This was undoubtedly the question I got most often at the career fair I attended recently. This is a hybrid of ‘Tell me about yourself’ and ‘How can I help you’, which I think is a fascinating combination of requests. This is less a call to sum up all of your experience and skills in a thirty second elevator pitch and more a request to avoid wasting each others time and attempt to get to the part of the conversation where you and the recruiter discuss what it is that each of you want.
Are you interested in a commission based sales job with weekly performance bonus and oodles of face to face interaction? Oh, no, you are more suited toward office work with little to no customer interaction. Then I won’t waste any more of our time talking about that sales position, etc.
Hank Green defines a job as answering the question, “How can I help this person solve the problems they need to solve?” The paradigm shift from essentialization of the self to two people coming together to fix each others’ problems has been a helpful one for me when thinking about job opportunities outside of the career fair arena. Not only am I trying to assuage the unfounded fears of my would be employers about hiring an English major (yes I can think analytically, no I am not inherently antisocial, yes I can and would like to talk about something other than Shakespeare), I am also trying to find a job that I genuinely enjoy and that meets my needs. The other side of this question is what kind of problems do I want to spend a fair chunk of my time (40 hours a week minimum) solving and for/with which type of people?
To help answer this question I recently took the Focus2 series of career assessments. While I don’t necessarily love any of categories of results I got from these (I’ll get into that in a bit), I think the process of taking them was fairly illuminating. It is helpful, every once in awhile to really wrestle with the categorization of one’s values. For instance I struggled a lot with which primary social justice issue I cared about. On the other hand some questions were so inconsequential to me that neither side was appealing and it was a wash for lack of interest. This is also informative. For that reason I highly recommend assessments on the whole if only to reevaluate your stance on some things.
Now to the results. More than a handful of my potential career fields were law related. This makes sense. Law school is a relatively common track to head down after completing a degree in English. I also love what Gist Fleshman wrote about being a Clerk of the Court in Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors, “You definitely see injustices, where people have gotten a bad deal… Unlike in other jobs, you can do something about it here… You often become an advocate for a particular party.” (Camenson 186) I would love the opportunity to lend a platform to underrepresented voices, so I see where these assessments are coming from. The problem being that I could barely read through the description of Fleshman’s job without falling asleep, let alone dealing with the ins and outs of keeping a courtroom running. These are not the problems I want to solve. (That is not to say that they aren’t worth solving or to in any way denigrate the work Fleshman is doing- it is very important, it’s just not for me.)
The other field that made up a majority of my results were education based and I wish to avoid them for similar reasons. I love literature (or more accurately, media). Hardcore indepth discussions about the implications of thematic moments are my favorite. I just don’t know that I want to return to high school (even if it’s not literally my high school) to do it. If I never smell sad cold macaroni salad or hear about a mid-dance break up again I think I’ll live just fine. I don’t have the passion for helping children learn that I believe is necessary to be a useful contributor to that field. I also don’t know that I want to dedicate the next two years of my life to an intensive training program that will eat up all of my free time. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to graduate in four years instead of six and am not planning on going directly into a master’s degree program. I need a break. Also finances are a thing that is concerning to me. I see why I get results like ‘English Language and Literature Professor’, that’s just not an option for me right now. Ph.D.’s are wonderful, but expensive and time consuming.
In short, it is helpful to reframe the job search narrative into a constructive exchange rather than focus on attempting to squeeze yourself into your idea of what a ‘good candidate’ looks like. The second thing just leads to existential crises and accidentally eating entire cheesecakes. Alone. At 3 a.m. Don’t do it. Do what you can to find a job that you actually like with people who value your skills. Someone will want to hire an English major. Hopefully.
Camenson, Blythe. Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Green, Hank, and John Green. “OH MY GOD IT’S BURNING.” Audio blog post. Dear Hank and John. Soundcloud, 09 Nov. 2015. Web.