Spotlight on Jobs for English Majors: If it’s not teaching, then what’s next?

My Back Pages (Grey), painting by Stanford Kay 2009

My Back Pages (Grey), painting by Stanford Kay 2009

The last two posts have focused on how to pursue teaching after you’ve obtained the M.A. For this post, I want to offer some insights on thinking about other possibilities for meaningful work that pays the bills. The most important thing to know is that the process of finding that work won’t begin and conclude in one sitting. It’s not unlike writing your thesis. You probably had days when the words were flowing, when you had clarity in your analysis, and when your advisor said “Great work! Keep going.” And then you probably had days when writing a single paragraph was agony, when your thoughts were muddy, when your advisor diplomatically said, “I’m not sure what you were trying to say here….”

The good news is that you can apply exactly the same toolbox to writing your thesis to finding work. Here’s how:

  • Research jobs based on your existing interests: When you picked the text or texts to write about for your thesis, you embraced your curiosity and desire to contribute something valuable; the same impulses will help narrow your search for work that engages you. What’s important to you? What makes you feel motivated to act? Here’s a tip: it doesn’t have to be explicitly related to English, literature, teaching, or anything that seems an obvious “fit” to an English major. Just observe your interests and see where they take you.
  • Stop researching and reflect on your findings: The internet is your friend until it’s your enemy. There comes a point when you must cease looking for information and turn your attention to the information you gathered in order to make sense of it. What kind of patterns have emerged in your research? What connections emerge?
  • Organize your findings: In the same way you created a record of your research for your thesis in the form of an annotated bibliography, organize your research based on the themes, topics, patterns, and connections you’ve observed. Don’t judge what you’ve found. Instead, let it unfold. Your tendencies toward criticism are useful, but sometimes you need to set them aside to see the bigger picture.
  • Share your findings with someone who’s smarter than you and get feedback: When I say “smarter than you” I’m not talking about IQ or degrees. I’m talking about someone who has a job that you admire and who’s achieved what you seek: finding meaningful work. This person (or people!) has perspective that will help you to see what’s working in your approach and what you can further do to get where you want to go.

I hope this helps! Remember to be patient with the process AND to celebrate your successes at every step.