There’s a scene that I remember vividly from my university days. I was sitting on a stool having lunch in a diner in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The older man in the greasy white apron behind the counter looked at the heavy tome I was reading and asked what I was studying.

“Comparative literature,” I replied, preparing in my head the summary I usually offered when people ask what that is.

But he didn’t ask what it was. Instead he looked at me like I was out of my mind and laughed, “Literature! What are you going to do with that?”

I was tempted to say something along the lines of, “Well, maybe it’s not Big Money like flipping burgers…”

But instead I stumbled to express something like “I’m trying to gain a greater understanding of who we are and how the world works through reading the way people from many other times and many other places have chosen to describe their experiences and share their stories. I think that might come in handy.”

And you know what? It did come in handy. I don’t think I ever managed to obtain that greater understanding, but I have never wanted for work since graduating. Many of the skills gained while earning a degree in English are highly in demand on the job market.

The ability to absorb large amounts of complex information and summarize it into shorter, easily-understood language is one that is needed across industries.

While print journalists are having a hard time of it lately, there is still an ever-growing demand for writers. The Internet is growing at an exponential rate, and it is almost entirely made up of content. Some of it is better than others, sure. There is stiff competition going on for the eyeballs and attention of an increasingly demanding audience. That attention is earned through timely, relevant, and compelling content – and that takes writers.

Technical writing, advertising copy writing, and storytelling – these are hot skills. Social media is also opening up new career paths for people with honed communications skills. (We have previously predicted that those jobs may no longer exist in ten years.)

An English degree is a broad and versatile area of study which offers graduates a wide variety of career paths to follow. For the recent Thinkopolis V: Education Nation project, we looked at the career paths that people from many popular education programs followed after leaving school.

See Where can that liberal arts degree take you on the Canadian job market right now? and The university degrees that earn the highest starting salaries.

Among the top industries that English majors work in post-graduation are Marketing (24 per cent of grads), Arts and Media (21 per cent), and Education (15 per cent). The rest are scattered with small percentages across a range of fields.

The most common first jobs for English grads include:

    • Teacher / Teacher’s Assistant    (Includes: ESL Teacher, Tutor, Instructor, etc.)
    • Writer    (Includes: Technical Writer, Copy Writer, Blogger, etc.)
    • Editor    (Includes: Copy Editor, Proofreader)
    • Sales Associate
    • Marketing Coordinator

Other common first job titles include assistant roles such as Research Assistant, Executive Assistant, and Communications Associate/Assistant.

English grads fare slightly better than other liberal arts grads for the relevancy and starting salaries of their first jobs. However, on a longer timeline they are slightly less likely than some of the other disciplines to have moved into management positions within five years.

Anyway, this is for you, Diner Guy: My first job after graduating was in a book store. (I hunted down often obscure and out-of-print books for clients.) Since then I have been an ad copy writer, a travel writer, content manager, homepage editor of two portals, and editor-in-chief of Workopolis.

Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter