Guest-Blog: You’ll Have Options, by Zoe Pawelczak (graduating senior)

We asked graduating senior Zoe Pawelczak (BA, English ’18) to share her advice about job-hunting as an English major. Here’s what she had to say. 

Finding jobs can seem overwhelming, and it often times seems even more difficult as an English or creative writing major.  After all, unlike engineering, advertising, etc. there is no career simply entitled English.  As a senior graduating with a degree in creative writing and a minor in English, it was certainly easy to feel lost in the sea of engineers on this campus.  But, once I started applying for jobs and interviewing I realized there is a market for the skills that we have gained through our majors.

I have had a few different job offers, and at first I was tempted to accept the first job I was offered simply out of anxiety that my degree would not give me many options.  However, the job didn’t feel right in my gut. It didn’t have benefits or pay well enough to really get by, and I realized taking the position was causing me more anxiety than not having a job had been.  So, I turned that first offer down and kept applying. Within a month I had a few more offers, but again, I had simply applied for the sake of applying rather than out of true interest in the job. Each interview provided great experience for getting out those jitters and I quickly grew much more confident in my degree.  I learned that interviewing is a long process for a job you aren’t really interested in, so don’t apply to everything and everything, just to the jobs that really catch your eye.

The hardest thing is getting offered that first interview. One thing that has been amazing for me is LinkedIn.  I swear I am not at all sponsored by LinkedIn, but I cannot speak highly enough about the benefits of LinkedIn Premium. The site gives you a free month of premium and to all people currently applying for jobs I urge you to take advantage of that free month.  Make sure your profile is up to date and then go for it.  Premium allows you to feature yourself as an applicant for positions and to look at the skills each job is looking for so you can adjust your resume accordingly. Also, even if you don’t get the free month of LinkedIn Premium, try to comb through the job posting for each job you apply for and update your skills on your resume to match what they are looking for.  Yes, it can be annoying and tedious at times, but it is definitely worth it. 

Also, don’t feel pressure to even take a job right after graduation. If you don’t feel ready to enter the work force or feel like you want more experience, internships are a completely viable option. Sure, it is wonderful to have that perfect internship junior year, but it’s also okay if that didn’t happen. There are plenty of paid internship opportunities out there and they are usually short-term, which offers the flexibility to see if it is something you are really interested in while still gaining great skills. 

Being in the English building makes it seem as though everyone has the ability to do research and write, but these skills are rare.  So, if you haven’t found a job yet don’t stress out too much. In fact, many companies don’t even want to hire someone until they have graduated anyway. There are plenty of companies, especially in the business world, looking to hire people with great communication skills, so be confident in your major and don’t settle for the sake of settling. This is a great school, you have gained great skills, so be proud of your accomplishments.

 

 

 

How to Escape the “Needing Experience to Get Experience” Paradox

 

Yes, you usually need experience to get a job. But often people apply for jobs because they need experience, and hope to get it by being employed.

The conundrum is not as cruel as it appears, though.

1, These expectations may be overstated. You usually find the expectations for prior experience in the “requirements” or “qualifications” in a job ad. It’s usually a separate section at the bottom of the ad listening all the things the ideal candidate for the job will have or be able to do. Many candidates for the job are not going to have all of those qualifications, which often function more as a wish list than a realistic set of expectations. People who already have all of those qualifications (including years of experience doing the job) are probably seeking a job with more responsibility and higher compensation. Read the job ad carefully and critically before you decide that your lack of experience automatically disqualifies you.

2. “Experience” is not the same thing as “years at a full-time job doing this same thing.” Particularly when you’re applying for an entry-level job, “experience” is a fluid category. Have you done similar kinds of work in an internship, part-time job, volunteer activity, or leadership position? You may not have the specific amount of experience they ask for, but you still have experience, and it counts.

3. There are many ways to gain and demonstrate “experience.”

  • If you want to go into a career using your writing/design/editing skills, your portfolio or writing samples is what employers will want to see as evidence of your experience. Working on a campus publication, doing publicity for an student organization, getting a part-time communications job on campus, volunteering your skills to help a nonprofit improve their website all give you results that you can show to employers.
  • Any kind of work experience can demonstrate your work ethic, responsibility, ability to manage your time, customer service skills — all of which will be relevant to future employers. It’s okay to start with food service and retail work. It all counts.
  • Employers want people who can make things happen, see a project through to completion, work well with others, and solve problems on their own. As you get involved with campus activities and organizations, look for ways to demonstrate that you can do these things. Plan an event, raise money, organize a service project, recruit more members, create a new program.
  • Projects count! If you’ve done some significant research, completed an independent creative work, made something cool with someone else, been involved in a college class project with real-world impact, employers will be interested.

4. Experience doesn’t always speak for itself. There are a lot of resources on campus to help you craft your resume so that the things you’ve done while in college are visible to employers as “experience.” Make an appointment with Kirstin Wilcox (call 333-4346 or stop by EB 100) to talk about your resume strategy, or make use of the resume review service at the Career Center.

Bottom line: you probably have more experience than you think you do, and every semester offers opportunities to get more, even if full-time employment is a long way off.

English/CW Major –> Foreign Service

Melissa Martinez, the Diplomat in Residence for the Midwest from the Department of State, was here on campus earlier this week to talk about careers in the foreign service. Ms. Martinez spoke frankly about the challenges of a diplomatic career: accommodating the careers and needs of spouse and children, physical danger, difficulties staying in touch with family and friends, sometimes inconvenient and uncomfortable working conditions. She emphasized that it is not the glamorous, urbane life often depicted in the media. However, she also stressed the rewards of the job: the opportunity to travel, a career path that can span continents and offer new opportunities to learn, the support provided for relocation and family/household needs (including language training, health care, and mentoring), and above all, the opportunity to make a difference while representing your country.

Ms. Martinez stressed the value of excellent communication skills — not only in the lengthy application process, but also in performing the work of the foreign service. While some specialized career tracks require specific expertise or technical skills, there are others that rely on a broader skill set, and there are five general career tracks that are open to all. The only requirements for entering the foreign service, she told us, are (1) US citizenship, (2) being at least 21 years old, and (3) being prepared to go anywhere in the world.

For those interested in exploring this career path while they are still in school, there are a number of internship opportunities: paid, unpaid, and remote, as well as specialized fellowship programs. She encouraged anyone pursuing these opportunities to spend some time looking over the various bureaus that make up the Department of State in order to target their internship application towards the particular areas of greatest interest to them.

Learn more by contacting Ms. Martinez at the Office of International Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is based, and by checking out the Department of State’s online forums.

Alumni Profile: Brad Petersen, Director of Communications for LAS

As part of a series of alumni career profiles, Krystyna Serhijchuk, an English major and department intern, interviewed Brad Petersen, Director of Communications and Marketing at the College of LAS, who obtained his BA in English at Illinois in 1998.

What does your position as Director of Communications and Marketing at LAS entail?

One of the aspects of my position I enjoy most is that it has many different components. My day can involve anything from working with the media on a story, preparing a speech for our dean, promoting an alumni event, working with my team on our magazine or newsletters, or assisting with student recruitment work.

LAS is a huge college, so I have the opportunity to work with faculty and staff from units as diverse as Chemistry and Slavic Studies. It’s really a joy to have so much variety in my day.

I can most succinctly sum up my job as being responsible for communicating about our college to prospective students, current students, faculty and staff, and alumni.

What do you enjoy about it?

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