Recommendation Letters?!?

thumbs-up-1197306_1280If you’re applying to graduate school, you will definitely need letters of recommendation from your professors. But what about if you’re thinking about a future job search, not grad school?

Opinions vary!

According to The Intern Queen, if you’re coming up on the end of a summer job or internship, you should absolutely ask for a recommendation letter to show future employers. She tells you why and explains how in this short video:

This columnist from Forbes sort-of agrees: “In the past, obtaining recommendation letters was a requirement of the job search process. Today, not as much. Now, this step is considered optional, but savvy job seekers understand that it can help give them an edge when it comes to obtaining a position.”

But not everyone is so sure. This writer argues

letters of recommendation are not valued much by employers outside of academe. Why? Because skeptical employers think you wrote the letter for the reference to sign; because it’s written in advance, the writer’s had time to soften your weaknesses or omit them, and write those glowing phrases of praise; because it doesn’t permit the employer to ask his or her own questions.

Many people get jobs without recommendations in their job-search toolkit. However, it is vital to have references whom prospective employers can contact.  Click here for some useful advice on choosing and soliciting good references.

Bottom line: if you feel comfortable asking for a job recommendation letter, go ahead and do so.  It can’t hurt, and somewhere down the line it might help. But staying in touch with potential references and maintaining your network might be a better use of your time.

The Long Game, Summer Edition

reflection-985901_1920English/CW majors get jobs: we know that. The challenge is, WHAT job? Unlike accounting or engineering or mortuary science majors, you probably aren’t going to work in an office that has “English” or “Creative Writing” on the door. Yet contrary to popular belief, majoring in a field like English gives you more–rather than fewer–options.

Turning that wealth of possibility into a job that you want requires some important steps on your part. If you haven’t yet started planning for your post-college career, summer is a great time to start.

Here are some things you can do this summer that will help you after you graduate.

Get experience. A job of any kind will put you ahead. If you were able to land an internship in a professional field that interests you, great–but if you didn’t, any job you take on during the summer can advance you towards your goals.

  • Pay attention. The better you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, the better you’ll be able to identify opportunities, and any job gives you opportunities to see how you shine. Do you prefer to greet customers or work behind the scenes? Are you better at dealing with a crisis as it unfolds, or at preparing in advance so that a crisis doesn’t happen? What kinds of problems do you most enjoy solving at work? Any job gives you opportunities to understand better what you can bring to any organization.
  • Look for stories. Most full-time interviews will involve questions that begin, “tell me about a time when you…” Interviewers want to hear specifics about how you’ve dealt with conflict, difficult people, uncomfortable work situations, unforeseen problems. Stay alert for moments that will provide the stories you’ll be telling in future interviews. Even better? Create a story you can tell by improving a process, offering a new service, or solving a problem.

Explore. Paid employment isn’t the only way to find out more about a line of work that interests you.

  • Volunteer. Find a not-for-profit organization that you care about and look into ways that you can contribute to their goals. Just like a paid job or involvement in a campus RSO, a volunteer position can be a way to learn more about your strengths (and weaknesses) and acquire the stories that you’ll use to demonstrate your worth to future employers.
  • Job-shadow. The Career Center here on campus offers a job-shadowing program over the winter and summer breaks, but you can create your own job-shadowing opportunities if there’s a particular career you want to explore.
  • Make something. Check out our recent blog post on this topic.
  • Write for an audience. If you anticipate applying for jobs that require excellent writing skills, know that many employers will be asking for writing samples. It’s helpful to have material to draw on other than your writing for class. Though you should be strategic about writing for free, getting involved with an online or print publication or creating your own blog can demonstrate your ability to write for a nonacademic audience.

Connect. We all know people, and we all know people who know people. Think of it as building relationships, particularly if that term “networking”–with its overtones of opportunism and fakery–scares you. Not all relationships will be relevant to your career search, and that’s okay. The relationships you build may be relevant to someone else’s job search, or they may contribute to making the world a better place, or they may mean you have a few more friends that you would have had otherwise. It’s all good.

Prepare. The school year is going to bring you many opportunities to move towards your eventual career. Summer gives you time to get ready.

  • Think internships. Internships available through the English department will be advertised shortly before classes start, and other campus opportunities will be available then, too. Give some thought to what kinds of work experiences would help you advance your goals and start preparing your application materials.
  • Work on your resume. Create a masterfile for your resume (with absolutely everything you’ve ever done) and then experiment with a few different one-page versions of it, tailored to different jobs you might consider. Note that a resume is a marketing document, NOT a really big business card. It should change to reflect the purposes you’re putting it to.
  • Think career fair. Even if you’re not convinced that you want to intern or work for the kind of large-scale employer that can afford to send recruiters to campus, attending the fall Business Career Fair can give you low-stakes practice in talking to employers and introduce you to a broader range of potential jobs. It’s also excellent preparation for the Illini Career Fair in the spring.
  • Shop. Having a selection of office-appropriate clothes and shoes on hand will allow you to take advantage of on-campus networking or interviewing opportunities that arise. If your wardrobe is mostly t-shirts, shorts, jeans, flip-flops, and sneakers, summer is a good time to browse sales and clearance racks and inexpensively upgrade your look.

 

 

Guest Post: Finding Success at Summer Publishing Programs

A few days ago, we published a post on the phenomenon of summer publishing programs, with links to a number of the most prominent of them and to online discussions about whether or not they are worth the steep price tag.  

One of our alumni kindly agreed to share her experience in a guest post. Her bottom line? Yes, they’re worth it–if you’re committed to making the most of the experience. 

Continue reading

Summer Publishing Programs: Worth It or Not?

The Dept. of English just got a solicitation from a new summer publishing program, this one at the University of Southern California and co-sponsored by the LA Review of Books:

We are excited to announce … a new summer publishing program that is designed to provide an immersive, five-week training for students interested in digital and print publishing. The new program, the Los Angeles Review of Books / USC Publishing Workshop, will have its inaugural session this summer beginning June 26.

The program will be hosted on the USC campus and is open to rising Juniors, Seniors, and postgraduates from any college or university, nationally and internationally, who are interested in a career in publishing.

The Los Angeles Review of Books / USC Publishing Workshop distinguishes itself from more traditional publishing courses by emphasizing real-world experience: students will create a print magazine or website, or develop a business plan for a new publishing enterprise ready either for direct funding or for research and development funding. Industry experts will advise students about every aspect of digital and print publishing, from editing to layout, coding to graphic design.

Sounds pretty good. But. The letter goes on to direct the reader to a website (www.thepublishingworkshop.com) for details. You have to click a tab within the website to get to the catch: the cost.  The program alone costs $5K; housing is an additional 1.8K – 2.2K. There are also details about the optional meal plan (only a few meals are included with tuition) and parking ($12/day — no weekly discount available).

That price tag is not unusual for summer publishing programs, which tend to be located in expensive urban centers where the active publishing professionals you want to learn from and network with already live. Here’s a list of some of the most well-known similar programs.  Some are graduate programs (which the USC/LARB program is not), but most offer shorter summer courses of study.

Are they worth it, for those in a position to pay that kind of money?

The question gets asked frequently, and the answer is by no means obvious.  Some point out that these programs involve paying for information and contact that one could obtain for free through assiduous networking, research, and informational interviewing.  Others suggest that the critical mass of knowledge, practice, and contacts that these programs bring together is well worth the return on investment.