Every university student is asked the question, “What are you studying?” After the first two dozen times, students are able to gauge and predict the responses they will receive once they share their degree, and one I regularly hear is, “You must love reading!” Most English majors have heard this response once they have told their field of study. In truth, I do love reading. Unfortunately, many future employers and interviewers seem to believe that is all that I have accomplished during these past four years- lots and lots of reading, and probably some essay-writing. Does this sound like a marketable skill, outside for a novelist? Employers will say no. That’s a bummer.
However, the world of employers appears to be changing, and slowly the perception of the liberal arts degree is molding towards a more positive light. There are more and more articles and resources that show up in an internet search that show there is value in holding a liberal arts degree. An article on Forbes’ Tech is titled, “That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket” – and the article goes on to show how a theatre-degree student became one of the top editorial directors, and that the multi-millionaire cofounder and CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield, graduated with a Master’s in Philosophy. There are innumerable success stories out there- all showing how the skills which students began honing with their liberal arts degrees slowly transformed into well-paying and fulfilling jobs. It should be noted that, unlike an agricultural or engineering major, liberal arts grads are not locked into a specific field, and thus have many more opportunities open to them.
It can be overwhelming to think of all the different options out there. In Camenson’s book, “Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors,” she starts out in her introduction saying,
“you will find that your career choices are as diverse as the number of liberal arts majors – maybe even more so. While it’s true that nursing majors become nurses and accounting majors become accountants, an English or philosophy major has many more career options than teaching” (Camenson, ix-x).
I decided on an English major specifically because I want to teach – I had some amazing and inspiring teachers growing up, and a two year teaching the English language in Albania confirmed that it was also a personal passion. Even knowing that it was a passion, I had a nagging doubt in the back of my head, wondering if it would cover living expenses, and worse: What happens if I don’t want to continue teaching? Being locked inside a room with no way out is not appealing to anyone.
Through readings and class discussions, and based off of personal experiences, I believe that there could be a future for me in a customer service, communications, and/or sales role. As an English major, in the process of writing papers I have become attuned to what my professors expect from me – each one has their own grading style and personal preferences for how essays should look. These are given in tidbits throughout class, and are obviously seen in the amount of red ink on the first draft or paper turned in. I have become adroit in adjusting my writing style per professor. This is a skill I have applied to sales and marketing – it is all about reading people, understanding what they want to get from you. There are just a couple of opening questions to ask, and after that I know how much time to spend with them, and how far to encourage them in their purchases. Good interaction and understanding are necessary for any job working with people- but are vital skills for customer service representatives.
In taking a StrengthsFinder test, the strength of being Adaptable was in the top five. The ability to converse with strangers, from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, comes naturally to me. My degree has required me to participate in class discussion with other students who have a variety of ethnic, religious, social, and economic backgrounds, and this is a skill I will take along with me to every job. With my experience overseas, and a passion for helping people, I was surprised that I had not considered a job within my university that specifically works with international students. There are a growing number of jobs within universities that do not require a PhD – and working with the Office of International Students is one. Nowadays, having a global mindset is crucial to effective businesses and workplaces. Many businesses require tests similar to StrengthsFinder, but even if they do not, I now know how to present my talents in Adaptability and a Global Mindset.
There are always backup plans to fall on. I can always be a barista again, and maybe eventually become a manager of a coffee shop. That is, however, many college-student’s backup plan, and returning to a barista job after graduating is such a cliché today. Through class discussions and assigned readings, I’ve come to the realization that there are other options out there. It is even possible that I may find something that I enjoy more than teaching, as long as I keep my eyes open for the opportunity. Finding a job, according to Katherine Brooks, is much more unpredictable than most people realize.
She explains that “there’s nothing passive about what you will do in your job search…You are going to actively wander, try out new ideas, and take advantage of unknown opportunities, but you will be doing so in a directed, mindful manner” (Brooks, 16).
Dream jobs will not just fall into a slumbering couch potato’s lap. Actively seek opportunities. I will have to keep my eyes open and aware to what is going on around me, and have goals set for the future, while I actively wander.