When “That Don’t Matter” Does Matter in the Workplace

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By: Holly Robbins

Contrary to popular belief, English college graduates are able to choose from a wide variety of careers and are known to excel over other employees in the workplace. Since employers value proper grammar, correct punctuation, professional writing, and critical thinking, they are more likely to hire English majors over those from other majors, because they know that these skills help establish clear communication with their clients and give their company a solid reputation of professionalism. Therefore, English majors are at a greater advantage compared to those of other majors when it comes to applying for a job, because they possess the skills that companies want.

Although many people believe that a degree in English is useless when applying for a job and is only beneficial to those who plan on teaching, there is ample evidence to prove that this is a major misconception. People often ask graduates the inevitable question:  “What was your major in college?” and when the answer is, “English,” they usually get a quizzical look on their face and respond with, “What can you do with that degree?” Tim Lemire, a jack of all trades and author of the book I’m an English Major—Now What?, answers that question: “Where there is English, there are jobs for the English major” (5). There are a myriad of careers that an English major can choose from that do not involve teaching. Work could easily be found as an editor, publisher, public relations specialist, novelist, technical writer, business administrator, manager, or advertising copywriter. These are just a few of the most standard vocations that English majors pursue besides teaching, but for the most part, the possibilities are limitless. Lemire also states that “While a major in English does not prepare you for any specific occupation, it does provide training in critical thinking” (8). Critical thinking is one of the greatest skills that all English majors possess, because it is a skill that can be used in any occupation or situation and does not require extra training, like what would be needed for one to become an auto mechanic or marine biologist. In fact, according to Julie DeGalan and Stephen Lambert, authors of the book Great Jobs for English Majors, “Other academic subjects may move in and out of favor, but English will continue to maintain its hold on successive generations of students and employers because it prepares students well for life and work in innumerable settings” (xiv).

Every recent college graduate, who is applying for a white collared job, knows that a polished résumé is their best chance at getting an interview. This is because she knows that the potential employer will be heavily reviewing her résumé to make sure that her grammar, spelling, and punctuation is correct; a résumé that does not meet this criteria is likely to be automatically dismissed. According to a report on a survey that the National Commission on Writing (NCW) conducted in 2006, as a whole, “writing is a ticket to professional opportunity, while poorly written applications are a figurative kiss of death for job seekers” (7). An English major is able to present a more professional looking résumé to her potential employer than other applicants; her résumé adequately demonstrates advanced writing skills that are valuable to an employer.

Employers don’t want to waste their company’s valuable time and money re-educating employees on skills they should already have in their repertoire. Employers prefer to hire English majors over those with less writing intensive degrees, because they know that English majors already possess these vital analytical, grammatical, and writing skills. According to the NCW, “fixing writing deficiencies on the job costs American corporations as much as $3.1billion annually” (7). It is not realistic for companies to spend the extra time and money it would require to re-educate their employees with these job skills. This is why employers are looking to hire applicants who already possess these skills. DeGalan and Lambert agree that it is essential to have employees with writing and grammar skills, stating that “workers who understand and appreciate how to use language…are urgently needed in today’s workplace” (xiii). Therefore, it makes sense that employers are more willing to hire English majors, since they already possess these invaluable job skills.

All employers know that communication is key when doing successful business with clients. Employers are more likely to hire someone who speaks with proper grammar and possesses excellent writing skills than someone who does not meet these qualifications. In fact, according to F. Elizabeth Gray, Lisa Emerson, and Bruce MacKay, authors from theJournal Of Science Education & Technology, “Over the last 15 years, surveys in a range of English-speaking countries… have consistently shown that employers rank oral and written communication skills as highly as or more highly than any technical or quantitative skills” (425). Employers are aware that “errors that undermine the effectiveness and prestige of an organization…can do serious harm if miscommunication results” (DeGalan & Lambert xiv). Both Randy Hines and Joseph Basso, authors from the Journal of Promotion Management, agree that proper grammar usage and writing skills are of utmost importance when an employee is trying to convey a clear message: “Vague, undisciplined and imprecise writing creates a sense of dishonesty in writing and guarantees confusion. Confused readers either reject the message entirely, or question the reliability and integrity of the sender, or simply act in a way unintended by the writer” (5). When an employee, who is communicating with a client, uses correct grammar while speaking and demonstrates exceptional written correspondence, a client takes notice and will therein respect that company even more for their professionalism.

English majors also possess excellent critical thinking skills, because they have had years of experience researching, defending, and expanding upon various topics within their papers. English majors are equipped with the tools they need to write anything from a one page argumentative essay to a twenty-two page research paper. Compared to less writing intensivemajors such as engineering or mathematics, an English major has had to conjure up ideas and theories on their own, rather than simply memorizing formulas and defining variables. They have spent enough time combing through poems to find diction, tone, and theme that they have the ability to decipher a client’s email, determining whether it was a complaint or a compliment, and therein taking necessary precautions before formulating a proper response back. They have enough vocabulary to select from their English lexicon in order to explain something to a client over the phone, using less fill-in words like “um” and “uh” to cover up their nervousness. Companies want employees who can analyze clients based on their responses, invent new ideas, and solve existing problems within the company, thus the reason for why English majors are more highly sought after than non English majors. Besides being responsible to complete the writing assignments they are given, English majors excel at writing because they enjoy it. English majors are notorious for spending time writing outside of the classroom. Some manage daily online blogs, while others submit their poetry and short stories to literary publications or scrawl their words down in private journals. When someone takes great pleasure in what she is doing, she can spend hours at a time doing it. And since writing skills are learned and developed over time, one can eventually become very proficient in these skills and easily implement them into any job that requires professional writing. Since employers are always looking to hire employees who can communicate clearly, write well, and think with an analytical mind, English majors stand out from other applicants.When an employer hires an English major, they can be sure that their company will be represented in a professional manner and they will not need not spend extra time and money teaching or re-teaching their employees proper writing and grammar skills. Therefore, English majors will always be one step ahead in the employment game, as they are well educated, skilled, and creative individuals.

References
DeGalan, Julie, and Stephen Lambert. Great Jobs for English Majors. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.
Gray, F. Elizabeth, Lisa Emerson, and Bruce MacKay. “Meeting The Demands Of The Workplace: Science Students And Written Skills.” Journal Of Science Education & Technology 14.4 (2005): 425-435. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 May 2012.
Hines, Randy, & Joseph Basso. “Do Communication Students Have The “Write Stuff”?: Practitioners Evaluate Writing Skills Of Entry-Level Workers.” Journal Of Promotion Management 14.3/4 (2008): 1-16. Business Source Complete. Web. 14 May 2012.
Lemire, Tim. I’m an English Major—Now What?. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2006. Print.
“Report of the National Commission on Writing” Collegeboard.com. N.p. May 2006: 1-82. Web.20 May 2012. http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/writingcom/writing-school-reform-natl-comm-writing.pdf

Holly Robbins is a graduate from Towson University, holding her Bachelor of Science in English. She is currently working part time at an arts and crafts store and does private English tutoring on the side. When she’s not working, she enjoys pursuing crafty endeavors, writing poetry, and visiting art museums with friends.  

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