Career Guide

Dear Careernomers: What can I do with my degree in English Literature?

WE have experts on career management, HR and office issues who will address your questions weekly. We refer to them as careernomers – experts in career matters who will help you in your career journey. So If you have burning questions, write to and we will get the panel to answer them.

This week, we have Datin Nancy SY Sim-Lim, senior vice-president and head of human capital, Great Eastern Life Assurance (M) Bhd, and Emily Wong Hie Ling, vice-president, and head of organisational development and learning, Alliance Bank to answer Ravi’s question.

Dear Careernomers,

I am an English Literature graduate, and am about to start applying for jobs. Now that the time has come to look for a job, I have started having second thoughts regarding the value of my degree.

My parents were against me taking up this degree, arguing that the only thing that I can do with such a degree is to be a teacher/professor of English Literature.

I took it up because of my strong passion for English classical literature. Yet now that I have graduated I fear that my parents’ reasoning will prove right.

Do you also feel that a degree in liberal arts, and more specifically, English Literature is a waste?

What sort of careers do you think would value my qualification? It would be great if you could provide me with your view on this, as having an HR expert’s opinion on the matter will help me understand the industries’ side of the story too.

Warm regards,


Dear Ravi,

First and foremost, I must congratulate you on obtaining a degree in English Literature. In doing so, you have taken the road less travelled and pursued a degree of your choice.

It is only natural for parents to be concerned as they hope that their offspring would have less worry and more financial freedom than they have.

Today, many Malaysian high school students who are in government schools or pursuing A-levels have the option to take up English Literature.

Students who score well in physics and mathematics take up this subject too as it offers them an opportunity to read history, autobiographies, sociology, and gives them a great sense of how man and society have evolved and how man behaves in various cultures.

Does this have value in workplace? Yes, it does. Broadly, there are easily eight main areas in which you can attempt to find a role. Here are some suggestions, some of which may appear bold and untraditional:

1. Civil Service: Language is always useful and you can apply to become a civil servant, a diplomat or a press secretary/liaison officer. Many successful careers start in the information section.

2. Journalism: Journalism is a wide area, and you could join a newspaper, publication, radio or TV station and specialise in a specific type of news. Within this grouping, you can also join broadcasting and be a producer or scriptwriter. Depending on your interest, you could even head for the business news section or produce educational segments.

3. Communications and consultancy: Public relations in Malaysia has come of age and you can consider a role in public relations and start off as a junior PR consultant. Ideally, you should join with some exposure to writing editorials in a newspaper or publishing house and demonstrate that you can produce a good and clean copy.

4. Advertising: Another area which attracts many English Literature graduates is advertising. You could start off as a copywriter or an accounts management staff. There are many recruitment and online agencies today and some recruit copywriters that specialise in writing recruitment copies. This is also a good field to start in, as it will bring you closer to learningthe human resources function. Social media is also booming and demand for good writers in this field is growing. My company hires English Literature graduates for communications and also digital marketing.

5. Human resources: EnglishLiterature graduates also do well inhuman resources and a strategic placeto start is in recruitment or in trainingand development. Both of thesefunctions would demand stronganalytical abilities and writing skills. Ifyou present well, this would be abonus.

6. Market research: If you have strong command of the language, another area which demands well spoken individuals, is that of market research. Activities like focus groups and also qualitative surveys are a good area to go into as they demand researchers who can speak and facilitate well. Many organisations use research today and it is very relevant to business.

7. Academician: There is a huge demand for English Literature graduates now especially at the local teachers training college, schools and also universities. You can commence to teach and after a few years, sign up for a Masters in English Literature or in education and this can also help pave the way for a rewarding career in academia.

8. Blogger: In the interim if you have loads of time to spare, set up your ownblog and start writing in an area ofyour interest. Do proper research, and you can add this on to your resume while applying for a permanent role. A professional blog will showcase your writing abilities.

Many organisations tend to attract those who come from the sciences and those who are strong quantitatively.

However, more and more organisations today also need those who graduate from the humanities so that there is a better appreciation of not only the business aspects of an organisation, but also of the people who work in them.

