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The English Degree at Work

BYU alumni share how their English degree helped them land great jobs after graduation.

On March 3rd 2022, four respected BYU Humanities alumni visited their alma mater to give advice to students about how to find a fantastic job using their English degrees. The panel consisted of Noelle Holmes, marketing director at The Elizabeth Smart Foundation; Kimball Gardner, editor and copywriter at Adobe; Samantha Aramburu, community relations specialist at UTA; and Mari Murdock, gaming freelance writer and professional dungeon master.

While in college, Noelle Homes wasn’t sure what job she would pursue, so she decided to try a little bit of everything within the realm of writing. She practiced saying yes to opportunities such as writing internships, project-based classes, and events—even opportunities where she would have to learn new skills while on the job. Trying things out helped her decide what she wanted to pursue further. Through trial-and-error she found out that she loved digital media.

These experiences also helped her gain connections that led to future positions. She took every position seriously and once part of a project or internship, she “promised [herself] that anytime [she] saw a need within the organization [she] would fill it.” By actively working to become an indispensable part of the team, Homes found her skill set growing, and she realized that her English classes had taught her more skills than she’d realized.

Homes suggested that current students practice jumping into everything that interests them. Enroll in the Career Readiness for English Majors class, take project-based classes with hands-on experience, and say yes to positions that you might not feel ready for quite yet. Your destination may be found as you give new experiences a try.

Kimball Gardner followed Homes’ open-ended advice with a more defined approach—six steps to success that helped her along her own path:

  1. Hold on to your principles. Life presents many different paths for new graduates to follow, but not all of those paths will be in line with what matters most to you. Don’t choose a path that goes against what you hold dear. 
  2. Expand your writing skills. English Majors, more often than not, love to write. Writing comes in many different varieties—everything from technical communication skills to social media content production to journalistic writing. Practicing in new areas can keep your love of language fresh while making you more appealing to hiring managers.  
  3. Complement the major. An English Major can receive a minor from any other college. Completing a minor in a secondary passion can help you find opportunities which combine both of your passions.  
  4. Get experience. Internships, clubs, job opportunities, contests, etc. are all great ways to build your confidence and your resume.  
  5. Build a portfolio. Look through all of your work and figure out which samples showcase your best writing. Be sure to pick samples for multiple genres of writing to show diversity, then pull all those files into one easy-to-find place—and be sure to have a backup version!  
  6. Apply everywhere. You’ve done the work; you’ve put all your resources together; now it’s time to let the whole world know that you are ready.  

Samantha Aramburu shared similar job-hunting experiences to Homes’s. She secured internships with different businesses early in her college career, such as with the Utah Transit Authority. During her internship there she created media content in the form of posters, social media messages, webpage articles and more to help the community know about the resources UTA provides. Her job required her to gain skills in new areas, such as public speaking and administration, but they paid off. These experiences, along with her ability to communicate clearly and effectively, led to a position on their permanent team. Aramburu attributed her communication skills to time spent in the English Department. These same skills still help her communicate UTA’s message to the diverse communities in Utah. She concluded, “You never know how badly good writers are needed.”

Mari Murdock described her story of turning a passion project into a career. She loved playing Dungeons & Dragons, a worldbuilding game about playing as fantasy characters on a quest. She felt confident when creating stories for the game. A friend who also loved the game came up with an idea for how they could make money while playing the game: they would create Dungeons & Dragons games that corporate employees could play together as a team-building exercise. This allowed Murdock to keep doing something she loved and get paid for it. Her story highlighted how passion is a key ingredient in finding your future career. Even if what you love doesn’t have a defined job path, following your heart can lead to opportunities that don’t exist until you create them.

The advice from these panelists is clear: turning an English degree into a career you love isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Communicate effectively, write concisely, start with the skills you already have, and learn the specifics while on the job to become even more qualified. Find ways to incorporate writing with other hobbies to create unique opportunities. Dive into the experiences presented to you and find your dream job along the way. No matter what direction you take there are many wonderful places you can end up.