One of the funniest job postings I’ve ever seen in my profession is an ad that read: “English Tudor Wanted.” In reality, the college was looking for an English ‘tutor,’ but I often wondered if a member of the British royal family had applied. Another time a university I once worked at sent out flyers to parents in the area about a summer program we offered for middle school students. An 888 number was given to call for more information; however, the number was mistyped, and parents would reach a dating service instead. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well.
As funny as these examples may be, imagine you were the person who neglected to catch the errors or that individual’s boss who had to deal with the backlash. Would this make you happy? Are such errors good for your future?
It’s easy to see why a freshman composition class or two may be required of all college students when you see examples like those mentioned; however, there are more reasons writing classes are vital to your future than just simple grammar and mechanics. In fact, if you are smart, you will use some of your electives to take additional writing classes beyond the one or two that may be required.
Let’s take a look at how writing and your career intersect in two ways.
One of the first questions I ask my composition classes is: “Who decided you needed to take this class?” Students will give a predictable array of answers that range from the snarky “You do, so you can have a job” to the close-but-no-cigar responses like “the college.” The reality is that it is your future potential employers who have demanded that you take at least one writing course to earn a college degree.
Once upon a time, one of the colleges where I taught decided that the general education requirements were unnecessary. It was the early 1970s when life was still a bit groovy, so the administration eliminated the School of General Education. Students could earn their degrees much more quickly and economically. However, students soon found they got what they paid for. Within a few years, local employers stopped hiring graduates from this college. The general education requirements like writing were brought back; however, it took the college at least another decade to regain its reputation.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2012 Survey, of the top ten skills employers are looking for, good verbal communication skills are number one and the “ability to create and/or edit written reports” ranked number nine. Here is the complete list:
1. Ability to work in a team structure
2. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems
4. Ability to obtain and process information
5. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
7. Technical knowledge related to the job
8. Proficiency with computer software programs
9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
10. Ability to sell or influence others (26 October, 2011).
What students need to take note of, however, is that all ten skills can be learned in a writing class. All ten skills may also be documented based on successful completion of writing courses.
It’s an expectation of most in our culture that someone who completes a college degree will make more money; decades of research has shown that overall, this is true. If you wish to be one of those graduates who is gainfully employed, then you want to make sure you can not only meet the required skills in surveys like the NACE one cited above, you must also consistently demonstrate them, and your writing classes will help you to do so.
Your first contact with a potential employer will most likely involve writing a cover letter, composing a resume, or creating a multimedia portfolio, or other such application materials. You will initially be judged on what you’ve written and presented, probably via an online job site. That written document is you. You better be able to show you can not only use appropriate grammar/mechanics and paragraph structure, but also that you are proficient in writing with a variety of software programs. Don’t be fooled into thinking that composing in Microsoft Word is good enough. A few days ago I heard a hiring manager comment: “We shouldn’t even have to ask in a job ad if someone with a college degree knows how to use all of the Microsoft Office products. Isn’t it pretty much a given now that they should?” The application materials must also persuade the potential employer to believe you are worthy of an interview. Before you have even met the potential employer, you should have used and demonstrated skills six through ten employers are looking for (NACE, 26 October, 2012), and you probably learned them in your writing class (es).
The next step in the hiring process is the interview, and this is where your college writing courses can help you demonstrate and document all ten skills employers are looking for according to NACE. For example, a hiring committee will be looking at how articulate (#2) you are in person. You may be able to use a writing project as an example to explain and to show your ability in relation to other skills, especially #1, #3-7. As you apply and interview, you will need to market your skills and persuade potential employers that you are the one to hire (#10).
Finally, one other important aspect of this is that employers often cite communication skills, especially written, as a reason for promoting an employee or not choosing him/her if it comes time to downsize. Good written and verbal skills are also essential to performing your daily job duties and communicating with others. If you want your organization to thrive and be a pleasant place to work, you’ll take the skills you’ve learned in writing classes seriously.
The bottom line is that writing courses in college are much more than just an arbitrary exercise in memorizing comma rules. You are learning a vital skill that will serve you well in any profession, and yes, help you to make more money.
Image source: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2169