English Majors: How to Sell the Value of Your Degree

Written by
Abby Richmond

Jul 19, 2021

Jul 19, 2021 • by Abby Richmond

The job market can be an overwhelming maze, especially if you are a recent college graduate fresh to the career search. When you are talking with potential employers or building your résumé, you’ll want to showcase your strengths—and a background in the humanities provides you with a great skill set. If you majored in English, here are a few skills to emphasize when making your pitch to future employers. 

You Are Passionate and Intellectually Curious
Majoring in English requires genuine intellectual curiosity and a passion for critical thinking. In your years as an undergraduate, you read and scrutinized countless numbers of texts—novels, essays, plays, poems, and more. The English major requires you to parse dense and often abstract concepts, complex emotions, and rhetoric. These are tasks that advance your ability to think laterally, analyze in depth, and be flexible. This practice prepares you for a wide variety of jobs, including those outside the humanities. For example, Project Oxygen reported that for Google employees, “The seven top characteristics of success are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” As an English major, you’ve learned not only how to do things but why we do things—and how we can use this knowledge to understand both ourselves and others. You are someone who cares about the tasks you are assigned and who seeks to make sense of the world around you, even when this work is difficult.

You Can Read and Write

Although this may seem obvious, excelling at reading and writing is coveted by employers from every field. As our world becomes increasingly digital, employers are seeking, now more than ever, candidates with fine-tuned communication skills and a keen ability to connect with audiences—even from behind a screen. Studying English teaches you to approach reading and writing with a critical eye and an open mind and provides you with vital experience assessing and drafting texts. As an English major, you have refined your ability to craft arguments—planning, organizing, and structuring wide-ranging ideas to create cohesive and impactful narratives. During your time studying English, you have also gained expertise in thoughtfully interacting with sources, and you understand how to find and evaluate the ones that are worthwhile (maybe you’ve even practiced by using the MLA’s resources!). Kara Blackburn, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, told the Harvard Business Review, “As Marvin Swift memorably said, clear writing means clear thinking. . . . You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.” The sharp analytical and communication skills you’ve learned as an English major are applicable to any career and are important to emphasize when pursuing jobs. 

You Are Creative

The English major pushes you to grapple with all forms of language, exposing you to the brightest minds from a range of genres, styles, and time periods. In addition to writing academic papers for courses, you may have tried your hand at penning stories, poems, and works in other creative writing genres. Reading widely and writing in a variety of forms cultivates divergent thinking. This willingness to think outside the box and engage deeply with various forms of literature translates into significant workplace value: you are likely an innovative problem-solver, well trained to come up with interesting, unique ideas and solutions. Today, as we face the existential challenges of climate change, systemic racism, and democracy at a crossroads, your extensive skills and knowledge are urgently needed: “What matters now is not the skills you have but how you think. Can you ask the right questions? Do you know what problem you’re trying to solve in the first place?” Indeed, a report by the British Academy documented that “results of research from the British Council in 2015 showed that over half of global leaders have either a social sciences (44%) or arts or humanities (11%) bachelor’s degree.” Your English degree has equipped you with the tools to make real change and be a leader in any professional field and in society as a whole. 

The task of conveying your qualifications to prospective employers might sound daunting. As an English major, however, you have attained a wide range of useful and applicable skills— as well as the ability to communicate exactly how these skills prepare you for a job!