“It doesn’t matter what your degree is—it matters how capable you are. You have to have good communication and writing skills.”
“We can teach a good writer how to do other things, but we can’t teach people how to write!”
“We need people who can think critically and who are able to make decisions. We don’t need black and white thinkers.”
“We want people who can write, learn, and communicate—we will teach them the rest in our training program!”
“When we look at your online profile, we want to see pictures of you reading The Odyssey. We want serious, intellectual people who read. Readers make for good employees.”
Many people have the erroneous impression that the English major is an impractical degree that does not lead to gainful employment after graduation. Some believe that English majors are only good for teaching jobs, or that creative writing majors are doomed to work in coffee shops while they pursue their dreams of being successful and published authors. These impressions stem from the increasingly prevalent idea (at least in American society) that the main purpose of college is job training of one kind or another. Thus, many students feel pressured to take a course of study that they think is “practical,” by which they mean a major that is, in fact, intended for professional training in a specific field: accounting, nursing, pre-medicine, architecture, etc.
Those of us who work in the English Department like to tell a different story, one in which we encourage students to see college as a time to pursue their passions, to expand their minds, to engage in intellectual adventures, to read great books, and to develop their skills in writing, analysis, research, creative thinking, and communication. We tell them that there is work out there for smart, hardworking English majors who have those skills. We tell them that you cannot “major” in most of the jobs in our economy, nor can we totally anticipate what kinds of jobs will be available in the future as our economy and technology develop. Over the years, those of us who have worked on the blog have collected enough great alumni stories to reaffirm our view. You can read these stories here. But, we wanted to have more evidence to support this view, and, to that end, we decided to ask employers directly about their views about students who graduate with English majors.
On Thursday, February 21st, I attended the Ball State Job Fair at Worthen Arena along with department intern and graduating senior Tyler Fields. Our goal was to pose a simple question to as many company recruiters as we could: do you hire English majors? We talked directly with 30 company and organization recruiters, and only 4 of them told us that they were exclusively hiring people who hold specific or technical degrees like software engineering or accounting. Every one of the rest of the recruiters told us that they would certainly hire a student who held an English major who was right for the job and showed interest in their company and field.
These recruiters represented companies that worked in the following fields: insurance (general and medical malpractice), banking, energy market brokers, financial planning, media (TV and print), large box retailer (store management training program), homebuilding, logistics and transportation, software development, international resorts, industrial manufacturing, industrial scale food production, consumer products manufacturing, and clothes manufacturing/fashion. Every one of these recruiters said that English majors would be competitive for jobs in their companies and industries!
The quotes that lead this post were taken directly from different recruiters that we spoke with at the fair. They express the recruiters’ sense that college is not necessarily for job training, but rather they see a college degree as only a first step towards a professional career, a place for students to develop a set of dispositions and skills that will serve them well in any number of jobs and careers throughout their lives. Many of the most desirable dispositions and habits that employers are looking for, in fact, can be developed in the study of English and other humanities degrees! The recruiters also offered many tips for English students about how they can make themselves more marketable. Next week, Tyler Fields will post about the recruiters’ advice and about how English students can enhance their prospects on the job market.