Confidence Via the Intimidating “Professionalism Workshop”

The Course

It started with three empty hours on my schedule, a need for an elective, and a fear of graduation coming up. I dove into course lists to find something to fill the extra space (my required class had fallen through; we’ve all been there) and stumbled upon Liberal Arts at Work: A Professionalism Workshop. Maybe an advisor pointed it out as a backup. I don’t remember exactly.

I do remember being intimidated. Professionalism workshop. That certainly doesn’t sound like an English class. English classes sound like ‘Introduction to Shakespeare’, or ‘Creative Writing 2’, or maybe even ‘Saints and Sinners in Medieval Literature’ as a memorable example. A Professionalism Workshop sounds like something for the business majors. But here it was, marked as ENGL 3903. An English class. Liberal Arts at Work. How does that work?

But I signed up for the class anyway. I needed to fill the space, and the class description did sound pretty…helpful, really. It talked about the kinds of careers options liberal arts majors would have, and how to apply for jobs. These were definitely things I didn’t know how to do. So I just called it ‘How to Get a Job as an English Major’ in my head to make it a bit less scary, and settled in to wait for the semester to begin.

This might have been the best class I could have taken, especially with graduation coming up. Before this, I thought I:

  • had a basic understanding of what a résumé should look like.
  • thought I knew the gist of how a job interview would look. After all, I’d been through one and a half (half because the first didn’t really count; it was just a formality. The pool was desperate for lifeguards and they knew I had the training).
  • figured I knew what a cover letter was supposed to be about.

I was wrong about all of that.

I was given access to so much information that most English majors—or any humanities majors—don’t receive. I was taught how to actually represent myself in all three of the above forms and given great critique to keep improving on what I’d learned. Not to mention reading books like You Majored in What? by Katherine Brooks, that helped to show that we can actually be successful doing what we are passionate about.

Why is this Important?

Classes like these really should be far more common than they are. Words like ‘Professionalism Workshop’ shouldn’t be intimidating to English majors. They have just as much of a chance as anyone else to end up working in a professional environment. That is, if they can figure out the résumé thing first…

It seems like the liberal arts majors are forcibly put at a disadvantage when it comes to job searches simply because people assume they already are at a disadvantage. Those in charge of deciding classes and curricula in most universities don’t think that the liberal arts majors need to have any professionalism (or similar) classes; nor do they need any internships for their degree. We, as a whole, don’t get involved in any kind of work/business/job/experience while we’re in school unless we seek it out on our own.

Schools and universities should be promoting more classes and programs like this. Encourage the liberal arts majors to start on job preparation early. Teach them how to write an awesome résumé. Show them how to interview like an expert. Let them experience the career fair (and make sure they know that, yes, they are in fact allowed to be there). Tell them what internships are, and how they benefit a student. These are things you can’t assume we know.

Because we don’t. And then we get to graduation and we panic. By adding these sorts of material into the curriculum—or at least allowing more access to them, instead of just maybe one class every few years—you’re actually preparing these students to go out into the “real world”. You’re giving them confidence.

Remember the fear of graduation I mentioned before? I won’t tell you that it’s completely gone now all because I had one class that taught me how to write a cover letter. I’m not going to lie like that. But what I will say is that the fear has definitely been reduced. Maybe I don’t know what job I’ll have immediately after graduation. But I now know how to apply for one. I know how to represent myself to a (hopeful) employer. Confidence in any capacity is hard to come by when it gets this close to graduation. So if we can give it one of the largest groups of students on any college campus, why wouldn’t we?

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