University of Illinois Quad Day.
Yes, I’m talking to you: incoming freshmen and transfers. You’re getting bombarded with information from all sides, and it’s hard to take it all in. Getting a job after graduation feels a LONG way off, and if you have any brain cells available to devote to thinking about your future career, they are probably firing randomly.
The good news: you don’t need to figure anything out right now.
The bad news? It’s not actually all that bad. It’s just this: “figuring anything out” in the future will be easier if you do stuff now. That’s really all you need to know for now: do stuff.
What kind of stuff? That depends.
- If you need to work in college, you’ve been getting emails about how to look beyond retail and fast food openings* to jobs and internships that will help you build some professional skills. Go ahead and follow the links. If any of the advertised openings sound interesting to you, follow the instructions for applying to them.
- Did you do a lot of extracurricular activities in high school? Don’t stop now! Your clubs, volunteer work, and recreation can give you valuable and relevant experience. The difference? You’ll have a lot more freedom in deciding how and when to fill your time. The goal now isn’t college applications — it’s learning more about yourself, what you’re good at, what kind of difference you want to make in the world (and building the skills you’ll need to make that difference).**
- Has volunteering or community service been an important part of your life up to now? Look for ways to act on those values in college. The campus and local community offers a lot of ways to get involved, to create meaningful change, to explore your scope for leadership.
- Did you decide to major in English or Creative Writing because you are passionate about the written word? You’ll consume and create a lot of words in your courses, but campus also offers a lot of way to produce them: editing various publications (Re:Search, Montage, Daily Illini, buzz), assisting with open mic nights, getting involved with volunteer radio and TV efforts, joining theater groups, collaborating with others on events and projects. Creating, editing, and producing original content is valuable and relevant experience.
You don’t need to do all of these things from day one! One or two alone can be the center of a meaningful college experience. The important thing is to give yourself opportunities outside the classroom to discover what you’re good at and what’s important to you. The better you understand yourself, the easier it will be to identify the career directions you want to pursue.
*Of course, if you really enjoy customer service work, go ahead and do more of it! — but with purpose and direction. There are a lot of career options for people who who are good at connecting with others–particularly if you’re good enough at it to advance to a managerial role.
**Quad Day can be overwhelming, but it will expose you to the vast range of clubs, organizations, and service that is available to you. Click here for our advice on how to cope with the abundance.
This summer, the Career Center is transitioning to new online career platform, Handshake. Those of you returning to campus should be relieved to know that Handshake is replacing I-Link, the jobs search database that the U of I had previously used to connect students to employers. Handshake is in every way an improvement over what came before: it’s structured around skills, not majors or departments, and it’s much easier to shape to your interests.
A few things that English and Creative Writing majors should know about Handshake:
- This resource will be helpful to you, no matter where you are in your education, so take some time this summer to log on and start checking it out.
- It’s a good idea to start building your profile. Employers use Handshake to seek out students, and they will be able to find you more easily if your information is online.
- If you’re looking for work experience while you’re on campus, Handshake lists local part-time jobs and internships, many of which do not appear on the Virtual Job Board or the Research Job Board. Click “Jobs and Internships” and set the filter to “part-time” with a location of Champaign, IL. There are also some unpaid internships listed there, but think hard about the conditions under which you are willing to work for free.
- If you’re NOT looking for a job or internship now, Handshake can help you with your career exploration. Every student can see every job on the site, depending on how far you are willing to scroll. Handshake will order job openings to reflect the information in your profile, so that the jobs that appear first will vary from student to student. This customized list of openings is a great resource for figuring out what kinds of jobs appeal to you and what you’ll need to do between now and graduation to demonstrate your “fit” for them. You can start learning about potential careers and companies by not only reading a lot of job ads, but also bringing to your reading the same critical and self-reflective eye that you bring to your academic work.
Salary is not the only index of worth, value, or skill. Happiness can be found below the poverty line, and time and meaning can be worth more than money.
That said, when this article came out, claiming that Internships at these 25 companies pay more than the average US salary, it seemed useful to ask…
Internships doing what?
A lot of things, it turns out. Some internships are specifically for students with specific engineering, programming, or quantitative business training, but many are not. Some are limited to specific majors. Many are not.
Many of these companies offer internships that English/CW majors can qualify for — if a job at a large company is what you want.
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.
A 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.