By Elizabeth DiEmanuele
As an English major, I’m accustomed to the condescending tone when someone asks about my degree. Each time, I somehow have to back up my credentials. I usually talk about my office experience. I say, “Well, I’ve worked in an office setting for about the last six years of my life so I think I’m doing well.” This often works. But, it’s usually followed by the question, “What are you really going to do with your life? Teach?”
Here’s the common misconception: English, or any other Humanities degree, is useless. It’s for the people who don’t have any other talents. I resent this. As an honors student at my high school who excelled in all subjects, including math, I resent the notion that my degree is a redundant waste of time. The notion that I should be getting a degree that specializes in ‘office intelligence.’
I’m not here to talk about why English is a fulfilling degree. Rather, I’m going to relate my degree to the office. The ups, the downs, and the hilarious daily problems that our degree helps us solve. You see, just because I don’t speak ‘business’ doesn’t mean I don’t have other things to offer. I know I’m not the only one.
An Office Bookworm
Don’t be offended, but, most of us English majors enjoy spending our lunch hour reading. Up until my more recent years in the office, I was getting through a book a week. You’ll know you’ve encountered one of us if we decline your lunch invitation to get some ‘alone time’—this translates to, “I’m at a really good part in my book right now and I can’t wait until I get home to find out what happens.” Rest assured, there are benefits to our desire for aloofness. We will never be that awkward new employee who invites themselves to lunch or coffee. But, when we do go for a group lunch, we always have a good book recommendation at hand.
The Human Dictionary
There are synonyms and antonyms and implied meanings to those synonyms that confuse most people, such as difference between there, their and they’re. As the English major in the office, I am often consulted on the use of words in different contexts. I’m faster than a Google search and more trustworthy than a spell-check. My colleagues need me. It helps them stay professional and it helps me keep my vocabulary in check. It’s a reciprocal relationship that way.
Meeting minutes to English majors are like the morning Sudokus for the math-enthusiasts. English majors are faster writers. It’s just a fact. We’re asked to writer several long research papers, simultaneously, often with the same due dates. We’ve have to hone our skill to read fast, write fast and synthesize information. Bring on the meeting minutes. They’ll be the best meeting minutes you’ll ever read, and you’ll most likely get them within the hour.
University essays have taught me the power of organization. I can easily sort information under headings. I can synthesize thoughts under key themes. I know how to spot the purpose of a piece of writing. These are the skills that make an incredible administration employee. Scheduling, filing, phones, organizing information for another. The English major in the office is the person who excels at organizing for another person. They know where everything is located. Missing a stapler? Missing an important document? This is the organization Sherlock of the office.
There is always a card circulating around the office—birthdays, weddings, department changes, promotions, babies. There is always something. .” If you haven’t found the English major in your office yet, just search through the cards. The English major always has something beyond the universal “Congratulations” or “Great job! You deserve it.” It will often be the most unique, well-phrased and/or personal message in the card.
The Electronic Whisperer
All of my office experience has primarily dealt with paper. That means I’ve witnessed and experienced the dread of a broken printer, photocopier, fax and so forth. Admittedly, in my early years, I was sometimes the cause of it. While the office feels despair and hopelessness, knowing that the Tech guys will take forever to arrive, I spend my time fixing the electronic. Here’s the truth: in all the time the office has spent panicking, I’ve already skimmed through the manual and memorized the instructions. Reading instructions is a breeze after having to learn two novels a week per class in school.
Reports, reports, reports
Did I mention that English majors write fast? I don’t know if this is a blessing or curse. All I know is that the minute they learned my secret, I became the official report writer. I got invited to more meetings. I was given more responsibilities. This isn’t a hoax. It’s happened an uncountable amount of times over the last six years. English majors are useful resources, especially when there is a deadline involved. Plus, these reports will always have the correct use of language.
Many offices have quotes on the wall. These are usually there to add something positive to the environment. I’ve often contributed to these wonderful additions to the office. I’ve sent quotes, books, writers… Whenever there’s a need for a new change-up, just call on us. We always have a good quote on hand.
The Email Aficionado
Everything in the office is done through email, but it’s not like those casual emails you send to your friends. It’s intense. There is an email-etiquette that must be followed in the office. Every colleague wants their emails to sound intelligent and thoughtful, especially when they’re going to the boss. They also want to sound like themselves. It’s a tough balancing act that all English majors in the office encounter. I’ve had many cases where a colleague has offered me a printed copy of an email announcement that needs to be edited. It’s an under-appreciated skill that should be valued. English majors, put this on your resume!
In all office projects or strategy teams, it is necessary to record a team’s research, progress, tasks completed, future goals and so forth. All of this needs be recorded in a professional manner. These documents must be concise and easy to understand. The English major is an invaluable resource. We can gather research while writing a report while waiting on an important email from our team leader. The English major multitasks. We’ve had to learn because that’s how our degree is structured. The English major writes an abundance of essays, always around the same time. I once had seven papers due within a 10 day period. They got done, on time, and they were done well. It’s not impressive. It’s the nature of our degree.
My overall takeaway from working in an office setting as an English major and book-lover is that regardless of your degree, what you offer to an office environment is always a choice. Whether you have a humanities or a science degree, what matters is what you take from your learning experience to make the office function better as a team. So when people ask, “What are you going to do with your degree?” I still get my back up, but I usually follow that initial reaction with the reminder that it’s important to be more than what I’ve studied in university. I mean, regardless of the degree, studying in an academic environment is going to give you invaluable skills in the workplace. Trust me, even an English major can find a way to be a useful and important resource in the office environment.