Alumni Profile: Heather Gernenz, Publicity Manager at the University of Illinois Press

We talked to Heather Gernez, Publicity Manager at the University of Illinois Press, about her experience of working at a press and the challenges she faced before starting her career as Publicity Manager. We also asked her for some suggestions for our undergraduates who want to pursue a career in the field Heather is now. This is what she said:

What is your current job? What challenges did you face to get there?

I’m currently the publicity manager at the University of Illinois Press. My primary responsibilities include sending books out to reviewers, setting up interviews and events for authors, and managing the press’s social media accounts.

I first started working for the press as student worker in the marketing department in my junior year of college. I had been working at Barnes and Noble as a bookseller since high school and knew I wanted to pursue a career in publishing. After college, I continued working at Barnes and Noble, and also began working at the UIUC library in Collection Management Services as an academic hourly. I applied to so many jobs in publishing during this time, mainly editorial positions, which is what I thought I wanted to pursue, but never had any luck. Looking back now, I think if I had been applying to jobs in publicity I would have been a lot more successful based on my previous experience. The work I did for my predecessor during my time as a student worker at UIP was definitely my favorite, but somehow I never made the connection that I should pursue publicity work! I did actually interview for an assistant acquisition editor position at the press, but didn’t end up getting it. A fact I am grateful for now, as I know it’s not the right type of work for me.

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Alumni Profile: Steve Haruch, independent journalist and filmmaker

Recently we interviewed Steve Haruch, a writer, journalist and independent filmmaker based in Nashville, TN. He graduated with a B.A. from UIUC in 1996 (English/Rhetoric double major), and went on to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Washington in 2000. After a series of teaching, copywriting and other odd jobs, he landed at the Nashville Scene, where he worked as a staff editor for seven years. Since then, he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, NPR’s Code Switch and The Guardian, among other outlets. He edited People Only Die of Love in Movies: Film Writing by Jim Ridley (Vanderbilt University Press, 2018) and is currently producing a documentary film about the history of college radio. He is particularly interested in talking with students from minority backgrounds. In the interview, Haruch talked about freelancing, a career option that offers freedom of work.

What is your current job? What do you like about it?

I’m a freelancer, so my current job is really a series of jobs, mostly involving writing in some way. These are strung together in a manner that resembles regular work but is more open-ended and irregular.

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Surviving the 2017 Holidays: A Guide For English/CW Majors

You may find yourself and your post-graduation plans becoming part of the menu when family and friends gather for festive meals during the holiday season

Don’t stress about it — prepare!

By majoring in English or Creative Writing — or just by picking one as a minor — you have positioned yourself for success after graduation.

Here are some resources to help you talk to the people who love you about your prospects and plans.

“English/Creative writing majors don’t get jobs — maybe you should switch to something more practical.”

Just wrong. Wrong in general, but also specifically wrong for the University of illinois. Read the data, know the numbers. Save the links on your phone to show the disbelieving. Need more talking points?  Try thisthisthis, or this.

“So YOU say. What do business people, tech people say?”

“So you’re going to teach, right? Or maybe go into publishing? What else do people do with a BA like that?”

Some English or Creative Writing majors do go into teaching, or publishing, Many do not. Every business, organization, industry needs people who can solve problems with words. You have choices to make about where to use your skills. Take some time to browse this very blog for additional information on jobs that English majors do. Some possibilities include human resourcesadvancement/nonprofit fundraisingcommunicationbusiness consultingscience journalismrunning small businesseslegal writingproject managementbook publishingvideo editingscience editingproject operations, PR and digital marketing, librarianshipB2B publishing, entrepreneurship, content creation, higher ed administrationmanufacturingevents coordination, sales management,  management training, and real estate development.

“You’ll have to go to grad school to get a job, won’t you? What grad school are you thinking about?”

Well, no — you don’t need to go to law school or get a master’s degree to be employed — but you may want to get more education to achieve specific goals. “Grad school” doesn’t have to mean further education leading to a teaching or law career — recent alumni have chosen to get degrees in human resources, information/library science, medicine, nursing, bioinformatics, MBAs, MSWs. Read up on your options, and know what you want.

“Hmph. Okay. But you’re graduating in____, right? So what’s your plan?”

There are many things you can do to reassure the people who care about you that you’re on your way to a stable, self-supporting adult life. Don’t have a specific career in mind yet? That’s okay — you can take concrete steps now that will help you get a job when you graduate. Breaks are a great time to focus on your future.

