In today’s challenging economy, it can be tempting to choose majors that seem to guarantee a job upon graduation, like engineering or business. And while there is certainly something to be said for degrees that train you for a specific occupation, especially when the job market is tight and you know that you’ll have student loans to pay off after graduation, the fact is that an English degree does actually provide you with a range of marketable skills that can help you build a profitable and satisfying career in a variety of areas.
However, unlike business or engineering majors who may graduate with a job already in hand, along with a signing bonus in some cases, finding your way to post-college employment is usually more of a challenge for English majors. You will need to carefully evaluate what you have learned and find creative ways of marketing yourself to show potential employers how you can be an asset to their businesses.
Fortunately, some of the most important trainings that you will gain from a degree in English are good written and verbal communications skills. And these are traits that employers value in every field, including in the medical, scientific, and even technical areas. No matter whether they are in the nonprofit sector, private enterprise, or even government, organizations need to clearly share information with a wide range of audiences ranging from customers or clients to staff, volunteers, the press, the general public, investors, stockholders, donors, and more.
Having proficient writing and public speaking skills that you can quickly adapt to any particular industry or employer is therefore a powerful tool to have in your arsenal of job qualifications. This solid communications background could enable you to take on positions as varied as a communications assistant for an environmental lobbying group, a social media director at a nonprofit agency helping combat childhood obesity, a publicist for a national historic site, and a communications consultant for a Fortune 500 company. And of course you could also choose to continue your education into the teaching or legal sectors, among others.
So realistically, what jobs can students with an English degree find in today’s job market? While the answer will depend somewhat on your location and your own particular strengths in terms of writing and speaking skills, some current opportunities include:
Freelance Writing: This can range from a fulltime career to just something extra that you do to make some money while you are looking for a job in your career field. If you have good written English skills and can quickly research a new topic and generate original articles about it, online sites like eLance, odesk, and even Fiverr and Craigslist have lots of listings from people who need articles and reports written. Payment is usually by the number of words, and you may be required to include certain keywords in your text. As you gain a good reputation, you are usually able to command higher rates. And of course you can include these articles in your professional portfolio to help you find a permanent writing job.
Speechwriter: For those writers who have mastered the art of quickly writing clearly and compellingly on a particular point or topic, working as a speechwriter for a business executive or government official might be an option. It is important for speechwriters to have a good grasp of public opinion regarding both the person who will be actually presenting the speech as well as the speech topic so that they can target their words to present both the speaker and the subject in the most favorable light and have the desired influence on the audience.
Speechwriters may find themselves writing to encourage people to take action to right an injustice or cast their vote in a particular way, or they may be presenting vital public information such as where people can find assistance in the aftermath of a disaster. They may be writing a crucial campaign speech to help someone get elected, or sharing bad news about an underperforming mutual fund to shareholders. In every case, the words of the speechwriter must clearly and articulately convey the speaker’s desired message.
Technical writer: Technical writing is a specialized field that involves writing product manuals, user guides, product specification sheets, and even research papers. This work requires someone who is very thorough and has great attention to detail, but also has the knack of putting complex technical information into a form that non-technical audiences can understand. Good technical writers can find employment in a variety of business, medicine and other specialized fields where communication between technical experts and lay readers is necessary.
Copywriting: This writing career is focused on creating the text for all kinds of company brand-related marketing materials like websites, newspaper and magazine advertisements, leaflets, flyers, brochures, annual reports, investor prospectuses, and scripts for radio or TV ads. An ability to present ideas in a clearly-understood but memorable way with compelling headlines or a catchy slogan is definitely a plus for anyone wanting to pursue a copywriting career. And copywriters need to be team players in many cases, working with the marketing department to produce a coherent blend of words and visuals that captures a company’s public image in a positive way.
Marketing coordinator: English majors who are especially interested in the field of business may find that their capacity for critical thinking and research analysis coupled with their communications skills makes them more suited for a career as a marketing coordinator rather than a copywriter. Rather than simply writing promotional materials, marketing coordinators conduct research on product awareness and public perception, analyze the results, and then work with other members of the marketing staff to find ways to improve a product’s brand image, increase public awareness of a product, or find other ways to develop a brand in order to improve sales and profitability.
Marketing coordinators may also be called in to do rebranding or brand rehabilitation if a product has received negative publicity for some reason (eg being associated with a tampering scare or found to have harmful side effects).
Public relations: Public relations workers are also involved in gaining positive public exposure for a brand, company or even a particular person. PR departments work with the media both on and off-line to generate public interest and control the image that the media portrays of their brand or company.
Typical public relations tasks include monitoring the media for any information or promotional opportunities related to their company or brand, making arrangements for news coverage by writing, distributing and promoting press releases or other publications regarding their company or brand, conducting analysis including market research and public opinion research, developing and implementing PR campaigns to increase awareness of their brand or company, manage events like press conferences or promotional workshops, making presentations to both company/brand managers and to external sources like the press or investors, and serving as the point-of-contact for colleagues, clients, press, and the general public.
Proofreader: This is not often viewed as a glamorous job, especially when word processing programs now automatically prompt users with grammar and spelling corrections, but proofreaders do still have a role in marketing and advertising departments, as well as in editorial offices of all kinds. Sometimes there is simply no substitute for a proofreader’s painstaking eye for detail when it comes to catching auto-correct errors and keep a speech, report, book, article or other document sounding both professional and human.
Publishing: This is another way to combine an English degree with a flair for business. Not only do publishers need to create printed items like magazines, books, newspapers, flyers, brochures, etc, using text usually provided by authors or copywriters, but a successful publisher also has to know how to market and sell these items. And today publishers face new challenges as electronic distribution of printed materials through e-readers and instant downloads offers both new opportunities and new problems for the publishing industry.
Librarian: For those English majors who love the printed word but don’t want to spend their lives as writers, a career as a librarian may be a good choice. Librarians generally need to be organized in order to make recommendations or conduct research using books, reference, periodicals and online databases or other information, and then communicate this information clearly to library patrons. An English degree is a good foundation for a graduate degree in library science which is now required for most librarian positions.
Teacher: English majors who want to share their passion for the English language and literature may find that teaching is a career path that they want to follow. A bachelor’s degree in English might be sufficient to teach at the high school level, provided that you also passed any state teacher’s certification examinations. In some states, that means that you would also need to take several education classes as part of your undergraduate curriculum in order to meet the state certification requirements. And to advance to top-level jobs in the teaching field, or to teach at the college level, you may find it necessary to get a master’s in education and/or a master’s degree in English.
Legal and Paralegal Jobs: Law offices need employees who are proficient in English to research and analyze case law and prepare legal documents for attorneys. Since the language of legal papers is very precise and not necessarily identical with the same words used in an everyday context, a detail-oriented and analytical approach to language is needed to work successfully in this field. And of course, a degree in English with its emphasis on solid written and verbal communications skills is good preparation for eventually attending law school and becoming a lawyer as well.