If I were you, I would start job-hunting by putting together an up-to-date resume with well-polished content. Use a persuasive copy and sell to your potential employer the benefits of hiring you.

There are many famous people who have taken up English Literature or English and Literature and done extremely well. Boris Johnson read Classics at Oxford; Andrea Jung became CEO for Avon, actors David Duchovny, James Franco, Brooke Shields and also Kate Beckinsale all studied literature.

Remember many of these jobs require client contact time and are market-facing in nature. Thus, it is vital to present yourself professionally.

Happy job hunting,

Nancy SY Sim-Lim

Hi Ravi,

It is normal to start having doubts and feel nervous at this juncture of your life. Transitioning from life as a student to a working adult can be challenging and frightening. Questions like “what should I do with this degree that I have?” are quite common amongst any new graduates.

Whilst there may not be many straight-out English Literature requirements in many jobs available in the market, it doesn’t mean that your years of training have gone to waste.

Majoring in English and English Literature develops you to think rigorously in understanding and analysing a wide range of themes like sequence, character motivation, critical analysis of a plot as well as visualisation of all possible actions and responses to a story.

Former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner once commented that “Literature is unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships… It gives you an appreciation of what makes people tick.”

Eisner himself has a double major in English and theater. The CEO of Logitech Bracken Darrell complimented liberal art studies and its effectiveness in enhancing one’s ability to connect and communicate, noticing that “the older I get, the more I realise the power of words and the power of words in making you think…” His organisation, which specialises in IT accessories, started hiring graduates from non-IT background.

Why did he do this? As the ability to innovate becomes more and more critical for an organisation to stay ahead of the game, CEOs realise that graduates with similar training and qualifications practise identical theories and thinking skills – and this curbs innovation.

Students from non-IT backgrounds like graduates of liberal arts can contribute here as they are trained to challenge, analyse and respond differently.

Many have started to hire graduates with specialisation outside of their core businesses. My team members in Organisational Development & Learning comprise of graduates in actuarial science, psychology, business administration, English and social sciences.

Your parents may be right in thinking that no organisation would be excited with a 50-page thesis on the works of Shakespeare. However, employers would be interested in the skills applied to writing the thesis, as it projects the ability to analyse complex material comprehensively and imaginatively, and deciphering and articulating it persuasively and fluently.

Too often, we are guilty of expecting that a particular degree will fit into a specific job. And too often, we fail to recognise that with the dynamic nature of businesses today, we need to be agile and continuously gain knowledge and skills to stay relevant.

Bracken Darrell recognises that “the most successful people are the ones who have learned to broaden their skills with traits that will give them an edge”.

In short, there are many areas within the business world where you can apply your skills and knowledge. Nevertheless, here are some suggestions that may be directly related to your present training:

> Corporate communication

a) In-house publications and annual reports: companies use multiple channels to connect with their employees, customers and shareholders.

In-house publications like newsletters require good written prose to reflect a company’s activities and strategic agenda. Annual reports update customers and shareholders on the achievements and initiatives of a company.

b) Social media specialist: Many companies have Facebook and Twitter as an alternative form of communication with today’s younger generation.

Gen-Y authors like you would be integral in managing content and creating a bond with the reading public.

c) On-line website management: This too is another channel to connect with customers in relating the products and services a company has to offer.

> Public relations and branding

In today’s world, perception and branding is a key component to market a company. Public relations involve official communication via the company’s spokespersons with the media. This would require meticulous scripting and writing by the people in this department.

> Advertising agencies

Copywriting for advertisements (print, radio or television), product brochures and other points of sale material require communication specialists.

There is a universe of possibility out there, you just need to identify what you really like to do. I would like to end by sharing this piece from Emily Dickinson with you:

“I dwell in Possibility - A fairer House than Prose - More numerous of Windows - Superior - for Doors - Of Chambers as the Cedars - Impregnable of Eye - And for an Everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky - Of Visitors - the fairest - For Occupation –This -

The spreading wide my narrow Hands - To gather Paradise.”

Best wishes,

Emily Wong Hie Ling

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Leaderonomics or