When I came out of university in 2006 with an English degree and started looking for jobs, I found that it was a degree that qualified you for everything and nothing at the same time.
Having a qualification in a subject like English is an indication that you are well-read, academic, have a good command of the language and are generally intelligent. On a CV, this can only strike a chord with employers and increase your chances of landing at least an interview.
At the same time, because it’s so general, it’s not really the specific qualification many employers are looking for, unless you want to be an English teacher, which I didn’t. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do for a living, but I did know that I wanted to do something that was ‘using my degree’ and involved regular reading and writing, allowing for a certain amount of creativity.
I quickly found that most of the positions in which my degree was an advantage were in digital marketing, and having been with Engage Web for a while now, I feel that the skills and discipline I picked up on my degree are an ideal match for my position.
It seems odd in many ways that English studies, much of which focuses on text from centuries ago, can help in any way towards a role in creating 21st-Century digital content, but it should be remembered that whether you’re William Shakespeare penning a classic comedy or tragedy, or a copywriter trying to promote a modern-day company, you’re simply trying to write something that resonates with an audience, whether it’s by entertaining, amusing or persuading them.
A big thing I learned on the creative writing side of my degree was the importance of seeing a narrative through to completion. A story – even if it’s a short story – should be complete and structured. A great opening is important, but it’s no good having that if the rest of the story isn’t up to scratch. If that’s the case, all you have is a piece that peaks right at the beginning, and leads the reader’s attention to wane the further into it they get.
When developing content for websites, a similar focus on structure and strong content throughout is important. After all, what use is a great homepage on a website if every other page is poor? You might attract Google and make a good first impression, but if the sense of being an authority is lost as soon as people really explore your site, so too will their attention be lost, and they will soon head elsewhere.
The recent news that Google is starting to display more site content in its results is an indication of how important it is to have a whole site of solid content, even if it’s squirrelled away in the sections of your site that don’t normally jump out at you. Good copywriters and editors will be aware that wishy-washy content is not acceptable just because it’s not the first thing you see. They’re trained, dating back to their time in academia, to make sure that what they produce is structured, consistent and engaging from start to finish.
So, the point I’m making here is twofold – firstly, if you’ve just come out of university with huge debts, little direction and an English degree to your name, consider a career in content marketing and development. You may be surprised how transferable the skills you’ve acquired are, and how much creativity the job allows for.
Secondly, if you’re a business or agency who needs a content developer, look for someone with an English degree and/or journalism qualification. A command of the language and a way with words is highly valuable, and even if the applicant doesn’t have technical SEO and internet knowledge, they can be guided by someone who does to form the perfect partnership.