Advice from English Department Alumni

The Department of English has some of the best alumni in the world.  Not only do they do amazing thgraduation_uiucings after graduation, but they generously share their expertise with current students through the Department of English Alumni Mentoring Network.  To take advantage of this resource, make an appointment to talk with Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships, by calling 333-4346.  In the meantime, here are some general career planning tips culled from the Mentoring Network Directory that all students can make use of:

Scott Farley (’92), Director of Learning and Development, Joy Global: 

  • Think of the work you do in study of English literature as analytical problem-solving.  You’re learning critical thinking skills and how to sift through and synthesize large amounts of information.  These are essential skills in most business roles.
  • Let the writing skills that you’ve developed differentiate you.  The sad fact is that many people entering the job market aren’t prepared to present themselves professionally in writing.  An English degree gives you an advantage in that department, and people take notice of that.
  • Gain some exposure to basic business principles.  
  • Whether through courses or an internship, start building an understanding of what’s needed to run a successful business.  

Craig Hollingworth (’82), Research IT/QA Documentation Specialist, RTI International

Writing is hard work and not many people want to do it. In fact, they are happy to have someone do it for them. Work on your own writing skills. They can really help you in a business career. And, being able to draft something intelligent for someone so they can edit it rather than write it from scratch themselves is a valuable skill. Most people blank when faced with a blank page. When I worked as an Editor, my clients appreciated the fact that I would draft reports for them and actually rewrite rather than simply copy edit material they had already written. I received negative feedback from the other editors for doing this, but this skill and interest is what lead me into another position that brought me more writing opportunities and the chance to learn and expand. ”

Dana Modrowski (’13), Community Editor, Common Ground Publishing

“[M]ake the most of the experience you already have. Even a job you’ve held that doesn’t seem at all related to the field you want to work in probably taught you important general skills, like leadership or organization, that you can showcase to your advantage on a resume in order to get the job you want. Also, never underestimate the value of an internship. If you give it your all, even if the company you intern for does not hire you, you’ll have gained connections that would likely have no problem providing you a favorable reference for a future job.”

Sheila Parinas (’06), Staff Nurse, McKinley Student Health Center

Networking will carry you far. Learn from, and respect your colleagues. To really understand your strengths and weaknesses, you have to step out of your comfort level. Continue to challenge yourself.”

John Deckert (’09), Managing Partner, Coordinated Legal Services

“An aspect of my practice that I believe students in the English department will find encouraging/refreshing, is that engaging the various markets is nothing more than an exercise in understanding the human condition.  Many of the news/advisory/opinion newsletters that advise on investments and tax attempt to reference Shakespeare, Poe, and Nietzsche, etc.  The most talented of the bunch merely manage to plagiarize; few do real justice to their respective thinkers.”

Barbara Davidson (’11), Digital Marketing Strategist

* For anyone looking to go into digital marketing, I would highly recommend getting familiar with SEO. It is the anchor of content creation and is only now seeping into the collegiate curriculums – teaching yourself is a major advantage. There are many great guides available to you on the web.

*  Don’t be afraid to take a contract position – it may lead to something great, or it may just be another great learning experience. Either way, you are one step closer to a full time role. Also, if you leave a contract position, note it with an asterisk on your resume and note that it is contract. Once I made this distinction, I received an increase in responses to my resume. Omitting it may make you appear flighty or noncommittal

* If you are interviewing with a progressive company (and have a clean social media profile), tweet about how great it was to learn more about their company. Obviously, this does not work in all interview circumstances so use your best judgment, but it will make you stand out. When in doubt, follow up with a handwritten letter immediately after. This is less commonly practiced now and will also make you stand out.

Brad Petersen (’98), Director of Communications, University of Illinois Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

My tips for you as a student are simple: get an internship, get experience, ask questions, and figure out what you enjoy doing. Then, get after it.”

Eric Anderson (’10), Associate Producer, Unpossible Productions

There is no one path to working in entertainment, so you have to invent one through diligent networking.  That can sound scary, but it’s not that bad.  I’ve networked via creative collaborations, intramural sports leagues, hiking in Malibu, surfing, hosting poker nights and dinner parties, going to screenings, and – yes – going on the annual Big Ten Bar Crawl in Hermosa Beach.”

Craig Barner (’87), Senior Reporter, Mergermarket

Tip: Write for The Daily Illini or any other publication, whether online or in print, with a high-frequency publication schedule to get used to constant deadlines.

Second Tip: Immerse yourself in reading and writing when the university is not a session. Try to read 25 to 75 books a year, including those while university is in session, and keep a journal.”

Kaye Foley (’10), Associate Producer, Yahoo News

“Although it can be a little daunting, I’ve found networking is key to it all. I’ve actually worked with fellow Illini at all but one of my jobs.  My advice is to not be afraid to reach out and ask someone to grab a cup of coffee to pick his or her brains. You never know when one conversation could lead to the right conversation. At the very least, you’re probably getting coffee with an interesting person!”

Henry Soong (’10), Product Manager, Facebook

“[S]pend your time trying out as many different experiences as possible. Have a restless sense of curiosity. Undergrad is brief; make it an adventure!”


Department of English Alumni Mentoring Network


This program connects English department undergraduate students with alumni in  two different ways:

Informational Interviewing

Students who can use our Alumni Mentoring Directory to identify alumni whom they can ask for an informational interview, by telephone or Skype (or in person if circumstances permit), for insight into potential career paths and strategies for success.   

Professional Mentoring

Students who would like additional mentoring from an alumna or alumnus whom they have informationally interviewed can ask them to take part in our formal Professional Mentoring Program. Both the alumna/us (the mentor) and the student (the mentee) sign an agreement that commits them to conversing each month on Skype for six months, completing a resume review, and completing a post-mentorship reflection at the end of the six-month period.


Expectations of Alumni:

  • Be prepared to serve as a resource for students who contact you.
  • Offer advice on matters of professional development, college success, and careers.
  • Follow through on commitments you make by signing a mentoring agreement.
  • Listen to the needs and expectations of students reaching out to you.
  • Communicate in a timely fashion.
  • Follow up on any commitments you make to students.
  • Alert Kirstin Wilcox ( to any problems that arise.


Expectations of Students:

  • Take responsibility for  initiating contact with alumni mentors.
  • Be receptive to suggestions and feedback.
  • Communicate your goals and the help you seek in achieving them.
  • Follow through on commitments you make by signing a mentoring agreement.
  • Realize that having experienced professionals to learn from is a privilege.
  • Conduct yourself professionally
  • Seek advice and tips, but do not ask for jobs or internships.
  • Alert Kirstin Wilcox ( to any problems that arise.


Have questions?  Email Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships (