A Memo about English Majors and Hustle

A Memo about English Majors and Hustle

I’m going to be honest with you: You can have a great career with your English major—but you’re going to have to hustle.

Let me explain what I mean by “hustle.”

Over the weekend, I downloaded the new app for the Cardinal Job Fair. You can search by major, sure, but also by transferable skills—and this is awesome! I think we are the only university using this app that allows a student to search employers by transferable skills!

Of the 170+ employers who are coming to Worthen Arena tomorrow, how many want applicants with great writing and thinking skills?

169! Isn’t that awesome?

But how many of those same employers say they want English majors specifically?


Ouch. What does this mean?

I asked some Career Center friends of mine, and here’s what they said:

I tend to think that employers are ignorant of what English majors bring to the table and are too passive (too busy?) to be asking that critical question. Hopefully we can be an agent that drives the employer to ask that question. But it does put a unique burden on our humanities students to tell their stories to the employer rather than to assume that the employer understands what the student has to offer.

Another said:

We need to work with employers to help them connect the transferable skills they are searching for to majors they may have not thought of before.

This is what I mean when I say that you are going to have to hustle.

You can’t assume that the world understands what you know and what you know how to do. 

English vs. Pre-professional majors

Pre-professional majors like business, marketing, advertising, public relations, journalism, and TCOM have built professionalization into their curriculum.

  • They often have a specific class in the major.
  • They determine job outcomes and map the structure of their curriculum over those outcomes. Picking the major (or concentration within that major) means you’re on a straight shot to a specific career. Easy peasy.
  • Plus, the faculty are often people who worked in those fields.

In English, your professors aren’t going to fix your resume and tell you exactly how to get a job. They’re just not equipped to explain how your skills can translate to the 126 types of jobs you can get with the degree. (I made that number up, but it feels right.)

I consider myself moderately knowledgeable about careers for English majors, but I haven’t used a resume since 1995, and I’ve been doing one thing–teaching creative writing in higher education–my entire adult life.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care about your future. Far from it. We are a 21st century English department, and we’re always thinking of ways to help you.

We’ve got lots of professional opportunities to offer you, but you have to make time for them, people.

Who’s got time for that?

I know that you are super busy.

  • You take 5 or 6 classes a semester.
  • You work part-time, maybe full-time.
  • You take care of the people in your lives.
  • You commute.
  • You volunteer.
  • You have loans.
  • You try to leave a little time to, you know, sleep, eat, play.

But your chances of finding a meaningful “next step” in your life will improve dramatically if you can prioritize even a few of the following opportunities.

Attend the new Stars to Steer By series—next one is Tuesday, September 27 at 6:30 PM. Here’s the schedule for Fall 2016.

Visit the Cardinal Job Fair at Worthen tomorrow, Wednesday, September 14even if it’s just to look around.

Make an appointment with our Career Coach Eilis Wasserman on Cardinal Career Link or send her an email. 

Find a summer internship on Cardinal Career Link or on your own and set it up as an ENG 369 so that you can get credits and count it toward your degree

Read the Stars to Steer By posts on our blog where alums tell you how their degree prepared them for their careers, like Ace Howard, who works at a start-up in Pittsburgh.

Take part in the Practice Interview Program in your ENG 444 Senior Seminar and consider signing up for the Intern-Read Program.

Take one of our six immersive learning classes. Think of them like internships you don’t have to drive to!

No, I’m not trying to give you an anxiety attack

I know that you don’t like to think about this. When I was in college, I didn’t want to either, but I did figure out how fit in two internships—one in magazine journalism and one at a newspaper—that showed me that, wow, I didn’t want to be a journalist. Thank God I figured that out.

Looking back, I realize that I spent an enormous amount of time on the High-School-to-College Transition (researching colleges, working on applications, going on campus visits) and a lot less time on the College-to-Career Transition.

And I know why, too. Because I’m a first-generation college student, and I just figured if I graduated, I would get a job doing something. I wanted to be a professional person, but until I went to college, I’d never known one. I was on a journey, but I had no map. Everyone was willing to give me directions, but I was too embarrassed to ask.

In the last year or so, I’ve made an important realization: the only reason that I became a professor is that my college instructors were the first professionals I’d ever known. I’m not saying I regret the way things worked out! It is what it is. And I’m really lucky to do what I do. I just wish that I’d taken the time to find a few more stars to steer by while I was in college.

Let’s make a deal, okay?

This blog post began at 4:00 PM this afternoon as an email. Ha ha. I wanted to urge you to go to the Job Fair, sure, but also to give you a pep talk, get a little fire burning in your belly, get you to hustle it up a bit.

I’m posting this here on my blog because I’m speaking to you right now more as Cathy Day, the person, the writer, not as Prof. Day, the Assistant Chair of the department.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to a meeting of the Career Center Advisory Board, and I’m going to tell employers about how great you all are and how we’re preparing you to lead awesome lives.

I promise I’ll work to get more employers to seek out and hire English majors if you’ll promise to work on how to tell them your story about what you have to offer.


Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

Higher Ed


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