“So you want to teach?”: Non-Teaching Careers for English Majors

Careers for English MajorsFor many, summer vacation is a time for family. And, as with most family gatherings, the conversation is bound to eventually land on the inevitable question: “What are you going to do with that degree?” As a Communications major, I was asked this question more times than I can count. The truth is, I had no idea what I wanted to do, or could do, with my degree.

There’s the obvious: teaching, publishing, public relations. Knowing teaching was not for me, I tried to pursue the other two. No luck. I found these careers immensely saturated with candidates much more qualified and the opportunities few and far between. Then one day I was given some of the best advice I have ever received.

Make a list. Figure out what you like about the positions you’ve wanted and make a list.

I was told to jot down key words or key phrases from job descriptions I’ve applied to. So I did:

By doing this little exercise, I now had a better idea of what I wanted to do. It wasn’t a position title. It was a concept. These key words helped me to identify so many other positions I had never thought of before or even knew existed.

Now came the second part: was I qualified? After all, an English/Communications degree seems so straight forward.

Wrong. These majors teach critical thinking, communication, and analytical and problem-solving skills. The truth is, you can do anything with these degrees. I’m not suggesting that neurosurgery is the ideal job for an English major, at least not without advanced education, but I am saying there is life outside academia and retail. CEOs, politicians, lawyers, celebrities, Nobel Laureates—the list goes on for people who graduated with a degree in English.

Eventually my search for the right job led me to my current role as a recruiter. Every day I am able to help recent college graduates find careers that, like myself, they had never thought of before. This is because of the focus on transferable skills. I love seeing an English, Communications, or other Liberal Arts degree on a resume because it comes with a long set of skills transferable to the business environment. The challenge comes in keeping an open mind. Everyone wants to be in the “fun” industries like media, sports, or entertainment but entry-level positions in those fields are difficult to find. Garnering professional experience in other areas can allow you to take on responsibilities you want, and could later help you stand out for those “fun” industry positions.

I recently helped an English major land a job as a project manager with a Fortune 500 company. She never saw herself working for an electrical distribution company. It’s not super appealing and after all, she did not have any experience in the industry. But the position required someone who could build relationships, manage deadlines, make decisions, solve problems, and utilize strong communication skills. She loves the position and is excited to learn more about a stable industry, and now can see herself building a successful career using the skills she always wanted to use.

So, if you are trying to figure out where to take your degree, here are three bits of advice:

  1. Make a list of what you want.
  2. Make a list of what you can do (transferable skills).
  3. Be creative when considering employment possibilities.

The next time you find yourself at a family gathering and you are asked the question, “What are you going to do with that degree?” You can answer, “Anything I want to.”


Jessica HellerJessica Heller
Alumni Representative, 2016-2018
Account Specialist at Avenica, Inc.


Leave a Reply