Updated in 2015. The internet’s biggest and updated exhaustive list of the best jobs for English majors and other humanities degrees (BA, MA, and PhD).
After you finish this post, I also wrote an article about 5 emerging careers most humanities majors don’t know about and published a very helpful interview and article called, the Ultimate Guide to English Major Careers here.
Finally, after struggling for two years, I share my advanced advice and practical steps in my eBook, which lays out a 18-week practical roadmap and shows you how to market your degree to employers.
Let’s go through this long list of jobs.
It was April. My last month at graduate school. I was walking through the bright library searching for books to help me find a career with my English degrees (BA and MA in English). It seemed grim. Where do English majors end up after graduation? Teach? A proofreader? Teach?
English BAs, MAs, and PhDs really end up in a bunch of different places. We struggle for a bit after graduation. We complain to each other. And then we disperse.
The hard part, though, involves knowing where to begin. And to be honest, that day in the library when I discovered that English majors could do many different jobs, I was a little excited, even though I knew that my real dream job was being a professor.
As this list of the best English major jobs will show, there is a real sense of freedom in doing an English degree. You can be so many things, work in so many industries, and find a rewarding career in an industry you may have never expected.
Also, these jobs are not just for English majors–PhD’s in social sciences, history majors, and basically any humanities degree has a shot at these jobs.
It’s a big list. Enjoy.
Also, if you have a career to add or some advice for breaking into any of these industries, please leave a comment.
Writing Jobs for English Majors
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing is a growing industry, which has attracted many English and humanities majors. It requires a combination of analytical ability and creativity, making English degrees often desired. As this industry is so young, you can’t learn this stuff in university, making it wide-open for motivated people with strong analytical skills.
What do search engine marketers do? They help companies use digital channels to market their products. This includes online advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), and the use of web analytics to study how visitors interact with websites. You don’t need to be a programmer to work in search engine marketing. But, the thought of learning about the architecture of the web should excite you.
How to break in? Start learning about the industry and then get an entry-level job in a search engine marketing agency. A great place to begin is to take the Google Certification Courses. Google offers certifications in all major areas of online marketing an after you are ‘Google Certified,’ employers will take you more seriously. This is inexpensive as well with each test only costing $50 and you can learn online for free.
There are also a zillion blogs, books, and online courses to take. Read some!
Direct Response Copywriting
Lots of English majors have become direct response copywriters. Fundraising letters, offers from cable and cell-phone companies, and other mail-based marketing are probably the work of some humanities major turned direct response copywriter.
One of the most famous direct response copywriters, Michael Masterson, has a PhD in the humanities. He worked as a college professor before leaving the academic life to become a millionaire.
I work in direct response, although in the digital marketing space. This industry requires an understanding of human psychology (why people buy), creativity, and the ability to use words in a way that inspires trust and an emotional connection between writer and reader.
Direct response is a great path if you want to sell out like I did. Tons of writers, old humanities majors, and closet intellectuals are hiding out in the direct response industry.
Banner ads, creative social media campaigns, blog posts, whitepapers, e-books, online strategies, landing pages, website copy, and viral promotion ideas–you’ll be writing all that fun stuff if you decide to work as a digital copywriter. Great job. Tons of humanities majors work as digital copywriters.
How to break in? Write a funny, charming, intelligent letter to an agency and try to get an internship.
B2B Content Marketing
With the rise of digital marketing, the need for content online has exploded. This is the age of the writer. B2B (business-to-business) sales involves long, complicated sales processes. People don’t just buy, for example, a $60,000 software suite for a corporation in an afternoon. They research different solutions online, check out reviews, and search for whitepapers. Content marketing responds to the age of Google and is one digital marketing channel that has grown in the past 10 years.
There is a big demand for smart researchers and intelligent writers.
Breaking into content marketing requires you to understand the basics of marketing and to have writing samples. Lost? My book, How to Find a Career with Your Humanities Degree in 126 Days, offers a complete program to help you break down a big career move like this into manageable, daily actions.
It’s a myth that you need to take broadcasting or communications in college to get a job as a news reporter. Many humanities majors work at news stations. This industry values excellent writing abilities and a fast ability to analyze and produce quality work. You also need to be able to spot grammar slips and be able to write concisely. Research skills, of course, are needed as well.
If you want to break into this industry you need to, at least, understand what content is news worthy and know the principles of journalism. Buy a few books. Most people break in as an intern. However, if you can demonstrate that you have the skills needed, then somebody will give you a chance.
