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.

Forget Finding Your Passion

passiflora-588757_1920If you know what your passion is, stop reading this post and go pursue it. Go! Now! Enough procrastinating on the internet! Get started on the thing that you long for, that terrifies you, that is worth the inevitable sleepless nights and bouts of rejection. You know what you need to do, so get on with it. Seriously.

 

The rest of you?

Set passion aside for now. “Find your passion” is a worthy lifetime goal, but if you can’t yet envision even the haziest contours of what that passion might be, it’s not a particularly useful quest to start with.

  • Caring about something, does not necessarily mean caring about it enough to build a life around it.
  • “Passion” conveys a level of creativity, innovation, single-mindedness, and commitment that many well-lived, successful, happy lives don’t meet.
  • Your life experience to date may not have revealed the particular strengths or interests that will help you leave your mark on the world.

There are plenty of online tools to help you find your way to your “passion”–if that’s really how you want to frame the question of your post-graduation plans. Just google “find your passion,” and be wary of sites that are clearly trying to peddle the author’s book.

If you want some concrete next steps to take towards your future career, ponder less and do more.

Thinking about a career in [______________]? Look for a way (internship, volunteer work, part-time job) to give it a try.

Wondering if you have enough talent for [_____________] to make a go of it? Practice doing it, and put yourself out there in front of an audience sooner rather than later.

Curious about whether [_______________] would be something you’d be good at and enjoy? Find an online tutorial, take a class, use LinkedIn or the alumni mentoring network to find people who can tell you more about it.

Not even sure where to begin? Get involved with an RSO, work for a campus publication, sign up for a new activity, take the next volunteering opportunity that comes your way.

The more things you do, the more data points you’ll have to guide you to life after college. But don’t just frenetically do things: look for ways to learn from the experience you accrue.

  • what kinds of things are you good at without working at them or thinking too much about them?
  • what challenges prompt you to get obsessive and lose track of time?
  • what kinds of tedious chores are you willing to do that other people resist?
  • what kinds of people are you happiest working with?
  • what do you need to be reasonably happy?
  • what activities do you want to try that you haven’t yet?

Let your answers guide you to the next thing you try.

Your first job out of college probably won’t be your dream job. That’s okay. But the more you know about what you’re good at and what gives you satisfaction, the more likely you are to land in something that will help get you to where you want to be, even if you don’t know where that is yet.

Where Do English/CW Majors Find Jobs?

job-search-276893_1920Here are links to some of the specialized job boards where English and Creative Writing majors can find openings particularly well suited to their skills. There’s not an industry in the world that doesn’t need people who can communicate effectively and solve problems with words, so English and CW majors are NOT limited to this list of resources, but these are good starting places for a targeted job search.

  • The I-Link widget over there on the right-hand side of this site’s home page: a continuously updated list of recent additions to I-Link of interest to English department majors.
  • I-Link itself: this University of Illinois resource connects students and recent alumni to employers who are looking to hire Illini.  The interface can be frustrating, but the “Advanced Search” option will help you zero in on the openings of interest to you.)
  • Chicago Artists Resource (shows job openings at arts and cultural organizations in the Chicago area)
  • Idealist.org (specializes in openings at nonprofit organizations of all kinds)
  • USAjobs.gov (database of all federal government jobs, including internships in DC, at national parks, in the Smithsonian museum system, etc.)
  • Bookjobs.com (particularly helpful for internships in publishing)
  • The National Association of Independent Schools posts openings in private schools.
  • Higheredjobs.com/admin offers openings (many of them entry-level) in higher education administration.
  • Tech customer support is a well-paid growth industry in which English/CW majors can thrive.

Big all-purpose sites:

The English/CW Major’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays, 2016 Edition

1917-12-01-The-Country-Gentleman-Norman-Rockwell-cover-Cousin-Reginald-Catches-the-Thanksgiving-Turkey-no-logo-400-Digimarc

The holidays? They can be stressful, particularly when they give your family members opportunities to quiz you about your plans after graduation. This year, your career plans (or lack thereof) may be a welcome distraction from politics, so all the more reason to brace yourself for those conversations.

Some tips:

  1. Be prepared.  These conversations often stem from loving concern. Look for ways to reassure the people who care about you that you’re on your way to a stable, self-supporting adult life. Some things that will demonstrate that you are headed towards a career path:
  2. Save this link to your phone.  The odds may or may not be ever in your favor, but the data certainly is, so you can be ready when a relative trots out some canard about English majors being unemployable.
  3. Seriously, it’s a tough labor market, but you are no less employable than anyone else. Keep this table from the Illini Success survey handy, in case you have a relative telling you to switch your major.
  4. Need more talking points?  Try this, this, this, or this.
  5. Learn more.  Take some time to browse this very blog for additional information on jobs that English majors do (including human resources, advancement and development, communication, business consulting, science journalism, running small businesses, legal writingproject managementbook publishing, video editing, science editing, project operations, librarianship, B2B publishing).
  6. Stay true to yourself. Spend time with a book you want to read but don’t HAVE to read to remind yourself why you got into this major in the first place. Write a poem. Watch a movie with some intellectual heft to it. Make a trip to the nearest independent or used bookstore.