As a declared English major from day one, my running joke through four years of college was, “I’ve just always wanted to live in a box.” But of course, I still got offended when non-English majors laughed, because I believed it was as useful and applicable a major as anything else—and I wasn’t wrong!
Sure, I might’ve had an easier time finding a job if I’d majored in computer science. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of interesting, relevant career possibilities out there for English grads. I still spent a year in other part-time positions before I found a writing-based job, but that’s only because I didn’t have the knowledge I do now.
Hence why I’m sharing the fruits of my labor with you today: here are five crucial tips for English majors on how to wade through post-grad uncertainty to find a writing job. Whether you’re graduating soon or you’re already long out of college, these tips will help you pinpoint the perfect career path and go after it with everything you’ve got!
1) Determine your ideal work situation
Before you do anything else, sit down and think about what you really want. I realize this is somewhat unglamorous, guidance counselor-y advice — however, ruminating on your priorities before you start applying to jobs will save you a lot of stress down the line.
There are two critical things to consider at this juncture: firstly, what kind of content or material you want to write, and secondly, what working conditions will help you thrive. Right now it might seem like any position where you get to write would be a godsend, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’d be happy with any field or environment. For example, if you’re technically challenged and can’t understand the simplest of IKEA instruction booklets, you probably would not enjoy writing manuals. Or if you’re a solitary person who needs quiet time to focus, you might not want to work for a super-hectic startup.
When I decided to crack down on finding a writing job, I knew that I wanted to work in publishing and that I would perform best in a fairly calm office environment, ideally with flexible hours. This prompted me to apply for internships at magazines and various online platforms, several of which were remote. My search eventually led me to Reedsy, where I’ve been for almost a year now—because I knew what I wanted and didn’t compromise on a job that wasn’t a good fit.
So yes, it may take you some time to figure out what you want, and even more time to research and apply to the right places. But trust me, the investment is well worth it, especially for a writer. You don’t want to end up hating the content you spend 40+ hours a week creating!
2) Take advantage of every possible connection
You probably already know that statistic about how 70-85% of jobs are found through networking, rather than job sites like LinkedIn and AngelList. I regret to inform my fellow introverts that this claim checks out; most people I know who have a job in their preferred field got it through personal networking.
So brace yourself for interaction, because it’s time to get out there and utilize every single connection you have. This is a tip you’ve heard before, but it bears repeating — especially because many English majors don’t realize how many contacts we have at our fingertips. To name just a few, there are:
- Your professors and teaching assistants
- Your older English major friends who have already graduated and now have jobs
- Your parents’ friends and colleagues
- Your friends’ colleagues and parents
And literally any other acquaintance that works in your target field (journalism, publishing, advertising, etc.). If you think there’s even the slightest chance someone could get you an interview, don’t hesitate to drop them an email!
Reaching out to ask for favors and connections is always hard, especially for the more diffident among us, and especially to relative strangers (or actual strangers). However, the stats don’t lie; if you’re really committed to getting a writing job, you’ll need to actually talk to other people who know their stuff.
3) Look in unexpected places online
So, you’ve exhausted every last one of your IRL connections, down to your best friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s mom — where else can you find job opportunities? As we’ve said, typical job search platforms aren’t necessarily the most reliable. But that just means you have to get creative with where you look.
For instance, experiment with non-professional social media. Use Instagram and Twitter to follow people you don’t know, but with whom you might like to work, in case they ever post about any openings. You can also take to online writing communities and ask where their members work, if it’s related to writing, and how they got the job.
Also, anytime you submit to a contest or publication, see if the platform hosting it has any paid positions available — especially if your work gets a positive response from them! You can use this to leverage your job application and help it stand out. For example, when I applied to Reedsy, I made sure to mention that I’d won one of their weekly short story contests in the past.
4) Keep reading and writing on your own time
Even though filling out job applications and writing cover letters can be a real slog, keep writing as much as you can in your free time. It’ll help you stay sharp and practiced, so that when you do enter the workforce as a writer, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running. Plus, many writing jobs will ask for some kind of sample to demonstrate your skills. If you already have samples written, you can quickly reply with a polished portfolio. (Bonus points if you can actually manage to get your work published!)
Don’t forget to read a lot, too! This is a surprising boon for anyone hoping to obtain a position that’s even remotely literary. Not only is it important to keep track of trends if you’re going into publishing, but reading new material can also help you adopt new creative methods and refine your own voice. Plus, “what have you been reading lately?” is a surprisingly common interview question.
What you read can also factor into what you end up writing at your job! Content writing positions tend to be pretty autonomous, so it’s good to have an arsenal of literary topics at your disposal if you end up having to pitch outlets independently. Basically, keep reading and writing all you can, because it can quite literally pay dividends in your new job.
5) Apply even when you’re not fully qualified
This one’s for all my ladies out there. Did you know that men are much more likely to apply for jobs they’re underqualified for? Women do this virtually none of the time, but we should — especially since women account for nearly 70% of English bachelor’s degrees as of 2014, and being an English major often causes one to feel underqualified.
But if a job sounds intriguing to you, apply anyway! If you can show them that you’re a hard worker, a fast learner, and an overall competent and productive team member, it likely won’t matter if you’re missing a qualification or two. Most writing jobs can train you in the specifics; employers just want to know they’re not wasting their time on someone who won’t retain it.
In any case, most employers (the sane ones, anyway) won’t expect you to have the resume of a CEO. They and your colleagues should be willing to work with you, guide you, and help you adjust to your position. If they aren’t, you don’t want to work for them anyway.
More than anything, have confidence in your abilities. English majors often feel like we aren’t cut out for the workforce the way other majors are—we think we’re ugly ducklings who’ll never turn into vocationally graceful swans. But all you have to do is stay persistent and focused, and success should come your way.
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. During the summer, you can usually find her sitting outside with an iced coffee, trying to will herself to work.