Advice for Employers and Recruiters

What can I do with an English degree?

Libby Rothberg AvatarLibby Rothberg
June 15, 2018


Majoring in English and unsure of where to go after college? Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005) has great advice for English students and grads. Having studied English herself, she knows firsthand how the degree is worth it and where it can take you. Here we hope her tips help you learn how to use your degree and unique experiences to get you the job of your dreams.

Biggest misconceptions about majoring in English

Majoring in English gets a bad rap these days. You often hear that English majors won’t be able to find a job after college. This is just completely false, says Oliver.

A liberal arts degree shows employers that you have good communication and problem solving skills. These skills are used extremely often in any career. Oliver points out that sometimes, “problems are caused by miscommunications.” Those with liberal arts backgrounds can not only help solve these problems, but you are also less likely to cause them in the first place.

Skills that English grads have, and those they lack

An English major learns so many important soft skills. Oliver explains that they develop communication skills, problem solving skills, and time management skills. It’s the technical skills like computer programming that English grads tend to lack but don’t discount other hard skills that you likely have, such as writing skills and research skills.

In fact, most jobs require these particular hard skills as pillars. These are the type of skills that you can take anywhere. If you were to major in something that’s so directly related to your first job, you may not be able to export that elsewhere.

Oliver says an English degree “will give you a broad background in the types of skills you will need not only for entry-level positions, but for the rest of your career.”

“An English degree will give you a broad background in the types of skills you will need not only for entry-level positions, but for the rest of your career.”

Start getting experience to build the skills you’re lacking

Oliver emphasizes that not all skills have to be learned in college. Many skills that you add onto your resume come from job experience. To improve any underdeveloped skills, you need to start getting that experience.

You might be nervous that an employer will turn you away because of your lack of hard skills. What students need to understand is that employers expect to have to train you in some hard skills. If you already have the soft skills, you could even have a leg up.

One thing that is difficult but necessary for English students is the ability to market your skills. You must articulate to potential employers that you are capable–not despite your degree but because of it.

Related: How to describe the value of your Liberal Arts degree.

What makes an English degree worth it 

Studying what you love makes an English degree worth it. Oliver strongly encourages students to do what they love. “Pursue what you love and be brilliant at it… College is a time for you to do what you love. It’s the last time you can devote yourself purely to what you love and not be worried about the commerce aspect.”

When you do what you love, an added bonus is that it will come more naturally to you. Because of this, you will more easily get higher grades. It’s a huge benefit to be able to leave college and say that you have a 4.0 average. “It shows you’re smart and that you’re a learner,” says Oliver. If you are doing what you’re passionate about, you’re going to shine. Making money, says Oliver, is not a passion. It’s a necessity. Oliver persists, “When you’re doing what you love, you do better at it, you get promoted faster, and your career is better.”

Common entry-level jobs and salaries for grads with an English degree

Keeping your options open is great, but it’s also necessary to narrow down your job search. So, what jobs are you going to look for? Oliver offers some assistance, “There are certain jobs that lend themselves to English majors.”

Oliver lists off some common jobs that she sees English students succeed in after graduating from college. Below are national salary averages (data from glassdoor):

Also see: 10 Reasons why college grads should consider entry-level sales jobs [infographic]

If you start out in one job and then later on figure out that it’s not what you want to do, Oliver explains you might need to get additional skills elsewhere. She describes her personal experience, “I became a junior copywriter just with my English degree and my wit. I was in digital advertising, but what I really wanted to be in was general advertising.”

In order for Oliver to make this switch she had to put together a portfolio. She went back to school, not to earn another degree, but just to take a ton of courses. “Sometimes,” Oliver says, “You might have to do something a little extra to get the job of your dreams.”

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