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!

Sara Colombo, Director of Business Development, Jellyvision

Md. Alamgir Hossain, a graduate student in the department of English, recently interviewed Sara Colombo who graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009. Sara majored in English and minored in Secondary Education. From an early age, Sara wanted to be an English teacher, and she got her first teaching job in 2009. After five years of teaching English in the Chicago Suburbs, she decided to change careers and utilize her skills in sales. She is now the Director of Business Development at Jellyvision, a technology company in Chicago. In the interview, Sara recounts her journey from being a student to being an executive and gives valuable advice to English undergraduate students.

What is your current job?

Currently, I am the Director of Business Development at Jellyvision. Jellyvision is a technology company in Chicago with around 400 employees. I manage a team of about 20 Inside Sales Representatives that are responsible for reaching out to potential clients and getting them interested in our products.

What challenges did you face to get there? What do you like about it? Where do you hope to go from here?

My career actually started in education. My degree from U of I is in English, but I was in the college of education for Secondary Ed. So my first job was teaching high school English. I taught English in two different high schools. I learned after five years that teaching wasn’t the career for me.

I loved the students and teaching English, but I no longer loved the content I was required by the state to teach. There were also leadership changes every year in both districts, and I just wanted to do something different. So from there I knew I needed to start over at an entry level job.

I searched for a job for a few months. I probably applied to about 50 positions throughout Chicago. I finally got an entry level sales job at a media company called Guerrero Howe. My English degree came in handy here as we were required to have super strong communication skills for this role. This is where I learned to make phone calls and sell. After a year at Guerrero Howe, I got the job at Jellyvision. Again, it was an entry level position, and I was 27 years old.

I worked extremely hard, learned everything about the company and got promoted every year which got me to where I am now as the director.

I LOVE my job, the company, and the people I manage. I hope to stay here for a long time and really become an expert and outstanding manager.

How has your background in English helped you in your career?

I am SO thankful for my English degree. It has helped me so much throughout my career. Obviously in my first jobs as a teacher it was extremely helpful. But throughout my last two companies, it has helped me grow. During my job search I had to write tons of cover letters and introductory emails. I have to communicate with high level prospects via phone and email, and I have to communicate with my VP and CEO every day. My English degree allows me to be confident in my emails and communication skills as a whole.

What skills that you learned in your college classes do you find yourself using now?

Definitely organization and time-management. Even though those are “soft” skills, I learned how to perfect them at U of I, and I constantly lean on that today.

Writing with purpose and using a consistent tone is very important as well. I also do my best to be concise in my emails and writing, and proofread everything before sending.

From your experience, could you tell us what qualities employers seek in a candidate?

In every interview I have been in or conducted, employers appreciate a candidate who has done their research. Even if the candidate has a non-traditional background or work history, research is way more important. Coming to an interview or phone screen with your “homework” done is the best advice I can give. Come prepared with LOTS of questions about the company and the role. Come prepared with insight about how your background can relate to the job. Be diligent, thoughtful, and prepared, and it won’t matter what your degree is in. Be willing to work hard, and learn and grow, and you can start a career anywhere.

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

I would suggest you apply to any and every job you can. Get your name and resume out there and practice, practice, practice with phone screens. No interview is a waste of time. You will get better each time, and you will find something you really enjoy. You must also be willing to start at the bottom. If you find a company you really like, you may not get the exact role you want, but you can get a foot in the door and start your career. Then you have to be willing to work the hardest and stand out from the crowd in order to move up. Do your best to stand out of the crowd on your resume and cover letter. Add style points that will allow the recruiters to remember you. Be yourself. Be genuine. Be kind, and be hungry.

What are some of your future professional goals?

My goals currently are to grow my team to one of the best business development teams in the city. We are getting really really good, but I want us to be great. I’d also love to use what I have learned about sales and teach again either in a college setting, or as a speaker at technology events. I have truly found a job I love in sales management, and I plan on staying as long as I can to become better and grow within a company that is doing really exciting things in the benefits communication space.

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

My advice is for students to do their research on SaaS (Software as a service) sales. It is a growing field with a ton of potential. Even if sales sounds scary, or they may not want to make phone calls, it is really an exciting space to start a career. Do research, see if you can set up job shadows, talk to friends and family who have had jobs in sales, and see if it is something that would be interesting to you! Within technology companies, there are also jobs in project management and implementation. This roles are great for English majors, as they also require organization and communication skills. The important thing is to find something you like and that you can do well, and run with it!

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.

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