BA in English –> Assistant Editor for Online Music Gear Marketplace

“Editing” can mean a lot of things — not just working on books or magazines.

We recently spoke to Carly Smith, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in English, and who currently works as an assistant editor at Reverb.com. Here are some of the great things she had to say about how she decided on her career path and how her training in English helped her.

This is what editing looks like for Carly:

Reverb.com is the world’s largest online marketplace for musicians. We facilitate the buying and selling of music gear online between all kinds of musicians. Our users include everyone from larger brick and mortar shops down to individual private sellers to famous artists like Jimmy Chamberlain, Rick Nielsen, Ray LaMontagne, and more.

In tandem with the marketplace, we also produce written and video content on the Reverb News side of the site. Those features include interviews and performances with musicians, tips and how–tos as related to music and gear, product demos, and much more.

… I first started as part of the Listings Team, which is responsible for making sure that the thousands of listings uploaded to the site daily are in accordance with our guidelines and that the products listed are matched with our Price Guide.

Three months after starting at Reverb, I was promoted to an editorial position. I now work on the News side of Reverb full–time with two other editors. In this station, I write original content, interview artists, edit, work with freelancers to formulate and actualize pitches into pieces.

The study of English literature might seem a long way away from cataloging rare Rickenbackers or curating online tutorials for playing James Brown riffs, but for Carly it’s all of a piece:

My English degree has been beneficial in all of the obvious ways. Spending years studying grammar and syntax has certainly had an immensely positive influence on my career, considering how much editing I’m responsible for every day.

The exercise in writing papers was also tremendously helpful in getting me to this point. My own writing for Reverb is both creative and informative and all of it is rather heavily researched, so the process of writing research papers about a creative work — such as a novel or a film — definitely helped me to develop an assertive editorial voice that isn’t totally stale or devoid of personality.

Although Carly credits writing for buzz magazine and Smile Politely as helpful in pointing her in a career direction, her work in the classroom was central to the college experience that got her where she is. Not only was Carly one of the co-authors of “A Lecture from the Lectured,” a Chronicle of Higher Education piece co-authored by students in Prof. Catherine Prendergast’s course on writing for publication, Carly says

…the best parts of my college experience were directly related to some of the teachers I was able to take classes with. Whether or not I was initially interested in the subject material when I first signed up, it was often the professor who determined how much I ended up enjoying the class.

I took classes in which already killer subject material was enhanced by an even more passionate professor, as was the case when I took Modern Fantasy Lit and Comics & Graphic Narratives with Rob Barrett and Jim Hansen’s Fincher/Nolan and Hitchcock film classes.

I was also able to take ENGL 301 with Hansen — a mandatory class with a less than stellar reputation — and it turned out to be one of my favorite courses at U of I because of how great of a professor Hansen is.

Similarly, I decided to take a class that I wasn’t looking forward to at all about John Milton in the last semester of my senior year to satisfy another requirement. It was taught by Catharine Gray, and though I might not have been converted into a massive Milton enthusiast by the end of it, it still turned out to be one of the best classes I took.

These three professors and a handful of others were what made U of I specifically special to me.

You can read the entirety of our interview with Carly here, and you can get in contact with her (and other alumni working in the music business) through our alumni mentoring network.

English BA –> University Admission Counselor

There are a lot of great college and university jobs that don’t involve being a professor. We recently interviewed alumnus Keena Griffin to learn about how he got into the field of higher ed admissions. Keena works as an admissions counselor for Concordia University Chicago. He says,

I started my career after graduation by working for the Illinois College Advising Corps (ICAC), which was a partner organization with the University of Illinois system designed to help underserved high school students navigate the college admission process to choose the right school for them.  The jump to becoming an Admission Counselor was a natural step from there.  With ICAC, I loved seeing the excitement of high school students who realized that college was not only possible for them, but that they had multiple options to choose from.  Now I have the opportunity on the collegiate side to work with incoming students and help make the admission process manageable.

Keena urges students interested in this career path to get involved:

For anyone interested in working in college admissions or a non-teaching higher education role, it’s important to get involved on campus as soon as you can – but it’s never too late either.  Illinois is a great place to start because the campus has every resource you can imagine.  Working in admissions means knowing a little bit of everything about the school, just like an English degree teaches you a little of everything about different people and subject areas.  Supplementing your classroom experience with internships, volunteer experience, and interpersonal experience is critical to any field you explore with an English degree because you have the chance to shape your own path.  If you like working with people and you enjoy seeing young adults start to shape their own life courses – then college admissions work is definitely for you.

Keena credits his studies in English with giving him the skills to advance in this line of work:

Getting a degree in English was the best thing I could have done in college.  Learning to connect with and understand people’s stories and being empathetic with people’s backgrounds is a key to success in any endeavor – professional or otherwise.  At the same time, the courses in UIUC’s English program helped me develop marketable skills such as critical analysis and interpersonal communication (which is somewhat of a dying art). I’m able to focus on the important details of any situation that can present a problem, and help develop solutions.  My classes on critical literary theory (my favorite subject) taught me how to approach and interpret literary texts from multiple perspectives, and I use the same techniques when problem-solving issues that occur in work or life.

You can read the full interview with Keena here. You can contact Keena and other alumni working in a range of fields by getting in touch with Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships, to join the Alumni Mentoring Network.

