If you majored in English or in another “useless” humanities field like Art History or Philosophy, then you’ve been the butt of this meme’s joke more times than you can count. You’ve heard it so many times, in fact, that maybe you’ve even started to believe it. But fear not, fellow English and humanities majors! We are not all doomed to a life of serving overpriced diabetes-inducing coffee drinks (unless, of course, you want to work at a coffee shop, which’s cool too). There are employers out there who not only hire us, but even (gasp!) *LOVE* to hire us!
Earlier this summer, David Brooks published an op-ed column in the New York Times discussing the current decline of the humanities in American colleges, with only about 7% of college graduates earning a humanities degree versus 14% fifty years ago. Brooks cites obvious economic reasons for these dwindling numbers, saying that more students are turning toward fields like accounting because they are perceived as being more practical in an increasingly tough job market, as well as a “loss of faith” within the humanities themselves with regards to the field’s primary mission of “cultivating the human core.” As he puts it,
The humanist’s job was to cultivate this [human core] — imposing intellectual order upon it, educating the emotions with art in order to refine it, offering inspiring exemplars to get it properly oriented. Somewhere along the way, many people in the humanities lost faith in this uplifting mission…They were less about the old notions of truth, beauty and goodness and more about political and social categories like race, class and gender…To the earnest 19-year-old with lofty dreams of self-understanding and moral greatness, the humanities in this guise were bound to seem less consequential and more boring.
Now, this is admittedly not the most uplifting promotion of the education quality contemporary humanities students are getting. But fret not, 7%! Brooks then goes on to say that “rescuers are stepping forward” who are working to keep teaching humanities students how to think creatively and critically and how to write well, as well as what it means to have spiritual depth and that ever allusive thing called personal integrity. Doesn’t sound too shabby for a reputed dead-end career field.
In response to Brooks’ piece, Steve Strauss posted his own column about the desirability of English and humanities majors in the job market, aptly titled “Why I Hire English Majors.” In his piece, Strauss explains that he loves (that’s right, he used the word “love.” I know, I almost fell out of my chair too) hiring English majors because they have the four traits that every employer wants in a new hire:
- Smart, i.e. able to think critically and solve problems so that things get done.
- Bold, i.e. going against the pack (which, by definition, English majors do just by being English majors instead of business majors) and taking calculated risks in order to address problems and find out-of-the-box solutions.
- Able to write.
- Easy to work with.
Strauss isn’t alone in his love of hiring English majors, either. Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech and former English major (yes, really!) has recently told Business Insider that he too loves hiring English and other liberal arts majors, because of their ability to connect and communicate. Both of these “soft skills”—the ability the connect/empathize with co-workers and clients, and the ability to communicate clearly and articulately—are among employers’ top ranked most-desirable skills in employees, and English majors seem to be particularly good at them. This is due to the fact that English majors spent so much time in classrooms discussing their thoughts and critiquing others in constructive ways, which causes them to be more comfortable with sharing their ideas. Also, fun fact: a study at the University of Toronto found that people who frequently read fiction are better at empathizing with others, because reading allows readers to see things from the character’s interior point of view, which may or not be in line with the readers’ points of view. This in turn improves interpersonal understanding in real-world settings, such as interactions with prospective clients. Makes you glad you didn’t read the Sparknotes version of War and Peace, right? (Nope, not really.)
Darrell does, however, recommend that English majors supplement their degree with other courses, like finance or science or technology, or even having a double major in order to be a more well-rounded (and therefore more desirable) employee, a sentiment that is echoed in Bruna Martinuzzi’s article in Open Forum last month, “Why English Majors are the Hot New Hires.” Now, if you’re like me, it’s a little too late to get a double major. That said, there are a number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) put together by various colleges around the world, including Ivy League schools, available for anyone interested in learning more about these fields (and a plethora of disciplines as well). Did I mention that they’re 100% free? Check out MOOC List for more details and to see what courses are being offered right now.
So take heart, fellow English majors. Take heart in the fact that there are employers out there who value your ability to write, your ability to think critically, your ability to argue your point articulately, even your ability to empathize! And these employers *aren’t* just Starbucks managers. So the next time someone gives you his coffee order after you tell him you’re an English major, go ahead. Tell him that the CEO of Logitech is an English major. See how he likes them apples.