Many English majors become technical writers. Technical writing involves writing user manuals for consumer products, instruction manuals, and other technical, complex documents that products need. It is quite high-paying, although can involve a lot of contract work.
Thomas Pynchon, the author of the famous novel Gravity’s Rainbow, worked as a technical writer, creating user manuals for a space rocket company.
This industry is relatively hard to break into as most jobs advertised ask for a few years of experience (I guess nobody wants a rocket-ship manual written by an amateur).
However, Rober Nagle, a humanities M.A. turned technical writer, offers some advice for getting around the ‘must have 5 years experience in technical writing’ dilemma. If this field interests you, head over to Robert Nagle’s very cool blog called IdiotProgrammer.com.
It’s also a myth that all journalists went to journalism school. Roy Peter Clark, for example, a very famous journalist, did a PhD in Medieval Culture before taking this industry by storm.
However, before getting a job you need to understand the principles of journalism. And being a smart writer with interesting ideas for articles helps. Be sure to get some writing samples together.
Many English majors end up in public relations. In the past decade, public relations has seen quite a bit of growth (compared to traditional advertising agencies) and even though the decline of traditional media has complicated things, private companies and governments will always need writers to help get their messages out to the public.
What will you do in a PR firm? Junior staff will be given tasks such as writing news releases, pitch letters, crafting newsletters, finding content to send out on social media accounts, and writing web copy or brochures. As you move up the ranks, you will learn more about the strategic side of things. PR strategies are generally aimed at helping companies get PR coverage and using the media to shape the public’s perception of a company.
Governments also hire PR writers to work in-house. Often called Press Secretaries, your job would be to keep the public informed about the activity of different governmental agencies, explain policy, and work on political campaigns.
Do you need a degree in public relations to get a job in the industry? No. Many PR professionals come from various backgrounds. However, you should be a strong writer with a keen sense of detail (no typos! And front-page news is no place to mix up the details about your client’s company!) That said, practical experience in the industry helps and so internships and contract positions are a common way to break into PR.
As one English major turned PR pro describes writing a news release: “I need to do what I did for every essay I wrote for an English class, [such as] figure out the main point, extract the important information and compile it into a coherent document,” she says.
Also, don’t overlook temp agencies and temporary positions as you try to break into PR. “Temporary positions,” says an English major-turned Communications Coordinator, “can help students and recent graduates gain additional experience and try out positions in a variety of fields. The experience can help them obtain a full-time job.”
And remember that PR is a very, very big field. Most colleges and universities, government agencies, medical institutions, and professional organizations have their own internal PR departments. There are a ton of jobs and opportunities for people who take the time to develop this skill-set.
Other careers related: Public Relations Specialist; Public Relations Assistant.
Big companies like IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Dell often require corporate bloggers. In the past ten years, the need for content has exploded with the internet, making the demand for writers increase. These corporate blogs are used as ‘branding’ tools, offering free and helpful content to their customers.
Even smaller corporations (for example, Mint.com) have company blogs and require a vast amount of content each day. Many English majors, of course, end up writing these corporate blogs.
A corporate blogger plans content schedules, comes up with new ideas for articles and whitepapers, runs social media accounts, monitors traffic and feedback, and of course writes a lot of blog posts.
To break into this job, you would benefit from having some experience writing for an audience (for example, a newspaper or magazine) and must be proficient in the basic blogging platforms and online writing techniques.
However, there are junior positions out there (as writing a blog can be tedious and extra help is needed).
An excellent way to break into the industry would be to email a fairly well-known blog and to volunteer your services as an editor or proofreader. Even massive blogs are often run by a handful of people and so it is relatively easy to get in touch with those in charge. Working for free for a few months will get you some experience and if the blog is fairly well-known it will be a nice resume item. They will most likely let you write a post as well–and then you have a published writing sample.
While strong writing skills are required, don’t forget to learn about the basic principles of online writing. These can be learned quite quickly.
Here is a short guide to online writing principles and blogging that I wrote. It covers essential tools online writers need to know, how to build an audience, and major mistakes to avoid when making the switch from traditional print writing to digital content.
Nonacademic Research Jobs
A former PhD in History that I interviewed on my blog left academia to become a market researcher. This industry is high-paying and involves detailed research as well as the ability to spot larger trends and come up with creative solutions to marketing problems.
Typically, you’ll need to know statistics. History majors do well in marketing research as they are able to analyze data.