Entrepreneurship and…English Majors? Oh, YES.

One of the newest additions to our Alumni Mentoring Network is Timothy Tonella, CEO of Matchstar Venture Search. Tim writes,

I’ve been directly involved in the placement of over 420 technology VPs and C-level executives into venture backed companies across the company….I frequently coach CEOs and presidents on strategies and tactics for finding their next opportunity, positioning themselves (and their personal brand), and how to connect independently (through a private job search) with potential hiring managers – in this case, board members investing in technology companies. I’m also a venture partner in a venture capital fund (www.theexplorergroup.com),”

 

Tim shared how he got his start using English skills to succeed in realms not usually associated with English majors: 

The IEEE branch at U of I (at least back in 1986) was the largest student engineering organization in the nation.  I wanted have something significant on my resume as an interviewing senior and found a small clause in IEEE bi-laws that allowed non-engineering students to become an “affiliate member.”  Truth be told, my college roommate – who is now a big time Silicon Valley CEO – was President of IEEE at the time and helped me identify that exclusion.  As an affiliate member, I could technically run for office.  So I gave a speech – a pitch – to 400 engineering students about what I could do for them as the no. 2 guy (treasurer) of IEEE and beat out 10 engineering students to basically run the largest collegiate engineering branch in the country . . . as an English major!  Funny thing is that no one ever knew I wasn’t an engineering student.”

Entrepreneurship is a huge opportunity – not just for engineering students – but any kid with the drive, ambition, and the creative spirit to build something significant.  Here’s a fun video from about 7 years ago.  I found Google’s no. 1 engineer (had just won the coveted President’s Award at Google for all his work on gmail apps), and we started a company on the side together.  This video was part of a 4-segment highlight show (Tesla was also feature next to us) that ran directly after “60 Minutes” across 20 million cable subscribers:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cbi_Rm5SRE….You don’t have to be a top engineer or 4.0 business student to do some exciting things in the business world.

creative mind is the MOST valuable thing a student can possess, and that’s something you often see with English majors.

For English/CW majors interested in exploring entrepreneurship, there are a couple of upcoming campus opportunities to know about.

  • Entrepreneurship Forum
    Tuesday, April 25 and Wednesday, April 26, Illini Union
    Join the Offices of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Research for the annual Entrepreneurship Forum. There will be workshops on the new Siebel Center for Design; entrepreneurial resources available on campus and funding; and awarding of the $20,000 Illinois Innovation Prize. All students welcome. Register today for this fantastic event!
    Contact: Stephanie Larson

And, of course, we encourage you to join the alumni mentoring network so you can contact Tim and other English/CW alumni currently working in business to learn more about how to use your amazing communication and problem-solving skills in the business world.

Jobs for Those with People Skills

First Job: Human Resources

Consider the following list of qualifications:hr-jobThis is an entry-level position in human resources, a field for which English and creative writing are always “related majors.”

Human resources is the work of recruiting potential employees, hiring them, getting them started in their jobs, and then resolving problems that arise. If you’ve helped a friend get hired at your work, if you’ve trained a new employee, if you’ve helped someone in trouble keep their job–you’ve already done work in this area.

Alumnus Theo Long, the Associate Director of Talent Management (“a fancy way of saying human resources”) for the U of I Office of Advancemtheodore_longent was in the English department yesterday to talk about his own experience. It was a field he stumbled into, but the point where it became a career path, rather than simply a way to pay the bills, was the point where he realized he could make a difference in the lives of other people. Having seen on-the-job conflicts be mismanaged (“some managers just love to fire people”), he sought out a managerial role where he could help resolve conflicts supportively and constructively.

There are a lot of entry-level roles in HR that do NOT require a graduate degree, particularly recruiting new employees. For those who want to advance in the field without committing to a graduate program, the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) offers a certification program, which involves self-study, an exam, and a fee.

Theo also noted that an entry-level HR job can be a point of entry into an organization or an industry in which you may ultimately pursue other career paths: project management, communications, public relations.

Second Job: Advancement/Development/Fundraising

Higher education, not-for-profit organizations, philanthropy, social justice and political activism…all these kinds of organizations require donations to stay afloat. The work of of obtaining and managing those donations goes by many names.  Theo Long’s HR job falls within the University of Illinois’s Office of Advancement which works with donors. Theo offered insight into the kinds of skills that are key for jobs in this area: not just the ability to ask people for money (though that is important) but also–a strong commitment to the mission of the organization that you’re raising money for, excellent listening skills, and curiosity. He also noted that advancement takes a lot of different forms: there is need for event planners, project managers, and researchers. A background in sales, customer service, organizing events for your RSO, and helping with fundraising in any capacity can make you eligible for an entry level job in this area. Theo also noted that the University of Illinois Foundation regularly seeks student employees to call alumni and seek donations. It’s not work that everyone takes to, but for anyone thinking about a career in the non-profit realm, it’s valuable experience.

Theo is a member of the Alumni Mentoring program, so feel free to contact him using your Alumni Mentoring Directory (and if you haven’t yet signed up for the Alumni Mentoring program, please set up an appointment with Kirstin Wilcox by emailing kwilcox@illinois.edu or calling 333-4346).

advancement