The Resume Dilemma or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the English Major

At a certain point before, during, or after pursuing their degree, I suspect every English major is confronted by what I’ll call “the resume dilemma”—that is, the challenge of translating their interests and accomplishments into language that could be understood and appreciated by would-be employers who come from different academic (usually non-liberal arts) backgrounds. In my case, seeing as how I’m pursuing a BA in English, a BS in sociology, and a minor in Asian studies, I’ve had to deal with this mini crisis on three separate occasions. However, the existence of such a dilemma is not an indictment of the English major as a whole; on the contrary, I firmly believe that this path of study does generate employable graduates, and in this post, I wish to showcase some of the critical skills that English and other liberal arts majors possess.

I’m certainly not alone in this thinking. For instance, George Anders discusses at length the myriad ways that students with backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences can thrive in settings as diverse as small tech companies, huge financial services firms, and even the U.S. State Department. For the subjects of these stories, following their hearts and undertaking degrees that don’t explicitly focus on career-readiness did not preclude them from attaining career success. This aligns with an important (and often overlooked) point by Laurie Grobman and E. Michelle Ramsey: an important balance that graduates must strive to achieve in their job hunt is in finding “careers and jobs that they will love while making a living they will be satisfied with.” However, I would like to take this idea one step further and suggest that this premise is equally beneficial to employers, as passionate employees will always be the individuals who are truly invested in meeting the goals of the organization. And what better way is there to find passionate employees than by recruiting from majors that focus on cultivating intellectual curiosity, rather than those that focus on placing their graduates into the highest-paying positions they can find?

Rather than speaking in the abstract, I would like to highlight a handful of projects I’ve completed throughout my undergraduate journey that illustrate some of the valuable skills that I, as a liberal arts student, can contribute to my future employer. For starters, in an English class I took in my junior year—the same class I wrote about in a previous post, incidentally—I was tasked with writing a hefty research paper on a topic of my choosing. Hoping to incorporate my newly-declared minor in Asian studies, I decided to write about a translation of Soseki’s Kokoro, a famous Japanese Bildungsroman about a student who develops a close friendship with an older former academic. What initially seemed to be a relatively straightforward topic quickly turned into one of the most challenging projects I’d ever attempted as I realized the level of complexity and nuance involved with analyzing such a text. In this process, I had to learn about the cultural significance of Japan’s Meiji era and how it was influenced by the West, sift through countless articles and journal chapters to determine whether or not I should incorporate the perspectives of certain literary critics, and even rely on my language skills, as I puzzled over some of the translator’s decisions in adapting the novel from Japanese to English. By the end of it all, I had not only honed my ability to read closely, write clearly, and incorporate a wealth of research into a persuasive essay, I had also successfully managed, planned, and executed a large, multifaceted project spanning several months.

Another important academic milestone for me came in a fiction writing class. In this course, I had to write a short story, share it with my class to receive feedback, and present a revised edition to my professor. Again, on paper, this sounded simple enough—I’m passionate about writing and publishing short stories in my free time, so this didn’t strike me as a terribly large leap. But several factors made this project much more difficult than I’d anticipated. To begin with, I was not used to receiving criticism from my peers, so going into a workshop setting and have a deeply personal piece of writing poked and prodded by my classmates proved unexpectedly daunting. Moreover, needing to take that feedback and incorporate it into a dramatic reworking of my story felt, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here, like ripping my own heart out. (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but restarting almost from scratch is always a challenge.) Nevertheless, I feel that the product turned out to be the strongest, most engaging piece of writing I’ve ever produced, and I even went as far as to submit it for publication once the process was all said and done. I believe my newfound courage to receive and incorporate feedback will be an asset to any workplace, as will my demonstrated willingness to prioritize what’s best for the project over what’s easiest, and I attribute these skills to my experience in the creative writing classroom.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about my current role as a teaching apprentice for a sociology research methods class. Here, my role is mostly concerned with grading homework and being available to answer students’ questions about our readings, but I did have to tackle one crucial project: developing and delivering my own lesson. In preparing for and leading an interactive discussion on the role of social research in non-academic contexts, I felt that I was pushing my teaching skills to the max, working tirelessly to connect abstract ideas to relatable experiences and fit several academic conversations into a 50-minute session. But it went off without a hitch; the students were engaged and provided positive feedback, and my faculty mentor even adapted and used my lesson plan for another section. Having the opportunity to develop my communication skills—in preparing easily-understandable materials as well as in expressing them to students—was crucial to my intellectual development, and the skills I practiced would be indispensable to a wide variety of career paths.

I would like to finish up by speaking directly to English and other liberal arts majors. If you’re worried that you have to choose between following your passion and putting food on the table, know that whatever you study, you will have options. I mentioned in a previous post that it is impossible to calculate the value of literature, but I think it’s equally impossible to calculate the value of a degree. Following your passion is never the wrong choice. And to all recruiters and prospective employers, please give us a chance. We won’t disappoint you.

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