We talk a lot about the future here at First Floor Cherry. Certainly one reason for that is because most of us are pretty wigged out over what the heck we’re all gonna do with these English degrees.
With finals week in full swing, you might not be thinking a lot about the future — unless, of course, you’re a senior. But with family holiday dinners right around the corner, we have no doubt you’ll need some #facts when your extended family starts questioning your major. And if you are a graduating senior, you’ll need it more than the rest of us.
So before I peace outta here (sad face), I talked to Rachel Jones, May 2016 WKU grad and official career counselor for Potter College at the Center for Career and Professional Development about how English majors can prepare for the job market.
Rachel Jones: I haven’t been in this position that long, but I find that people actually seek out English majors — even if they don’t actually realize they’re doing it. English majors have that attention to detail and written and oral communication that they’re looking for. That’s hard to come by these days. Things like texting and other modern technology just shortcuts [written communication] for students. So they’re really looking for people with those skills. English majors have those.
FFC: Are there any specific strategies you advise English majors can work on during their undergraduate careers to prepare them for the job market?
RJ: English majors — like any major, really — need to keep an updated resume and practice writing cover letters. English majors are good at writing, but sometimes it’s different writing professionally. Sometimes we need to be direct and to the point, as opposed to a ten page paper about it. Internships are also important. You have to identify what you’re wanting to do early on. And if you’re not sure, you want to shadow jobs that sound interesting, whether they’re directly related to English or not.
FFC: Is there a way through CCPD that students can shadow jobs or is that more of a matter of making personal contacts?
RJ: I’m actually trying to come up with a program right now, so you’re the first to hear about it! It probably won’t come out until next fall, but we are trying to launch a program with employers in the area. We’ve talked to places like Inked who could use English majors. The idea is to work with local businesses and to get them to sign up for a week or two where students can sign up to job shadow that employer. Right now, it’s just kind of who you know. Or just cold calling people and so we can give advice on wording and how to approach an employer, because lots of students don’t know how to do that. We can help along the way, but we’re working on getting a program going.
FFC: What other services does CCPD offer?
RJ: Most English majors have to come see me for practice interviews. I would definitely recommend it. I think it’s one of the most important services we offer, because it’s hard to practice interviewing to a wall. And that’s what most students do — if they practice at all. Sometimes they just wing it. It’s one of those things where practice is almost necessary, because you’re not used to hearing yourself in that professional light. It’s really helpful to hear yourself and get that feedback while you can, as opposed to hearing it from an employer about why you didn’t get the job.
We also offer critiques on resumes, cover letters, personal statements… we basically help you walk across the stage at commencement with an opportunity in one hand and a diploma in the other. We want you to walk out of here knowing what you’re doing. That’s our motto.
FFC: How important would you say majors really are when entering the workforce?
RJ: That’s kind of different for each major. English majors have a lot of flexibility. English majors are often seen as narrowing, but I view it opposite. I view it more as a broad major, whereas if you are an engineer; you’re an electrical engineering. Some careers require majors that are more skill and education based, whereas an English major has the basic skills [like] written and oral communication. I cannot stress enough how often I hear employers say, “Well they didn’t know how to write an email; I’m not hiring them.” English majors know how to write, so that’s really, really helpful. Especially with all of the technology that’s out there. You have to write to get yourself on the internet.
FFC: For some students that enter into an English major and don’t really know what they want to do, are there any pathways you would suggest looking into?
RJ: I would say it kind of depends on the student. English majors are probably interested in all different things. There’s teaching, teaching literature, there’s the writing portion. There are so many segments of English people don’t really think about, so I think that really depends on what students are interested in and really getting down to the core of why they chose English. They can always come talk to the CCPD coaches to identify those things, because sometimes it’s kind of hard. Then, we can help you select a career to explore, and that’s when maybe you think about job shadowing.
FFC: Is there anything else you recommend undergraduates do now to
RJ: Internships are so necessary. Think about the peers that you’re competing with. You both have the same degree. What is going to make me hire you over this other person? So you have to go that extra mile; it’s not just about a degree anymore. You have to get out there and experience things. The most important piece of advice I have for undergraduates is to get that internship — multiple if possible.
Thanks so much to Rachel Jones from the Center for Career and Professional Development for her interview and for lending us her wisdom. You can make an appointment with CCPD anytime by calling 270-745-3095 or stopping into the office at DSU 2001. Their office hours are Monday & Tuesday 8am – 5:30pm and Wednesday thru Friday 8am – 4:30pm.