  • Find time to go to the LAS Life + Career Design Lab
  • Sign up for a course that will give you some professional skills:
    • Publishing and Editing (ENGL 199 – F&G, 2:00 – 3:15pm MW, 1025 Lincoln Hall, Prof. Hapke, CRN: 67795, 3 credits)
    • Writing for Money (ENGL 380, 11am -12:15pm TR, 61 English Building, Prof. Prendergast, CRN: 59085, 3 credits)
    • Environmental Writing for Publication (ENGL 498, 12:30 – 1:50pm TR, 164 Noyes Laboratory, Prof. Wood, CRN 67479, 3 credits)
  • apply for a spring or summer internship.
  • find a part-time job that will help build your skills.
  • create or update your resume
  • get to know Handshake and start checking it regularly to learn more about the kinds of jobs you’d like to apply for. (Pro-tip: use the job function filter to explore the opportunities in different potential careers. “Writing/Editing” is an obvious one to try — but certainly not the only one available to you.)
  • get involved in a campus publication
  • register for a career preparation course:
    • Career Fair Preparation (ENGL 199 – CIP, online, Prof. WIlcox, eight weeks, one credit, Jan 16 – Mar. 18, CRN: 31940),
    • Career Planning for Humanities Majors — freshmen and sophomores (ENGL 199 – FS, 4:00 – 5:30pm W, 104 EB, Prof. Wilcox, eight weeks, one credit, Mar. 12 – May 2, CRN: 39025)
    • Career Planning for Humanities Majors — juniors and seniors (ENGL 199 – JS, 4:00 – 5:30 Thurs., 119 EB, Prof. Wilcox, eight weeks, one credit, Mar. 12 – May 2, CRN: 67456)
  • schedule an appointment to talk to Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships by calling 333-4346.
  • find some upcoming Career Center events that will be helpful to you and put them on your calendar.
  • follow up on contacts your family has suggested to you.
  • find an alumni mentor
  • practice your elevator pitch, get your professional attire, and research employers to get ready for the Business Career Fair.

“<changes subject>”

Take some time to remind yourself why you got into this major in the first place. Spend time with a book you want to read and haven’t been assigned. Write a poem. Make a trip to the nearest independent or used bookstore. Storyboard your screenplay or graphic novel ideas. Geek out by surfing Open Culture, Paris Review, LA Review of BooksWatch a movie with some intellectual heft to it. Send an email to the teacher who first got you excited about words. Let yourself get lost in the sheer joy of language. 

Kelly McEathron, Management Trainee at Cintas

Recently we had a chance to talk to Kelly McEathron, an English graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign, who works as a Management Trainee at Cintas. Kelly is currently in her 1st rotation out of 4 for Direct Sale and Strategic Market.  With every day being different and exciting at work, Kelly likes to unwind by hanging out with friends and family, exploring the city, and walking the dogs. She said many great things about jobs, careers, and qualities expected from a candidate.

What is your current job? What do you like about it? Where do you hope to go from here?

I am a Management Trainee at Cintas and absolutely love working here.  I love how every day is different and presents new challenges.  Though I just started in July and still have a year and a half before I graduate the program, as of now I hope to eventually work my way up to a senior account manager.  With this Management Trainee program, I do four rotations in each department so that I learn more about the other departments. In these rotations I will get a better understanding of where I would like to go in the company.

How has your background in English helped you in your career? What skills that you learned in your college classes do you find yourself using now?

My English degree has helped me in my career in many different ways.  One of the most important thing that I have learned from my English studies is how to write a concise email while still including details.  There is nothing more annoying than long emails that don’t have specific points.  I guess that is another way my degree has helped- picking the main points of an email.  As for skills that I have brought with me from college, I would say that time management is a huge one, being able to communicate effectively, and networking.  I know it may not seem like college kids network in class but making friends in class who you can count on for notes or similar situations definitely transfer over to a work environment because knowing people help get situations resolved quickly.

From your experience, could you tell us what qualities employers seek in a candidate and how English studies prepares students to attain them?

I think employers seek a person who can communicate effectively, who is driven and organized.  I think that English degree can help with the communication and organization; however, being competitively driven while still being a part of a team is almost as important.  Companies look for someone who is willing to prove themselves and work hard- driven by a goal to be the best but who is still working towards a team goal.

Would you give some suggestion to our undergrads regarding how to make the transition from college to working life?

Some suggestions that I recommend on how to make the transition from college to real life is to not rush the transition.  You don’t need to move out of your parents’ house right away, get a new car, and be wasteful with money.  Give yourself time to adjust to working full time, understand that you can’t go out on a Tuesday anymore because you have to be up early for work, and just be real with yourself.  While you may miss the fun times of college trust me in the fact that getting a paycheck every week or every other week is way better.

What advice do you have for the students interested in exploring the field you are in now?

My advice for people interested in exploring Management Trainee programs is to take an alternate route.  I know English majors are almost pigeon-holed to teaching, publishing, editing etc., but honestly the environment that I am working in is awesome.  I get to work with my manager to see where my next rotation would be as if I am tailoring the program to myself and where I see myself going in the future.  Take the chance to do something that we are not really pushed to in college because it was probably one of the best choices I made!