September 29, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Northern Arizona University
Department of English
Lawrence Lenhart: Ability to help writers across the disciplines
Lawrence Lenhart: Clear/logical/organized communication (written and oral), empathic listening
Lawrence Lenhart: Understanding of writing conventions in different contexts: professional versus academic versus creative versus analytical versus business versus scientific versus legal versus journalism
Lawrence Lenhart: For someone working for themselves (e.g., tutor, freelance writer/editor, etc.): initiative, career self-management, innovative thinking / for someone working for a company (e.g., teacher, journalist, ): ability to leverage their strengths to support not just themselves, but entire departments; understanding/willingness to contribute to leadership's vision
Cynthia Lewis Ph.D.: Demonstrated facility with language; the ability to tap into how the tutor learned what the tutee needs to know and to use that knowledge in tutoring; the ability to interest students in both reading and writing accomplished prose; a command of the vocabulary of English grammar and an ability to explain good grammatical practices; a grasp of the elements of composition and style.
(Some of these skills would come out in a cover letter versus a resume.)
Cynthia Lewis Ph.D.: The willingness to be supportive and encouraging without exaggerating the tutee's accomplishments; a gift for explaining writing mechanics.
Cynthia Lewis Ph.D.: Experience at writing for publication or being recognized for writing (as by winning a contest); a solid grasp of English grammar and the ability to explain grammatical principles; the willingness to engage with students' writing, review it carefully, and give constructive responses and suggestions to it.
Cynthia Lewis Ph.D.: I would say not so many skills as demonstrated experience and having testimonials from students, the tutor has helped successfully.
University of Michigan
English Language & Literature Department
Laura Aull: Ability to:
- conduct research to compile information,
- ability to synthesize information, including identifying connections and implications,
- strong formal written and oral communication,
- organizational skills
- communication and project management experience, especially in educational settings or community organization settings
Laura Aull: - formal oral and written communication skills
- interpersonal engagement
- ability to identify what is needed and break up information well to communicate with different stakeholders (e.g., administrators, staff, students, parents, faculty, donors, etc.)
Laura Aull: - navigating institutional and academic databases
- identifying and summarizing best practices and research
- website oversight, visualization, and management
Laura Aull: The best is a combination of the above skills, including strong writing skills and strong digital communication and oversight skills.
Karen Chandler Ph.D.: One enduring impact of the pandemic may be that students will realize they have the ability to adjust to disruptive circumstances and find ways to carry on their work and fulfill their responsibilities and goals. I've been impressed by the English department's interns, majors and minors not only learning how to navigate the challenges of remote, distance ed and hybrid courses, but also to make the best of circumstances. I see them learning how to use teleconferencing platforms, coming up with ways to connect and do their work, etc.
Karen Chandler Ph.D.: I don't assume that there will be one paradigm, but I suppose many recent graduates' work will include more remote work than before the pandemic. Their academic work in virtual classrooms, while different, may help prepare them to do individual tasks and collaborative work remotely.
Karen Chandler Ph.D.: Interest in graduate programs seems to indicate that more students are considering returning to university to pursue higher degrees. For those in the workplace outside higher ed, an environment, whether actual or virtual, that fosters recent graduates' development would be important. This would involve clear communication and trust.
Dr. Robin Field Ph.D.: The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that many jobs traditionally set in offices may be done remotely with great success. While freelance writers, editors, and designers have worked remotely for years, today's graduates in English, Professional Writing, and Literature will have greater opportunities to work from home at full-time positions across the country. The pivot to online education in early 2020 also demonstrated the technical savvy of English and Professional Writing majors. These graduates are adaptable to new workplace conditions, in addition to their strengths in critical thinking, analysis, information literacy, and writing. English majors today are excited about the flexibility that their careers will hold.
Dr. Robin Field Ph.D.: Employers appreciate excellent communication skills-from the written to the oral, from strong interpersonal skills to leadership experiences. Prospective employees may demonstrate these skills in a variety of ways. Internships offer invaluable workplace experiences that help to develop these skills, so undergraduate students should try to complete at least one internship, if not more, in fields such as nonprofits, marketing and public relations, and research/editing fields. Working with on-campus publications, such as a newspaper, literary magazine, or radio station, also develops these integral skills, as well as offers opportunities to showcase creativity-another key skill employers are looking for. While graduate degrees may be important in certain fields, they certainly need not be pursued immediately upon graduation.
Dr. Robin Field Ph.D.: To move up in certain fields does require graduate credentials, and some employers will pay for their employees' master's degrees. Many graduate programs have some or all of their programs online or in a weekend/summer format in order to accommodate workers. All employees should consider their options carefully to minimize student loan debt while also earning their next credential.
Derek Pacheco Ph.D.: When talking about job prospects for English majors, I always recommend George Anders' You Can Do Anything (2017). In it, he argues that there are enormous possibilities for humanities and liberal arts graduates in "tech-adjacent" careers-not Big Tech or Silicon Valley per se, but a wide swath of industries (that is to say most of them) transformed by the major digital innovations of the last couple of decades, especially as the cost of technological literacy has come down and the need for human-centered skills has gone up. So, even in a world where STEM and engineers seem to reign, the biggest opportunities tend to be in careers that emphasize time-honored skills like curiosity, creativity, clear writing, deep reading, empathy, racial and cultural sensitivities, and collaboration. A long perspective, the ability to understand and learn from the past as well as to anticipate trends in the future, is also helpful. The great thing about studying English is that these essential career skills are embedded in the activities our students love to do: reading great books, learning about different cultures, times, and places, and crafting persuasive, emotionally-affecting arguments or stories.
Derek Pacheco Ph.D.: Recent studies demonstrate that employers continue to rank these sorts of humanities-friendly skills ahead of specific technical competencies (which go out of fashion much faster) when seeking job candidates. Even in highly technical fields like engineering, employers see people skills as important indicators of long-term employee potential. (So, if you want to be an engineer, you'd be smart to consider minoring in English or a foreign language as a way to differentiate yourself in an increasingly competitive market!) Anders' book was written a few years ago, but, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that virtually all "white collar" careers are now tech-adjacent, increasingly characterized by Slack chats, Zoom meetings, working from home. I expect that this trend will accelerate, and along with it the importance of the people skills needed to thrive in this twenty-first-century workplace.
I also see more and more students in English double majoring or minoring in other programs as they explore their intellectual interests, professional abilities, and personal aspirations for life and work after college. This is a good thing, and true to the Liberal Arts spirit. Here at Purdue University, for example, our slimmed down English major (10 or 11 classes, depending on the track) is designed for flexibility, readily stacking with other plans of study across the college and campus. I always say that, basically, we're the department of storytelling-and storytelling is essential in any profession, whether told through language, images, or data. By the time they graduate, our students should have a story to share about themselves, their experiences, their education, their passions, their goals. A Literature major with a double minor in Management and Spanish, or a Creative Writing major with a double major in Physics (real examples), is going to have a much more interesting story to tell about themselves than otherwise.