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.

Which Career-Planning Course Should I Take?

AnneOdom(2)We didn’t put it on the bucket list, but you should still do it: take a course to help your career planning. The Department of English offers three, all of which have the same number, English 199. (Yes, it’s confusing–we’re working on that….).

For Fall 2016, here’s a quick guide to help you figure out which course you should take, complete with the numbers that will help you enroll in it.

ENGL 199 – CP2: Career Planning for Humanities Majors

  • Wednesdays, 5pm – 6:30pm. EB 131
  • Oct. 19 – Dec. 7 (second eight weeks)
  • One credit
  • Who should take it: Students at ANY stage of their studies in a word-centered “impractical” major like English or CW. Whether you’re a new student with no career plans or a graduating senior needing to find a job fast, this course will help move you towards your goals. You will learn to network, write an effective resume and cover letter, present yourself to potential employers, interview, and research potential careers,
  • How to register: use CRN 50105

ENGL 199 – MMM: Career and Internship Fair Prep

  • ONLINE Aug. 22 – Oct.14 (first eight weeks)
  • One Credit
  • Who should take it: Students at ANY stage of their studies who want to explore career possibilities and connect to potential employers by attending career fairs. This course is specifically designed to prep you for the LAS Internship Fair, which will take place Oct. 19, the week after the course has ended, but the skills you learn will be applicable to any career or internship fair, including the Illini Career and Internship Fair, the Business Career Fair, or the Arts and Culture Career Fair. You will learn to tailor your resume, research career fair opportunities, construct an effective elevator pitch, network, and use the career fair to advance your own goals.
  • How to register: use CRN 65563

ENGL 199 – INT: Internship Seminar

  • Thursdays, 3:30pm – 4:30pm. EB 131
  • Oct. 20 – Dec. 1 (second eight weeks)
  • One credit
  • Who should take it: Students who have located a fall semester internship for which they wish to receive academic credit. This course will help you weave your internship experience into your overall career path and help you speak and write effectively about the skills you have gained through your internship.
  • How to register: When you have lined up a fall semester internship, contact Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships, and she will make sure you are cleared to enroll in the course.

 

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The Post-Graduation Job Search

By e-mail-65927_1280popular demand, here are some of the sites that U of I English/CW majors have found helpful for landing jobs:

  • I-Link (this University of Illinois resource should be your first step, as these employers are looking to hire Illini. The interface can be frustrating, but the “Advanced Search” bar 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)
  • Nontech.io (jobs in the start-up tech world that don’t involve tech skills)
  • Indeed.com (enormous job database)
  • USAjobs.gov (database of all federal government jobs, including internships in DC, at national parks, in the Smithsonian museum system, etc.)
  • Support Driven Jobs (jobs in tech customer support–a growth field for good communicators)
  • Bookjobs.com (particularly strong on internships in editing and publishing)
  • Looksharp (requires a login–and as with all such sites you should be careful about how much information you provide–but it specializes in internship and entry-level positions)

The following websites also have some job listings, but they are even more useful for other aspects of your job search. LinkedIn is a helpful resource for networking (and you should definitely create a profile if you are job hunting–employers will look you up). Want to know more about a company? Glassdoor has a lot of crowd-sourced insider information–which means it can be useful, but should not be treated as a necessarily reliable source. The Muse stands out among career advice websites for up-to-date and non-obvious insights.

Make Something This Summer

Video games and the related entertainment industry is a growthAnneOdom(5) field for English/CW majors and anyone else interested in making creative content, but it’s also highly competitive, drawing people from a wide range of fields who love video games. To learn more about how English/CW and other humanities majors can position themselves to enter this industry, we brought Anne Odom to campus on April 12. Anne works as a project manager for DS Volition, the video game company here in Champaign. It’s not the career one might expect from someone who majored in philosophy and minored in Russian literature in college, but Anne argues that her experience in making arguments. wrestling with complex material, and using her intellectual curiosity has helped her be good at what she does.

In the course of her talk, Anne told us that “I have a lot of ideas!” is a terrible opening gambit for getting the attention of a potential employer in video games.  Everyone has ideas, she pointed out. It doesn’t make you interesting.

Later I pressed her on that response a little. After all, every industry needs people with good ideas. How do you identify the people whose ideas are worth paying attention to?

Anne explained that it’s really easy to have good ideas, but it’s a lot harder to make them work. If you want someone to be impressed with your ideas, then turn them into something. “Make something!” she said. An app, a game, a graphic novel, a video, a screenplay. “Even better?” She went on, “Make something with someone else — that shows that you know how to work with people on your ideas.” She specifically suggested that “word people” like English/CW majors can benefit from pairing up with someone with artistic skills to create something that is both narratively and visually compelling.

The summer monthAnneOdom(2)s stretch ahead of you. If your summer location doesn’t give you much scope for a career-focused job, if you need to make money waiting tables instead of taking an unpaid internship, if you left it too late to find a resume-building opportunity…you can always make something.