Running Your Own Business…as a Humanities Major?

PomonisThe gap between graduating and starting a business may seem vast.  On Wednesday, Tony Pomonis, an alumnus of the University of Illinois Department of English, and former owner of Merry-Ann’s diners will talk to students about strategies for bridging it.  Come hear what he has to say Wednesday, November 11, from 5 to 6pm in EB 119.  You may have heard some of his story at our Fall 2015 Department of English Alumni Career Panel.

The connection between studying fields like English and succeeding in business is real.

[W]hat good is a degree in the humanities in the real world of products and customers?…Far more than most people think. It all comes down to this: Is it helpful to know your customers? Deeply understanding their world, seeing what they see and understanding why they do the things they do, is not an easy task. Some people have otherworldly intuitions. But for most of us, getting under the skin of the people we are trying to serve takes hard analytical work.

….Studying a moving target like this requires a completely different approach than the one needed to study nature. If you want to understand the kinds of beings we are, you need to use your own humanity and your own experience.

Such an approach can be found in the humanities.”

Along with the logic of the position is the sheer range of notable business people who built their success on a solid foundation of study in English, history, philosophy and the like: innovators like Christina Brodbeck, the former U of I history major who helped found YouTube, developers like Matt Garrison, former U of I English major who founded the R^2 real estate company,  manufacturers like George Vlagos, former U of I English major who started Oak Street Bootmakers.


Demystifying Networking: The Informational Interview

system-927147_1280by Valerie O’Brien

In his presentation for the Engl 199: Career Planning in the Humanities lecture series, Andrew Allen, Director of Illinois Business Consulting, offered UIUC humanities majors a valuable piece of advice: networking is essential for getting a job.

On the surface, this advice may seem obvious. After all, “networking” has become a cultural buzzword that we hear all the time. Most college students probably recognize “networking” as an important part of professional development. Yet, despite the term’s prevalence, precisely what “networking” means and how one does it may remain a mystery to many students. What does “networking” actually look like?

Allen recommended that students begin networking through informational interviews, which are brief, low-stakes conversations with individuals about their careers. This networking practice can help you to develop a circle of professional contacts, to determine what career options are available to students with humanities backgrounds, and to narrow down that list of possible careers according to your personal interests.

To conduct an informational interview, follow these steps:

  1. Determine what professional field you’d like to know more about and who you already know within that field. It works best to start the networking process with a contact you already have – a relative, for instance, or a friend’s parent, or an alumnus you’ve been in contact with (perhaps through the English Department’s Alumni Mentoring Network).
  1. Get in touch with your contact to ask if he or she would be willing to talk with you for fifteen minutes about their career.
  1. Prepare a couple questions to ask your contact, but don’t simply read them – you want the exchange to feel conversational and natural. Let your contact talk about their job, what they do every day, what they enjoy about their field, and similar topics. Be respectful of your contact’s time, but also be aware that if the conversation is going well, it may last longer than the fifteen minutes you requested.
  1. At the end of the conversation, ask if your contact could put you in touch with one or two of their colleagues who might be willing to talk with you further about their careers. It’s best if your contact emails their colleagues to make the introduction. However, if instead you’re going to be sending the email, be sure to ask your contact if you can mention them as a means of introducing yourself.
  1. After the informational interview, follow up with your contact to thank them for their time. If you want to stay in touch with the contact, you might connect with them on LinkedIn, but you should always either send a courteous personal message when adding them as a connection or ask them about connecting on LinkedIn near the end of the informational interview.

Eventually, the connections you make through conducting informational interviews could lead to a job offer, since, as Allen observed, “companies would rather hire someone they know than a sheet of paper.” It will likely take a lot of phone calls for this to occur, but in the process you can learn a lot about what you’re looking for in your future career.

Networking will require intentionality and time. And it’s important to start early and network regularly! Make this practice a part of your regular routine: Allen recommended trying to conduct an informational interview once or twice a week. It’s also important to start networking long before you’re getting ready to graduate: it’s never too early to begin thinking about possible career paths, especially because as an English or Creative Writing major you have so many options available to you!



Illinois Business Consulting and English/CW Majors

by Valerie O’Brien

Has the buzz about business and tech industries needing humanities majors led you to consider a career in the private sector? Are you wondering how to supplement your rich humanities background (and entries on your résumé) with some business experience before you graduate? You might consider joining Illinois Business Consulting, a time-intensive but professionally rewarding organization that offers you hands-on consulting experience. Here’s what we learned from Andrew Allen, Director of Illinois Business Consulting, when he spoke as a part of the Engl 199: Career Planning for Humanities
Majors lecture series this week.

