One of the questions often asked by English Department majors is “What can I do with a major in English once I leave UNH?” Students sometimes feel that they are at a disadvantage compared to friends who have chosen such majors as Business, Communication, Engineering, or the Sciences. While English is not a major field that offers vocational training, English majors are as valuable to the job market as students trained in other “practical” fields of study.
The Advising and Career Center at Hood House can provide you with resources for exploring possible careers.
The knowledge that we call “vocational training” is often of limited value, becoming obsolete within two to three years. Many companies report that the supposedly well-trained college graduate is as much in need of on-the-job training as anyone else because of the particular system or equipment used in that company. Many businesses require on-the-job training of new employees no matter what their field of undergraduate study. Furthermore, recent research indicates that most Americans change careers three to four times throughout their working lives. Learning job skills is an activity that continues throughout professional life, so that students whose abilities to learn and think have been highly developed while in college are most likely to succeed on the job. English majors are among those who are prepared in precisely that way. One of our retired faculty members, Donald Murray, once wrote in an editorial that the English major prepares students “for the lives they do not expect to lead.”
However, this does not mean that it is easy for the English major to locate the ideal job upon graduation. The burden rests, as in all disciplines, primarily on the student. Many students find the job-hunting process overwhelming and ask “What are the jobs I could apply for” “What do I do?” “When should I do it, whatever it is?” One strategy for tackling this process starts with compiling a list of your marketable skills.
It is helpful to recognize the marketable skills you have developed so that you are prepared to point them out to a prospective employer. The following list contains many skills that you have likely developed or are in the process of developing as an English Department major, and you will undoubtedly be able to add to this list.
The Skills that English Department Majors Develop
- Conceiving a topic
- Developing it
- Organizing it
- Expressing it
- Persuading an audience
- Research Experience – gathering data
- Ability to analyze information – analytic thinking, reasoning
- Articulate speech – the ability to communicate well orally to individuals and to groups
- Judgment, wisdom, values gleaned from reading books
- Knowledge of human nature and behavior
- The ability to work with people
- Knowledge of yourself
- Personal enrichment that makes you a more interesting person also makes you better able to work with both competitors and colleagues
- Understanding yourself makes you happier with yourself and better able to function in the world
- Organizational skills
- Historical perspective
- Editing skills
- Translating jargon into succinct prose
- Discriminating levels and classes of language for advertising, public relations, speechwriting, etc.
Your next step might be to consider what you want in your life. Are you willing to make a move to a new region? Do you have a partner whose professional needs and aspirations will affect your own? Are you searching for stability and roots, or for change and the opportunity to try new experiences? If you are a determined country dweller, then publishing may not be the field for you, unless you are willing to commute to a city or can secure a position that allows you to work from home via the web. On the other hand, a small town may desperately need a new bookstore. If you work best under pressure, a job with lots of deadlines may be just what you need; if you work slowly but consistently, perhaps you should seek a job with a predictable schedule. A careful assessment will help you narrow the scope of your job search.
Once you have begun to recognize your skills and abilities, and your personal desires, the next step is to explore the range of possibilities that exists. Here, your research abilities will serve you well. The University Advising and Career Center has resources for you to explore, including the Career Mentor Network, which is comprised of alumni and parents who would be happy to speak with you about their careers. The Dimond Library is also a good place to explore. Our reference librarians are very helpful and can point you in the right direction. You could visit the human resource offices of companies or institutions which interest you. Finally, talking to people—relatives, friends, friends of friends, teachers—is one of the best ways of discovering useful and enjoyable ways of making a living.
Here is a sampling of books that are available from retailers that may also be useful:
Great Jobs for English Majors, 3rd ed., by Julie DeGalan and Stephen Lambert, McGraw-Hill, 2006
I'm an English Major Now What?, by Tim Lemire, Writers Digest Books, 2006
What Can You Do with a Major in English: Real people. Real jobs. Real rewards., by Shelley O'Hara, Cliffs Notes, 2005
Careers for Writers & Others Who Have a Way with Words, by Robert Bly, e-book edition, 2003
Careers in Publishing, by Blythe Camenson, e-book edition, 2002
Careers in Writing, by Blythe Camenson, e-book edition, 2001
Career Opportunities for Writers, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Janet Frick, 2000
Jobs for English majors and other smart people, by John L Munschauer, 1986
Career and Job Ideas
Teaching and research on the college level
English to Speakers of Other Languages
Teaching English and/or English and American literature abroad
Law – essential use of writing and research skills
Medicine – both writing and interpersonal skills are useful
Journalism and the media
Commercial publishing houses (magazine and book)
Scholarly publishing houses sometimes connected with universities
Trade journals either published within single companies or commercially
Technical or Business Writing
Performing arts management
Fundraising – requires written proposals, grant writing
Administration – in colleges and schools
Non-profit organizations – charities, social reform organizations
US Government (must take civil service exam)
Social work – counseling, drug rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, family planning, and crisis centers
Service industries – hotel, motel, food management