Upon completing my English degree, it was about five minutes into my first “real job” search before I started cursing my school, my degree, and everything else on this planet.
Like many recent graduates, I didn’t know what jobs my degree qualified me for, and when I eventually found what those jobs were I didn’t know the skills expected. While now eligible to apply for jobs which didn’t require lobotomizing myself at a cash register, the reality was that I was not prepared for them, and my great nightmare of having to drag a pallet-jack around for the rest of my life began to feel like an inevitability.
In the end, there was nothing to do but learn these things myself. For this list, I’ll be recounting the six most consistent job skills that employers expected me to know, and which nowhere during my college career was I taught.
As an English major, you absolutely need to have a WordPress site. There are so many reasons why this is important it could be a list in itself, but I’ll simplify as so: everything you do with your WordPress site will make you a more competitive option for employers.
WordPress is the leading platform that companies use for their websites, and it’s for this reason that you should choose this platform over any other. Almost every job you apply for as an English major is going to require familiarity with WordPress, and the faster you get to modeling your own page and acquainting yourself with the format the better.
As you’ll be including your personal WordPress site on your resume, keep it professional. If you want to write about violent videogames one week and argue why Robert Pattinson should marry you the next, go ahead; the subject of your writings isn’t important (unless it’s offensive, but you should know that) and instead it is the quality of the writing, which should be your very best, that is. However erratic your content might be, the more variety you trial will come in handy when you need to send in samples for that Culture Editor or Tech Writer position you suddenly are interested in. And although you might be a bit embarrassed at the idea of your employer reading that true story dildo catastrophe you just had to share, the truth is that the more personality you express through your writings the more you will stand out, in a good way, from other applicants as well.
Another quality of your site is that it’s here where you’re going to showcase all those other job skills you have that are going to make employers hire you over someone with the same degree. What are those skills? Why, read on below!
2. Freelance Writing
If you’re an English major, then I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you want to be a writer. Am I right? Go figure.
I’ll take this presumption further and say that because you chose English instead of Journalism you’re the type who wants to light fictional fires that become real ones and be remembered forever for your ideas and alcoholism. Close enough?
That’s great, and good luck. But if you’re having trouble finding a publisher to take interest in your dialogue-exclusive novel which doesn’t include the vowel A, or the poetry you’ve been scribbling while high on your favorite feminist message board the last seven years, then the faster you face the fact that the world isn’t quite ready for your brilliance yet, the better.
I’m not saying give up on your dreams, but maybe instead of dedicating that hour every other weekend to that dead-end novel you can try writing something people will want to read. Yes, the planet weeps as each cruel day passes without your supernatural and homosexual teen narrator tragically spelling out what’s wrong with human existence, but although this burden may be great upon you the reality is that committing to something which you will actually write and which is actually publishable exceeds the relevance you’ve granted that messiah-complex dystopia you’re sometimes writing and which is totally different from the Hunger Games anyway.
Heartbreaking this may be, but the English major has trained you as a writer of articles far more than as a novelist. Consider that all of your essay assignments have required you to make new arguments for old things in a persuasive and compelling way, and now think about almost everything you read on popular internet sites. It isn’t complex; you’ve learned far more about engaging people through writing rather than capturing them through all those essays.
You know how to write and how to make an interesting argument. You are also starved for a publication, not solely for vanity but also because it will prove that you really are cut out for writing, and that all those essays and poems and short stories you’ve written have made you a stronger writer. Well they have, so stop doubting. If you want to get published, become more confident, and make your resume so much stronger, then dedicate yourself to getting a freelance publication. You can start right now and should, because having publications on your resume under experience rather than cart pushing goes a long way.
3. Microsoft Office
You’re going to need to understand, and I don’t mean be familiar with but actually understand, Microsoft Office programs (Excel, Access, Word, etc.). It doesn’t matter that you’ve never had to do anything but open up Word and smash your hands over the keyboard for your degree. That might be all your English courses required, but employers will expect more from you.
Jobs for English majors largely center around writing, whether you’re creating content as a Copywriter, or making sure the content is perfect as a Proofreader (Don’t know what those are? Keep reading below). In all of those positions, your job is going to be presenting writing in the most engaging way possible. What this means is that you’re going to come across essential material that would work best as something other than a sentence.
You’re going to need to know how to make charts and graphs, configure margins and align columns, and when you write that you are “Confident” in Microsoft Office on your resume this better mean you know how to do these things without needing to ask for help.
While no fan of bursting bubbles, Microsoft Word needs to be emphasized here. You might have written a thousand essays using the program, but if someone were to request you to remodel your paragraphs into a table, or create a column on the right upper side of the page, do you truly know how to do these things? Know where the buttons are to start doing them even? If you don’t, then take Microsoft Word off of your resume. It’s the functions of Word, and not your ability to double-click it’s icon, that employers are asking you to perform.
Like everything in this list, a bit of research and trial-and-error will get you going. Learn about the programs, model some projects showcasing skilled and correct usage of them, and post them on your personal website. When employers ask if you’re just another college kid who has confused “Proficient” with “Heard of, never used,” you can point them to those examples and smile smug. Even if your Excel example is just a statistical line-graph of when and where bondage fantasies crossed that sick head of yours, this proof of program knowledge makes you that much more competitive.
4. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Acronyms sure are a blast. With fondest memory can I remember wandering around campus some years back and wondering what the hell YOLO meant, and all the laughter I inspired when I was foolishly brave enough to ask the fucking teenager sitting next to me.
Unlike YOLO though, SEO actually has some significance to it, as you’re going to come across this term repeatedly when you sleuth for any position more demanding than shelf-stocking with your new English degree, and be expected to know not only what it means but also what you’re supposed to do with it. You’ll come across this requirement for almost every company that has any internet presence, and be expected to utilize SEO whether you’ve been hired for editorials or social media management (more on that below).
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization,” and what this means is understanding and applying the most relevant keywords that search engines, like Google, Yahoo, etc., have stored in their roster to your company’s content. By managing the content and tags associated with your company so to keep in line with the highest trending keywords, you significantly improve the likelihood of your company’s content ranking higher on search engines, thereby drawing in a wider audience.
As important as it is to layer up articles with keywords though is maintaining awareness of which websites are regularly linking to your company’s. Equally significant to SEO is maintaining the presence your company generates from other sites linking to it. So long as you’re not applying to somewhere that pays you in soup cans though, chances are that the company already has an established base of websites regularly referring to their content. The goal here then, as with keywords, is to stay popular.
Like all things, SEO has a lot of money involved with it, whether that’s paying search engines to associate the business with a keyword or cutting a deal with another page to regularly refer to the company’s website. The best way to make yourself SEO competent then is to give yourself some homework and get to work researching how Google Trends and other SEO services are studied and applied by businesses. When you reach the interview stage for that eventual job, you can bet that starting in with ideas about how the company could reach a larger audience rather than solely justifying a paycheck for yourself will be appreciated.
5. Social Media
You use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You even had a Myspace when that was the thing. Awesome.
But you don’t know shit about social-media as a job skill, and you need to.
Perhaps the largest job availability for recent English graduates is social media, whether as a Manager, Specialist, etc. This is a relatively new position as a whole, and it’s one which young people hold an advantage in acquiring. The reason is because they’ve grown up with social media, and if anyone knows best how to approach advertising and representing through this medium then the early adopters are certainly the most experienced— theoretically, at least. Although most familiar with social media, young people are in no way the assured fit for what this position actually requires, and increasingly do you need to prove this when applying for this position.
Social media as a job skill centers on various faculties, but audience growth is probably the most important. You need to be able to write creative content which highlights the business, content which excites but doesn’t disrupt your current audience. Further, you’re expected to grow the company’s audience on social media, and this means doing so by advertising and engaging others in a unique voice which differs between platforms. Social media is a sensitive, sweeping environment that, as a job skill, requires constant awareness of not only what is trending, but also what is and isn’t popularly acceptable.
Alongside your newly created WordPress site, you should make some new social media pages for it as well. Having profiles which advertise your website offers a platform to trial and expand your experience of social media as a job skill, and acquaint you with what difficulties are inherent with professionally using social media for advertising purposes. Not only that, but these pages can be cited as samples of experience in this job skill for when you apply for jobs, and unlike using your personal social media page as a reference you won’t have to worry about them finding that drunk and half-naked selfie that you refuse to delete for some inane reason.
6. Basic Job Knowledge
You’re petrified at becoming a teacher because you’ve never had to publicly speak (while sober). You thought you could work in a library because you slept in one a few times and like books sort-of, but after doing some research know it’s not the job for you. You’re working on that novel, but your bank isn’t growing alongside the word count.
After some frustration you remember all those essays you bled over and look up “Writer” positions— and don’t know what you’re looking at.
It’s probable that you weren’t taught anything about real jobs while in school, and because of this might feel that the English major didn’t prepare you any job at all. This isn’t true; what the English major didn’t teach you in this case is basic job knowledge, but if you learn what these jobs actually require you’ll be surprised to find that you are practiced for them.
If you find delight in writing and want to see your work published, then there are a lot of options out there for you to pursue. Three job examples are content writing, copywriting and grant writing. Each of these jobs have their own dimensions for you to shape your writing by, and reviewing your college essays will be the best way for you to see which you’re fit for. If your favorite part about essays was developing and expressing your own argument, then content writing is waiting for you. Or if you were someone who needed a topic clue from others before beginning, copywriting will suit your style. And if research writing turned you on, grant writing could be your niche.
You’re not helpless if all those essays you wrote in college have made you sick of writing another word though. If you understand and appreciate quality writing, then there are jobs for just that. If you spoil friendships because you have to call out grammatical mistakes, you’ll make for a fine proofreader. Or if you understand how articles and stories could be made even stronger, an editor position depends upon such insight.
Whatever you find and choose, the point is that if you feel that you didn’t learn any job skills in your English program then you’re wrong. The first part to any job is learning what the job actually is, and while your school neglected this you can fix this yourself with some patient research. And you should, right now even, because doing so makes that post-graduate nightmare much less scary.
As this list has gone over you’re going to need to learn more than just your own writing and grammatical habits to become competitive for employers, but you are still a competitor. Don’t set yourself on a self-loathing crash course of regretting your English degree just because you haven’t found a job yet; there’s a lot that college doesn’t teach or prepare you for, and while frustrating now is the time to close those gaps and prove, to employers and yourself, that you are capable, and plenty more too.
[REJECTED] is a column where writings denied publication are given a place to be read.
This article originally submitted to Cracked for consideration.