What is Illinois Business Consulting (IBC)?

IBC is an extracurricular opportunity open to undergraduate and graduate students in all andrew allen screen capmajors that gives participating students the opportunity to practice business consulting as it’s done
in the real world. Students accepted to the program work on interdisciplinary teams to develop a consulting strategy in response to a business problem posed by a real-world for-profit or non-profit organization. Teams will ultimately present their work to that organization and receive valuable feedback from clients on their project.

Ok – but what is consulting?

Business consulting firms develop solutions to a number of problems businesses face, primarily related to either increasing revenues or reducing costs. IBC specializes in strategy consulting, so the kinds of problems consultants might be asked to address could include how to get more of a particular demographic to purchase a product or how to help a business offer a more competitive product more generally (e.g., how a small ice cream manufacturer can sell more of its product in a market dominated by very large businesses).

What are the benefits of participating in IBC?

Some of the benefits of joining IBC include the following:

  • Long-term interdisciplinary collaboration with your consulting team
  • Experience with real-world problem-solving
  • Enhancement of communication and public-speaking skills through work with both clients and team members
  • Development of project management skills
  • Firsthand experience with career opportunities in consulting and other fields of business

What can Humanities majors bring to consulting?

English and other Humanities majors have a lot to offer the business world! Skills in the following areas, which you consistently develop in your humanities courses, are just some of those that will apply to work in consulting:

  • Analysis
  • Problem-solving
  • Research
  • Written and oral communication
  • Project management
  • Creativity

How can you apply to join IBC?

IBC accepts applications at the beginning of each semester. The final deadline to apply for Spring 2016 is 11:59 pm on January 8, 2016, but applications are open now, so you can submit an application anytime before then. For more information, visit

The application process will involve three stages: first, the submission of the online application (with essay questions) and a résumé; second, a behavioral interview; and third, a case interview in which you’ll be asked to practice solving problems like those you might encounter in consulting cases.

IBC’s application process is selective, so you’ll want to prepare! You can learn more about case interviews by visiting or checking out David Ohrvall’s book Crack the Case System (2011). You might also look into U of I’s own student consulting group, OTCR Consulting, which provides a list of additional resources for case interviews here (


If you’d like to learn more about intersections between a humanities background and careers in business, be sure to attend next week’s talk with Tony Pomonis on how a humanities degree will help you run your own business– Wednesday, Nov. 11, 4 – 5pm in 119 English Building.

English/CW Majors :: Winter Job Shadow Program

winter break job shadow logoThe Career Center‘s Winter Break Job Shadow Program will help you engage with alumni, professionals, or companies of interest to help develop your professional network and explore career opportunities.

The program is a one-day commitment during winter break. The Job Shadow Program will focus on experiences relevant for LAS, AHS, Media, FAA, and Education students.

The “required” information sessions have all ended, but you can still apply to the program, even if you didn’t attend one.  Here’s how:

  1.  Fill out and submit online the 2015-15 Student Job Shadow Agreement. (The purpose of the information sessions was to have students complete this form.)
  2. Go on I-Link (the U of Illinois Career Center’s job database; if you haven’t used it before there will be a few questions to answer the first time you log in with your NetID).
  3. On I-Link click on the “Jobs” pull-down menu and then “I-Link Jobs.”
  4. Once you’re in the “I-Link Jobs” menu, go to “Advanced Search.”
  5. In “Advanced Search” pull down the menu under “Show Me” (upper left-hand side) and click “Job Shadow Listings.”Look over the job shadow listings that have “TCC” in the title.
  6. When you find one or more you want to apply to, you’ll need to go back to the I-Link “Home” screen to start the process.
  7. To apply for Winter Break Job Shadow opportunities:
    1. Make sure you’ve submitted the  2015-15 Student Job Shadow Agreement. If you skipped that step, go back and do it.
    2. Update your resume for the job shadow opportunities you want to apply for.  You may find it useful to create more than one version of your resume if you’re exploring career options that draw on different parts of your background or skills.
    3. Save your resume(s) as PDFs.  If you have more than one, label them clearly so you’ll know which is which.
    4. Go to the I-Link “Home” and find the button under your name in the upper left hand corner that says “upload your resume now.”
    5. Click it, and follow the directions to upload your resume(s).
    6. Go back to the job shadow listing(s) that you want to apply for and click “Apply.”
    7. Follow the directions to upload your resume.
  8. If accepted, attend the required orientation/information session (details will be forthcoming).
  9. When you return to campus after break, let us here in the Advising Office know how your job shadow went!