So what do market researchers actually do? Market researchers run or develop studies to gauge how consumers think and act. Often psychology or social science PhDs can get jobs outside of academia as market researchers as they have been trained in statistics and research methodologies. As mentioned, history PhD’s can also find work as market researchers.
Job growth is robust for those in this industry with advanced degrees, including PhDs. The average wage for a market researcher is $61,580 (as reported by national labor surveys in 2009.)
You can read my interview with this History PhD turned market researcher here.
Other careers similar to marketing researcher, which require similar skill-sets are: Market Research Analyst.
Philosophy PhD’s and history majors often end up as policy analysts for governments. This job involves gathering and analyzing information to help plan, develop, and interpret new policies–both in the government and industry.
Most policy analysts have advanced education and may hold a masters and doctorate degree. The typical degrees are in the social sciences, political sciences, history, economics, resource management and law.
Here’s some advice about becoming a policy analyst:
“Gain experience by working in the private or government sector where you will be constantly exposed to policy making. Working for a congressional or a senatorial official will also be an advantage as well as working for nonprofit organizations such as charitable institutions and other philanthropic organizations where company policies are very essential.”
High Paying Jobs for English Majors
Forget about the image of the out-going sleazy sales person. Modern selling is about nuance and understatement. Even quiet people can become excellent sales people as they disarm buyers.
After grad school I began dabbling into the industry. It really is a cool industry filled with bright, talented, interesting people. Plus, you can make a ton of money.
Sales involves a continual analysis of psychology and it is a vast, complex subject. Listen to this podcast (the Advanced Selling Podcast)–to get a taste.
Best of all, most innovative sales companies hire on attitude. You don’t need 10 years of experience for a smart manager to see some potential in you. Selling is a special art and from what I’ve read, most of the really successful sales gurus come from very diverse backgrounds.
Sales requires excellent communication skills, analysis, sensitivity, and empathy–all skills that most bright English Majors have developed.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization is the technical process of helping search engines properly analyze and ‘rank’ web pages. It is a relatively new industry. And humanities majors can do very well in SEO as they have the ability to perform excellent research and to see larger patterns in data. SEO also requires content production and humanities majors can put their writing skills to work.
SEO is also fast-changing and so there are no colleges that really offer a degree in it. Good news for you! Motivated, smart self-learners thrive in this space.
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan tempts Eve with a distinct set of classical rhetorical devices. Clearly, Satan is trained as a humanities major and also would make an excellent lobbyist.
I have no idea what exactly lobbyists do or how to break into this industry. However, this job requires you to be articulate, intelligent, and cunning. If you are smart enough to become a lobbyist, you are smart enough to find a way to break into this industry.
Money and power? An English major turned lobbyist is definitely a career endorsed by SellOutYourSoul.com.
I never knew about this job until I did some work for a company that made software for the financial industry. In basic terms, large companies (such as Pepsi) have to keep up the public’s interest in their stock. For example, when the new hot startup has an IPO it will generate a lot of interest and people run to buy the stock. But after the buzz has died down, companies need to keep the market interested in buying and trading their stock.
So what would you do? Basically, it’s a marketing job with a finance twist. You’d be managing the corporate message and story you are telling to press and investors. This involves talking to analysts, meeting with media and investors, and establishing policies for disclosure. You would also create presentations, write earnings releases and annual reports.
Part of your job would also be informing the board of directors with intelligence about the company’s shareholder base. You would also present reports on how analysts and investors perceive the company’s strategy (for example, an old candy company might be perceived as out-of-touch with today’s teen so it’s time to launch a contest Mr. Wonka and drive up new interest in the company stock!).
How to break into this job? This job is high paying and you’d likely earn a very comfortable wage as you progressed into senior roles. But you’ll need a strong analytical ability to do this job. Employers will also want some financial knowledge. In my experience, though, it’s a myth that all English Majors are bad at math (I’ve met some technical ones), so if that’s you begin with a Google Search: How to get into Investor Relations.
You can also find these people really easy as investor relations departments list their emails on company websites. So, you might email an investor relations professional, explain your situation and background, and ask for some tips to break into the industry.
Large corporations often have complicated sales cycles. This means that selling isn’t as easy as ‘pitching a new client’ and involve complicated processes and structures. There are sales people who travel and give presentations to potential new clients. And then there are inside sales people. These sales people prepare quotes, find supporting documentation, and execute sales campaigns.
