Careers in English
The English major is a pathway to careers in teaching, law, publishing, professional writing, management, advertising, web design, and other related fields. Employers have increasingly cited a strong background in literature, writing, and the humanities as a valued commodity in the professions, particularly when combined with internships, another field of study (through a second major or minor), or an advanced degree (such as law school, MFA, MBA, etc.). Aren’t too sure? See these recent articles from The Atlantic Monthly and Harvard Business Review.
Below, compiled by Southern’s faculty, is a list of things to consider in contemplating your career options with an English degree.
Job Prospects for English Majors
While a major in humanities, including English, does not provide the direct preparation for a particular profession or career path that a professional degree like Nursing or Physical Therapy or Computer Science does, an English major is in fact a very good preparation for work in any field that requires strong writing, reading, and communication skills. As an English major (unless your degree is in English Secondary Education, in which case you’ll be preparing to teach English in middle or high school), you may have to work a little harder than students in some other majors to identify jobs and careers for which your major has prepared you, and to convince potential employers that your package of skills and abilities prepares you to do the jobs they need done, and to do them well. Nevertheless, a recent study shows that English majors fare just about as well in the job market as do other majors in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and even some professional fields. (See article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, here.) Other surveys indicate that, once hired, the English major tends to get promoted more often and more quickly than her/his non-major counterparts. The reason for this is that while English majors may lack job-specific abilities, they do possess general communication, organizational, managerial, and “people” skills that help them to advance. They typically start off in their careers at lower salaries than others, but after five or six years, they lower this gap, and, in many cases, they actually surpass non-majors in terms of both income and job status.
Through reading and discussing literature, people become more aware of the psychology of other people, more sensitive to the diversity of personality types, and more attuned to the ways people interact with each other and with their circumstances and surroundings. This awareness and sensitivity, coupled with top-notch literacy skills, help English majors in professions where they deal with people and with language. At universities, for example, there are more college administrators (deans, vice-presidents, presidents) who are from the English faculty than there are from any other academic field. The focus on writing in the curriculum enhances the majors' ability to communicate effectively in business, professional, government, and not-for-profit work situations where clarity of expression is more important and more highly valued than ever before.
So there you have it. If you are an English major, your career prospects are, ultimately, very encouraging. However, you must be very resourceful and creative both in preparing and in searching for a job. Those very skills which are valued by those in a position to promote are not necessarily those skills sought out by those who hire. Research those areas that interest you. Consider appropriate minors.
This page is designed to follow a step-by-step approach both to help you get to know yourself better and to give you practical advice about career exploration.
Step One: Know Yourself
There are those fabled students who are goal directed from the start. They know who they are, what they want out of life, and what they have to do to achieve their aims. For most students, however, college is a time for searching and for understanding who they are. The average student changes majors at least once during his or her academic career. With all of these uncertainties, how is it possible to decide on a career choice? How do you prepare for a career, if you don't have any idea of what you want to be?
Fortunately, there is help available. An excellent starting place for all students, whether you know what your future plans are or not, is the Strong Index Test, which can be picked up at the SCSU Bookstore for about $10.00. This is not a test in the true sense of the word, and you can't study for it or cheat by peaking at the answers. It asks you you a series of questions about your likes and dislikes and develops a personality profile. It compares your profile to people in various professions to see where there is a match. It does not determine aptitude, merely similarity of interests. When you have finished taking this test at home, bring it to the Counseling Services Office in Engleman Hall where it will be mailed off and graded. Make an appointment, and, when the test comes back in about three weeks, a counselor will go over it with you and answer questions that you might have.
Another test available through The Counseling Services Office is the ACT Interest Inventory (Uniact), which, like The Strong Index Test is designed to help college students make the connection between work and the things that they like to do.
While you are at The Counseling Services Office, you should ask about Discover, which is an interactive computer program that supplements the two tests above. It can also provide help with information about specific jobs, pay scales, financial aid, paying internships, resume writing, networking, interviewing, and resources on the internet.
A final on-campus resource, and one that every student should visit as soon as possible is the Career Services Office. The office has a wide array of reference materials about specific jobs and occupations along with a staff that is there to help you with questions. On-campus interviews, information sessions, and workshops are scheduled throughout the year. The office invites employers to campus to interview students for anticipated vacancies. It also conducts career fairs to give students the opportunity to meet informally with members of the business community.
Once you have a good idea about yourself and your goals, you should focus on your skills. What do you have to offer a potential employer and what areas to you need to explore to develop additional expertise?
Step Two: Know Your Skills
All employers are seeking certain skills from the people whom they hire. For you to respond to their needs effectively, you should undergo a realistic self-assessment, not only to present yourself in the best possible way to them, but also to see where you need to fill in gaps. There are two main types of skills, general and specific, although, obviously, there is considerable overlapping in these categories.
General Skills that most English majors possess include the abilities to communicate effectively, organize thoughts, conduct research, understand people, think critically, and show imagination
You may have been a camp counselor, completed an internship, held a part-time, summer, or even full-time job. If so, you may have developed other general skills such as the ability to manage employees, meet deadlines, or handle money. While all general skills are important and while they are often required of applicants, it is also very essential to learn specialized skills to be considered for a position in many areas that might be of interest to English majors. In the pages that follow, you will be given information about many career opportunities open to those with a degree in English. To prepare yourself for these careers, however, you will need training in areas other than your major. Consider minoring in such subjects as computer science, business and economics, or a foreign language (particularly Spanish). Your background in English will help you, but you may need to dovetail it with additional academic expertise to stand a solid chance of entering the profession you desire.
As we move more and more into the age of technology, clear, effective communication skills are becoming increasingly more important to employers. English majors can write, but they need to know what it is that they are writing about. This is why careful selection of courses outside the major is very important. and why technical writing has become a such popular option within our own degree program. One obvious note of caution. As you research careers by clicking on the bar below, you will become, perhaps, a little more aware of courses and training that you may need to pursue. If a particular academic area is definitely not your cup of tea, however, don't tie yourself to a career that is too closely associated with that concentration.
Step Three: Research Careers
Check to see if you have done all the necessary research about yourself before looking into the possibilities for careers for English majors.
• Take a personal inventory or interest test such as Strong or Uniact.
• Go over the results of that test with a member of the Counseling Services Office in Engleman Hall.
• Take the interactive computer Discovery Program in the Counseling Services Office.
• Visit the Career Services Office for information about their services such as on-campus interviews and job fairs.
• Look at the material they have available on various career options. Conduct a self-assessment. Enumerate the skills that you have already that might interest potential employers. Consider other academic areas to augment the English major program.
You should also look for internships and summer employment as valuable ways to gain experience and background in an area that you might consider for a future career. No employer expects a recent college graduate to have had a full-time occupation (although many students for a variety of reasons do delay or interrupt their educations and take on full-time jobs). Still, experience does help.
Considering your options
Different careers attract people with different personal interests, talents, and aspirations. You can find out information about a particular career by using the search engine on the US Labor Department page Occupational Outlook Handbook. Be aware, however, that many of these areas require specific expertise outside English. If so, you should consider an appropriate minor. In some cases, these careers involve post-graduate training.