“What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”: An Interview with Career Education Manager Katie Russo

~from intern Joyce Bohling

Often, when I tell people I’m an English major, I’m met with everything from genuine curiosity to outright dismay about my job prospects.

In these conversations, I’m often reminded of the opening line from one of my favorite musicals, Avenue Q: “What do you do with a B.A. in English?”

Sometimes, people just assume that I plan to become a teacher–even if I haven’t given any indication that I’m a teaching assistant and actually really enjoy teaching.

Of course, teaching is a very important, skilled profession, and a great option for English majors. But it’s not by any means the only option.

So I decided to do some investigating. What do you say when someone asks, “What on Earth can you do with an English degree?”

To find an answer to my question, I sat down with Katie Russo, the CSU Career Center’s Career Education Manager for the College of Liberal Arts. Ms. Russo serves as the liaison between the College of Liberal Arts and the Career Center. She also counsels liberal arts students on job searches, grad school, resumes, and career development, among other career-related topics, putting her in a unique position to comment on the career opportunities available for English majors.

Katie Russo
Katie Russo

According to Russo, students in the liberal arts often “aren’t fully aware of all of the transferable skills they have and possess” as they enter the job market. These skills include critical thinking; interpersonal skills; teamwork; and research, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

“I see a lot of students who love their major, love their classes, but don’t see their value in the professional world.” In response to these concerns, Russo thinks of herself as a kind of “cheerleader.”

In fact, she said, not only are there plenty of jobs available for English majors, but some of those jobs pay well, too. Although students with liberal arts degrees often have lower initial starting salaries, many eventually out-earn their STEM counterparts. “There’s data to prove it.”

Russo said that, because liberal arts degrees don’t always lead directly to an obvious choice of career, the way a pharmacy degree leads to a job as a pharmacist or a social work degree leads to a job in social work, much of what she does with liberal arts students is career exploration.

Some of the top fields in which CSU English alumni now work, according to LinkedIn, include:

  • Marketing and public relations
  • Copywriting and editing
  • Non-profit and social services work
  • Business development

“It really comes down to what you’re passionate about and what you’re interested in,” said Russo. When students come to her, she asks them, “What do you like doing?”

Here are some of the top skills Russo encourages English majors to put on their resumes and to emphasize in job interviews:

  • Writing and/or communications skills, written and verbal: Russo sees these skills as more important than ever, what with new technologies and social media. Even in technical fields, she said, an employee with an English degree can often “be that person who can break it down” for an audience without technical knowledge. English majors know how to connect with an audience, and that’s valuable, she said.
  • Interpersonal skills: A liberal arts degree often emphasizes collaboration and working with others. “I think that’s hugely important in the workplace today,” said Russo.
  • Critical thinking and reading: English majors are asked to think carefully and critically about texts. “What’s the message that you’re communicating through the language that you’re choosing?” asked Russo. The ability to communicate that message is valuable in all kinds of fields and professions.

Although Russo counsels students to explore their passions and interests to find the career that’s right for them, she also believes that finding a dream job is a process that continues after graduation.

In other words, you don’t need to land your dream job as soon as you get your diploma. Rather, Russo encourages students to start looking for the kind of job that sets them on a path that could eventually lead to a dream job. “You want to find something—if not a foot in the door, then a nudge at the door.”

“A career is constant self-reflection and exploration,” and each job, said Russo, “gives you greater insight” into the kind of work you most want to be doing.

The CSU Career Center is a free service for all CSU students. The Center has drop-in advising sessions from 10 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday, as well as appointments for help with everything from specific job searches to more general career exploration. “I’m really front lines for students,” said Russo.

Russo encourages students to come see her and her colleagues early in their college careers. “It’s better to come here early rather than later. We’re here every step of the way.”

When the Career Center is closed, students can access resources, such as career tools, handouts, and the Handshake job board through the Career Center website.

Finally, students can attend the Center’s many events, including the Career Fair. The Career Fair for students in Communications, Business, Social Services, Liberal Arts, Hospitality/Tourism and Health/Wellness is this Wednesday, February 15, from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm in the LSC Grand Ballroom.

careerfair

“I just want to re-iterate how valuable liberal arts students are in the workplace,” said Russo as we wrapped up our interview. “There’s very much a place for them in the professional world.”

And in fact, she finds her own profession working with liberal arts students to be inspiring. “Almost all the students I see want to make a difference…They really want to be someone who’s made an impact in some way. How can I walk away from that meeting not feeling inspired?”