Bring on the English graduates

Communication skills invaluable when it comes to employee, employer success
By Lois Fraser
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/23/2017

After reading thousands of resumés recently during a busy hiring period, I have become frustrated with the quality of applicants’ command of the English language.

Overall, I would say 95 per cent of the resumés I read have at least one spelling mistake (often many) and very few people take the time to write a decent cover letter. Many times, a resumé is word-perfect, but the cover letter is littered with errors and poor sentence structure.

This tells me the applicants had help with their resumés, but basically can’t communicate or don’t care enough to communicate well if they do possess the skills.

The longer I employ people, the more I see the value in hiring English majors. Recently, two of my best hires came from English literature backgrounds. This was not planned, but I was impressed with the heartfelt cover letters that articulated their goals. In both cases, it set them apart from the hundreds of other applicants.

Admittedly, two of my five children are English majors, so I may be biased. However, I saw firsthand the amount of time and effort they put into their studies and the skills they developed from their love of language. This observation was bolstered by the success of my new hires.

The bottom line: I am going to hire as many English majors as I can find. Here’s why:

Analytical skills: At business school, we were always told, “We are not teaching you what to think, but how to think.” English majors are top-notch at this, as well as reading, analyzing and distilling information and then expressing an opinion.

Work ethic: English graduates have excellent energy levels, often reading a massive list of  books in a short time period and writing long papers into the night. Slackers don’t apply to be English majors. There are no multiple choice questions on their exams.

Written communication: English grads know how to write, including constructing full sentences with correct punctuation and spelling. This not only helps our company look professional, it contributes clarity to the emails they write.

In this digital age, when attention spans are limited, the clarity of a message matters more than ever. You have to be clear and succinct or you will lose your audience. The receiver doesn’t have the time or patience to read a message over again to figure out what you are saying. Commas, periods and capitals work wonders in helping people understand.

Verbal communication: Because they read so much, English grads’ verbal skills are great too. They are articulate, even if they are shy by nature. Whether you are on a voice conference call, a video conference call or in a face-to-face meeting, being able to express yourself counts. If you are clear, confident, have a great vocabulary and are expressive, people will listen to you.

Availability: Sadly, some English majors have a tough time entering the workforce. As a result of this, they are often available and also affordable. So you are able to hire them at a reasonable starting wage for junior positions and then move them up quickly once you confirm what their skills are.

Gratefulness: English graduates are grateful to be employed. In my experience, they are eager for a chance to work in their field, and have a much lower sense of entitlement compared to other new employees.

Creativity: Along with the language skills, you get a whole lot of creativity.  An English grad will happily prepare a PowerPoint presentation, proofread a marketing brochure and think outside the box on an operational issue. The right side of their brain is well-developed.

Positive attitude: Generally, I find English graduates are passionate and have a “can do” attitude. They pursued an arts background because they love it. They knew it would be hard to get a job, but could not pass up the opportunity to do what they love.

One final note: Job applicants should take the time to re-read their resumés and write coherent cover letters. And when they are responding to a request for an interview, they shouldn’t use a smartphone. In my experience, the chance of making errors on a small keyboard is much greater. Most people are inclined to type quickly (out of habit) and their spelling is often atrocious.

Every step in the hiring process is a chance to impress... or not. This applies — even if someone is an English major.

Lois Fraser is president of Fraser Direct Distribution Services, a warehousing and logistics company in Milton, Ont., that employs 150 people. 

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