That is exactly what I get from the English majors. They know how to think, to think for themselves, and how to analyze a problem.” We don’t go running to our professors (or bosses) every time we’re challenged with a difficult task. Instead, we utilize our resources, engage our minds, and take the time to get it done right.
English majors put in the time required.
Most students can (potentially) begin working on their homework as soon as it is assigned. But English majors typically need to read a novel before beginning their homework, and they need to read it very closely, understand it, create a thesis, then defend that thesis throughout a well-written essay. It’s a lot of work, it’s time-consuming, and it’s all necessary in order to do well.
English majors with a heavy course load are required to write multiple essays (on various books, topics, and genres) each month, and we need to find a way to fit it all in to the same hours everyone else is operating in.
The same can be said for professional work. With the increasing workload demands that corporate puts on employees, we are asked to produce more work than ever, and we need to do it right the first time. This is how English majors operate. As much as we may enjoy reading The Iliad a second time before the final exam to increase our understanding of it, there simply isn’t time in the day. We do it right, right from the beginning.
English majors are top-notch communicators, in more ways than you think.
Yes, English majors are articulate writers who know how to logically convey a message in writing, but we also have excellent verbal skills. We’re consistently singled out in class to raise our thoughts on the text at hand (meaning, we are always held accountable for completing our reading!), and we’re encouraged to defend and support our claims on the spot.
We’re challenged to give class-length presentations, and to partake in class discussions regularly. We don’t just sit back and take notes. English class is all about analyzing with others. It’s about bouncing ideas off of each other and coming to new conclusions on-the-spot. In a nutshell, it’s all about thinking critically and verbally. It’s about honing those exact skills employers are looking for, even as they overlook us for our comrades in business courses.
English majors are primed with the skills to excel in the business world. We know how to solve problems and communicate our answers effectively. We know how to work hard, and do things right the first time. It’s time for us to show employers what they’re missing out on. Let’s just hope they don’t mind that we spend lunch hour reading Dante.