Strong communication skills, social intelligence, and knowledge of ‘job-specific’ office software (like Excel) is needed. Break into this industry through a temp agency. Some people begin in an administrative position and then move up in the company.
I don’t know exactly how you might get a job on Wall Street. But I do know that humanities majors have become stockbrokers. As one PhD in English who now works on Wall Street put it, “making the switch from analyzing literature to analyzing stock was easy. They both involve analyzing fiction.”
Online marketing requires analysis. Over the past decade, tracking technology has really evolved and most complex marketing campaigns will test, track, and measure just about every dollar they spend online. Humanities majors can find work as eCommerce analysts.
In this job, you will be tasked with figuring out why certain campaigns are working, why people aren’t buying from a client’s website, and how to help online marketing budgets bring back more profit. Flint McGlaughlin has a PhD in philosophy and is a world-known eCommerce analyst.
This job requires intimate knowledge analytic and tracking software. You will also need to understand the principles of online conversion (which can be learned by reading the millions of blogs dedicated to the topic).
This is a fast-paced industry and many analysts come from various educational backgrounds. Hard-core analysts will need mathematical ability and knowledge of statistics. But if the thought of digging into a spreadsheet excites you, maybe this job is for you.
Pick up a web analytics guide from O’Reilly, a publishing company respected in the space.
Marketing Jobs for English Majors
Social Media Manager
Social media is here to stay. Governments, sports teams, brands, and companies need people to run their social media programs, develop strategies, and come up with ways of engaging customers, citizens, and fans. As humanities majors have strong communication skills, many of us end up in these types of jobs.
How to break in? First, you need to know something about social media. So read some blogs and books, play with the tools, and learn about the strategic side of social media and how it fits into marketing.
Bonus! Social media is new. Better yet, many companies still hire interns and entry-level hires to manage their social media programs. This is stupid on the side of companies, but a great opportunity for new grads to break into the communication sector via new online channels.
Plus, governments and universities are typically slow moving and have little expertise in social media. So take advantage of this opportunity.
Brand strategists typically work in marketing agencies, helping to guide big brands forward in their markets. MBA’s are favored in this job; however, experience, talent, and strategic brilliance rule the marketing industry.
How to break in? Work your way up.
Large companies hire ‘brand managers,’ which are essentially creative people with communication skills. The job involves overseeing the promotion and development of different brand products. This is a fun, creative role and involves strategic thinking and marketing talent.
You need to have an understanding of marketing to be a brand manager. However, many English Majors have found jobs working for big brands.
Government Jobs for English Majors
Governments require in-house writers and communication specialists to do things like write press releases, develop key messaging, and write speeches for government officials. I know one writer, a published author, who works as a Communications Officer. He has a BA in English and seems to earn a comfortable middle-class wage.
Look for temporary positions in your local government as these are a great way to start moving up in the government. Great pay and government connections–what more could you want?
Editing Jobs For English Majors
Yes, English majors can be editors. If helping to create a best-selling book appeals to you then editing might be a good choice. There is also a lot of editing work in education. Luckily, in editing, university degrees are required. Here is an interview on my blog with a former Amazon.com Music Editor. It covers all you need to know about getting that first editing job.
This is an easy fit for English majors. Want to break into freelance editing? You, sir, are in luck. I have an interview about getting freelance editing jobs right here.
Yep. English majors can work in publishing. In fact, creativity, and attention to detail are highly desired skills in publishing and English majors find work in this industry every year.
Getting your foot in the door? There are about a zillion articles online about breaking into publishing. Here’s one about how to break into publishing.
Non-Profit Communication Departments
Non-profits require communication specialists and many English majors build careers working for non-profits. And yes, you will be paid. Positions vary by the size of the organization. For example, large non-profits like the American Cancer Society or World Wildlife Federation are basically giant corporations with million-dollar operating budgets. There are different roles and divisions within them.
Smaller non-profits require communication help with press strategies, fundraising, donor retention, and enlisting the help of volunteers.
In my book, I list non-profits as an excellent way to gain that essential first few months of work experience. This is because most non-profits are under-funded and under-staffed, making them easy places to get your first resume item.
Grant and Proposal Writer
Grants and proposals are an essential part of winning new business and keeping money flowing through the door for most companies and non-profits. Humanities BAs, MAs, and PhDs in English have strong research skills, an aptitude for analysis, and the stomach for digging through dense content, making grant and proposal writing an easy fit.
