In the last post, we looked at just a few jobs suited to people with English degrees, such as content editing and publishing, marketing writing, social media and email work. A lot of people may think it’s all a bunch of bunk—so it’s time to do some debunking.
English degrees involve a lot more than reading or writing all day. Though that’s a large part of it, the larger tie-in is where the mindset, skills and aptitudes of the English major meet the needs of the workforce.
Grammar and punctuation. Let’s get the most obvious skill out of the way—the one that everyone sees as an English major’s only skill set. People believe that the greatest skill of English majors is knowledge of English grammar, punctuation and the like—and they do need that knowledge. Why?
Because it prevents companies from looking stupid.
It’s obvious why editors need good grammar skills, but so do those who choose content. Does a company really want a content manager who accepts submissions or creates content littered with errors?
Even social media posts are more credible when grammatically correct.
Is somebody asking for your money in an email with too many grammatical mistakes? Are you likely to trust the quality of a product if something as simple as a company’s emails continuously have mistakes?
No one is perfect, and there will always be grammatical mistakes in the world; but you get the idea.
Strategizing content. Whether it’s considering what type of infographics to post online or what articles will be running in a publication, editors, marketers and various content staff need to consider one important thing: the audience.
English majors are good at considering the audience: They spend a ton of time in school writing toward a certain slant and reading various works (both other students’ writing and published authors), and thus learn how to look at content from another person’s point of view. Audience engagement is of vital importance—reaching and keeping the right audience (a.k.a. customers and clients) is a hallmark of success.
Reading literature can play a large part in this, also. English majors can take an entire plot, characters, setting and more to see the small details as well as how those details fit together.
Just as a sidenote, if more people had this skill, the strategy of entire lives would change.
English majors are good at considering the audience….Reaching and keeping the right audience (a.k.a. customers and clients) is a hallmark of success.
Writing to persuade. If you’re trying to reach customers, persuasion is obviously key—but it’s also key if you’re writing a business proposal. For non-profits, grant writing (writing proposals to specific companies about how their grant money will be used) takes just as much skills in persuasion as business proposals (and is actually a form of proposal writing).
Jobs for English Majors Vary—Just Like Any Other Major
One time, while driving to work (at a publishing company, by the way), I was changing radio stations and happened upon a talk show. The radio personalities were taking calls in which people complained about their jobs, and one person called in about how her editing job involved mostly comparing and contrasting the same documents, perhaps just in different languages (as she obviously was fluent in more than one language).
When the radio show hosts asked if she had a degree, she unfortunately answered, “An English degree.” And of course, the hosts went on about how useless that was, saying, “Oh yeah, look how far that got you!”
Keep in mind that every company is different—this is true for every job out there. People in just about any major have various skill sets within that field; and different companies will utilize different skills within that discipline. The caller’s experience was much different, for example, than my first editing job.
Moving Up with an English Degree
I was lucky enough that my first job out of college was with a magazine publisher. It was an entry-level job, and I enjoyed the content. With any job relating to content work, handling material that interests you is half the battle.
After nine months, I was able to move to an associate editor position with additional responsibilities. After a few more years, it was the managing editor position, which included planning articles targeted toward our audience, between my own ideas, ideas submitted by freelance authors and questions from readers. After that, I became the editor of a couple of publications. There are other positions for those wanting to move up in the editorial ranks; each company has a different lay of the land for potential career paths. Some will not, qualifying as “dead-end jobs”—but in that case, you just go someplace where the path leads farther.
It’s the same with any job that can be performed at more than one venue.
Some of us with English degrees learn even more skills, which when combined with our English majors, give us a pretty large toolbox; graphic design and web editing are just a couple of examples.
The Last Consideration
Will someone make a lot of money with an English degree? Most people don’t—but they can certainly survive just fine if they don’t have an outrageous lifestyle. People in publishing and content fields tend to agree that they made the conscious decision at one point to choose something they love to do, though it won’t make them rich. People have different priorities, and beyond paying the bills, it’s always an individual decision.
By now, it should be clear that jobs for English majors can be complex and rewarding for the right people—and they’re jobs that may change with the times but aren’t likely to go away any time soon.
This post was both for English majors and naysayers alike—please share!