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  • English Majors: Classroom to Career

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    As you ready yourself for the job hunt, you're likely to reflect upon your talents and expertise.

    Initially, it might seem difficult to quantify the skills you've acquired as an English major. Your chosen field of study has allowed you to develop "soft skills," like razor–sharp critical thinking and strong communication abilities. This is actually a huge asset. Unlike "hard skills," which refer to specific types of knowledge (familiarity with Photoshop or Excel, for example) and can be taught fairly quickly, "soft skills" can take years to hone.

    Here's how you can describe your skills to a prospective employer and turn them into quantifiable experiences for your resume:

    You're a language expert.

    Understanding how to craft a great sentence, correct a dangling participle and identify what sounds wrong in a document is the result of all your reading, analyzing and writing.

    These skills don't merely help you compose essays–they can make you very attractive to employers. Let's say that you're a grant–writer for a nonprofit organization. You have to successfully persuade a private foundation to part with large sums of money to support your cause. A well–crafted grant proposal with compelling arguments, not to mention impeccable grammar and sentence structure, could convince the foundation that you're worthy of being entrusted with the big bucks.

    Develop these skills outside of the classroom:

    • Write and edit promotional material for a student organization. Make a note of how membership, enrollment or event attendance increases.
    • Offer to develop written content for a small business, nonprofit organization, music promotion company, art gallery or theatre. They'll be grateful for your help, and you'll be creating material to show to future employers.
    • Create your own blog or website and keep track of how much traffic it gets.

    You can clarify complex material for others to use.

    The ability to interpret and examine information so that even the most confused reader or listener will understand is useful in any field, and particularly for would–be teachers, journalists or attorneys. In fact, this may be the most marketable skill you possess. When an employer says that they are looking for "communications skills," they are looking for your ability to break information into clear sound bites for fellow employees, clients or the public.

    Develop this skill outside of the classroom:

    • Try a speech–writing internship or a summer job analyzing bills for your state legislator. You'll become an expert at distinguishing jargon from substance.
    • Educational publishing houses often hire interns to edit textbooks in order to ensure that the information is clear and accurate.
    • Become a peer tutor. Tutoring or instruction of any kind, not surprisingly, is one of the best ways to develop your communications skills.

    You know how to sift through information to figure out what really matters.

    As an English major, you've learned to find relevant symbols and themes in works of literature.

    Sorting through information to figure out what is important will be valuable to you in any career. As a physician, for example, you would need to listen to a patient's symptoms (sore throat, runny nose, stomach ache), investigate possible culprits (diet or a virus), and connect the dots to eliminate the symptom and its underlying causes. As a business consultant, you could be asked to go through a company's financial statements to figure out why its profit margin has not increased.

    Develop this skill outside of the classroom:

    • Volunteer to be a research assistant for a writer or professor. These positions will give you experience going through material to find information relevant to the project.
    • Work in peer–counseling positions where you must listen to your client, analyze the problem, provide relevant facts and devise unique solutions.
    • Find a summer internship with a local newspaper or investigative reporter.

    An English major, like many liberal arts degrees, does not prepare you for a specific vocational track. Rather, this course of study allows you to cultivate skills applicable to a variety of jobs. Understand how to sell those skills and you'll be able to successfully transition from undergrad to working professional.

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