While vast sums of money are usually at stake, most positions prefer some experience. However, graduate students in English have usually written and won grants during the course of their degree and so you should leverage this. Also, smaller non-profits will gladly let you write a grant or two for them, which can help land larger jobs.
Even if you do not remain in this job for your entire career, the ability to win new business and money is always a valuable and highly employable skill.
Corporate Communications Manager/Director
As the manager or director of corporate communications, your job would be to oversee teams that write newsletters, email campaigns, reports, press releases, articles, web content, and other communication pieces. In recent years, having a basic understanding of how search engines work is also often necessary as digital content is spread by search engines and people. Expect high salaries (above $100,000 according to Spring Associates, Inc). And to break in? You’ll need to work your way up. Start with an internship or entry-level job in a communications department. This can be a great job for an English PhD, although advanced degrees are not necessary.
In-house Marketing Department
Most successful companies have some sort of in-house marketing department. While typically TV ads and large campaigns are sent to ad agencies, the in-house marketing department also helps to plan and execute the company’s marketing and communication strategy.
These jobs are pretty cushy, I hear. You don’t have the constant deadlines found in traditional ad agencies and the work is steady. Tasks include writing press releases, coming up with ideas to get the company press coverage, writing brochures and whitepapers, planning and executing ideas to generate leads and sales, working on product launches, and other marketing-related tasks.
To break in? Look for temporary positions to start. Or start in an administrative role and then apply internally. Don’t overlook temp agencies as they often will help you get your foot in the door.
Creative Jobs For English Majors
Humanities majors find jobs in advertising every year. Creative advertising involves writing 30-second commercial scripts, taglines, copy for print ads, coming up with ideas for product launches, and other creative ways to market products.
And you don’t need to go to ad school to become an advertising creative. All that matters in this industry is the ability to come up with strong ideas.
How to get your first job in advertising? Read some books. Develop some samples. And be ready to show an agency some cool ideas. You can read about how I broke into advertising, as well as other career advice, in my e-book, How to Find a Career With Your Humanities Degree in 126 Days.
Not planning birthday parties for the drunken wives of the Beverly Hills, but working on high-profile events such as product launches or political campaigns. This job requires communication, social intelligence, attention to detail, and strong creative abilities. Event planning is big business and always requires smart, new talent.
To break into this industry? You will have to work from the ground-up. Actually, I have no idea. But send some emails to prominent companies and find out. Industries like this typically hire more on personality than the subject you studied in school. So if it sounds like fun to you, then go for it.
Television, radio, Hollywood writer
If you are an English major, then you probably deep down want to be a writer. Many English majors end up writing Hollywood scripts, working in broadcast, or working at radio stations.
How to break in? Be a good writer and have great writing samples. As Stephen King says, “If you lift weights 15 minutes a day, you are going to get muscles. If you write 15 minutes a day, you are going to become a good writer.” So write.
Boutique agencies are small companies that typically do world-class work for big brands. They often have a specialist product. These can be branding agencies, graphic design agencies, viral marketing agencies, or PR firms. They are creative places with bright people working there.
Thunderdog, for example, is a L.A. agency that creates street-art inspired designs and products for brands like Pepsi and Puma. They also sell their own limited edition books and toys. Or, IWearYourShirt.com is a social media advertising company that uses viral tactics to gain publicity for product launches. LaunchRock is a small marketing agency that helps tech start-ups with their pre-launch hype.
Boutique agencies are cool. They hire for skill–not for the degree you have. So while your English degree can help you get the job, these places are more looking for creativity, technical skill in the area they work in, and the right attitude to fit their unique culture.
To get a job at a boutique agency, simply write an email and sell yourself to the boss. Make sure you research their agency, though. And make sure that you have the skills that they are looking for.
My practical 18-week roadmap to finding a career with your humanities degree. You’ll learn how to market your humanities degree and avoid common mistakes.
Universities do not properly educate their grads about how to land that job outside of academy with a humanities degree.
That’s why I wrote my ebook How to Find a Career With Your Humanities in 126 Days. This is not a traditional career guide–it is one of the most practical, step-by-step guides to moving from ‘liberal arts career limbo’ into a weekly course of action.
Over the course of 18 weeks (126 Days), the ebook takes you through the necessary lessons, shows you what to avoid, and teaches you how to turn your humanities degree into a profitable skill-set.
- How to market your humanities degree outside of academia
- Cover letter advice for grads with no work experience
- Weekly actions to accelerate your career search
- Resume advice, and cover letter templates