Making the Most of the Alumni Connection on LinkedIn

Sometimes, the Department of English Alumni Mentoring Network is not enough. Say you’re interested in a specific industry that isn’t represented there, or you’d like insider information on a particular company or you’re looking to relocate and want to start building a network in your new city. Here’s a useful article on how LinkedIn can help you connect with play-stone-1237497_1920Illinois English alumni beyond our mentoring network.

Not sure how to write to a stranger who just happened to graduate from the same program as you? Consult our guide on how to write a “cold email.

What to Say When Anyone Asks, “What Are you Going to Do with a Degree In English?!?”

options-396267_1920“Oh, I dunno, maybe…UX analysis, law, screenwriting, medicine, public relations, diplomacy, teaching, fundraising, librarianship, grant-writing, journalism, nursing, arts administration, corporate learning and development, human resources, content strategy, video game development, translating and interpreting, television producing, educational technology, corporate recruiting, elective office, publishing, tech customer support, marketing, project management, video editing, SEO, media development, speech pathology, event planning, information science, school administration, public service, business consulting, advertising, nonprofit management…etc.

Every organization or business has problems that can only be solved with words. English and CW majors learn the skills to solve those problems.”

Want to figure out what kinds of problems you want to solve with words? Browse this website! It has lots of resources to help. Sign up for ENGL 199-CPH (Career Planning for Humanities Majors, CRN 50105). Sign up for the Alumni Mentoring Network. All those jobs listed above? Those are things English department alumni are currently doing, and they are eager to talk to students about their career paths. Make an appointment when you get to campus to meet with Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships ( 217/300-4305).

Guest Post: How to Get Recommendation Letters for Grad School

Last week we offered a post on the vexed irycebaronissue of getting recommendation letters for jobs. Recommendation letters for grad school are a little less complicated: YES, you’ll need them and YES, you should ask your professors for them. But who should you ask? How? When? What steps can you take to make sure your letters reflect your strengths?

Iryce Baron kindly took some time out from prepping her fall courses on the Literature of Fantasy and British Feminist Fiction to write down some advice for students seeking recommendations. 


by Iryce Baron

It happens when I least expect it. The semester is rapidly coming to a close and I’m woefully behind on my work. My office is crammed full of students every day, I’m up to my ears in grading, I’m staying up till 2 a.m. prepping for classes while living on Cheetos and Coke Zero and I haven’t even written the final exam yet. Suddenly I get a notice that I have new email and there’s a note from a former student I haven’t heard from in ages or a student who rarely talks in class. It means only one thing—said student needs a recommendation and I can only hope that it wasn’t due the day before yesterday.

It’s part of our job as academics to write recommendations. It can be a really formative experience between faculty and students or it can be an exercise in frustration for everyone. If you’re planning on attending graduate school or going to law school here’s what you can to do to maximize the experience for yourself and your instructor.

It’s always best to give your professor a heads up with at least a month’s notice. 

Sure we’ve all produced recommendations at the eleventh hour—sometimes it’s unavoidable—a student decides to apply to a program at the last minute and we do our best to help them out, another faculty member gets sick and can’t deliver. But to optimize your chances of getting the most thorough and positive evaluation of your work, ask in advance.Some students give far more time than one month and that can be problematic as well because that means faculty can forget when it’s due with other work always looming over their heads. If you send in your request very early, make sure you also send follow-ups.

If you’re going to ask your professor for a recommendation, try to meet with them at least once during office hours and clearly establish what your academic goals are.

Whether you’re going to graduate school in an area of literary studies that syncs up neatly with your professor’s interests or you’re changing directions and applying to a program in physical therapy, let them know precisely what your educational and professional aspirations are. You want to be a human rights lawyer or work with a large firm doing corporate law—that’s fine too. Just share any relevant information so they can focus on your strengths and personalize the letter.

If at all possible, ask faculty members for letters who know you well and know your work well.  

Graduate and professional programs often require three academic references. If you think you’d like a letter from a faculty member try to be vocal in class and try to meet with them outside of class so that they can get to know you better.Be prepared to share papers that you handed in for the course. The most effective recommendations contain direct references to the work students produced in class.

Try to request letters from faculty members whose classes you’ve done especially well in. 

You might have loved your class on theory or you might have a had a professor who is a superstar, but if you didn’t get an A in the course, it’s preferable to forgo that person and to approach someone who can be as enthusiastic about your work as possible.If you’re a late bloomer though, don’t be discouraged. We’ve all written letters for students who are just beginning to show promise. It’s okay to ask someone for a letter who gave you B. Just try to gauge how supportive the instructor can be about your work. I always encourage students who didn’t receive an A in my course to see if anyone else is available, but if not, I focus only on the positive elements of their work.

And don’t forget these two things because they’re really important.

  1. Almost any program that you apply to will ask if you are willing to waive your right to access your letters of reference.  It is imperative that you do this. I once had a student who initially did not waive her rights to access her letters and I told her she needed to throw out all her paperwork and begin anew. Her response, “If this is what they want, then why do even give you an option?” In an age of social media when everyone seemingly has access to anything you post online, it seems a particularly dated request. My answer was, it’s the academic equivalent of a trick question and you must do it. She just finished her PhD at Harvard and I know I gave her the right advice.
  2. Make sure that whether you send faculty emails with links that store your references for future use or that go directly to the universities you’re applying to, you clarify when the letter is due and that you provide the correct materials to be filled out and include pre-addressed envelopes that are stamped if you prefer hard copies.

And finally, let your referees know which schools you got admitted to and where you’ve decided to go and send a letter of thanks. It’s very much appreciated.

The U of I Foundation is Advertising for Telemarketers. Again. Maybe Give It a Try?

maxresdefaultThe University of Illinois Foundation is, once again, hiring students to do telemarketing. It pays $10/hour and offers flexible hours right here on the Quad. Despite these advantages, the turnover in employees is so great that they have to hire every few months and even have a Facebook page dedicated to that endeavor. The work involves calling alumni to ask for donations, and many students find it grueling and demoralizing. You get told “No” a LOT. Many people do it for a few weeks or months and then decide to move on to a part-time job that has less rejection built into it.

Some people discover they’re good at it and enjoy it and stay with it until they have an impressively large number of donations to put on their resumes.

Even if you have zero interest in telemarketing after you graduate, a stint in one of these jobs can give your career planning a boost:

  • Experience. A lot of of rewarding jobs involve fundraising. Organizations ranging from nonprofit arts groups to social outreach agencies to political organizations and start-up companies ask people for money all the time, in a lot of different ways. You’re at an advantage applying for those jobs if you’ve had some experience and know what it feels like to ask people for money, even if it’s not the main duty of the position.
  • Applied English Skills! In your classes, you learn a lot about rhetorical strategies, persuasion, audience, connecting to characters and situations very different from your own. These jobs require you do do all those things, but in real time with real stakes. Even if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll emerge with a better sense of how and where you’d prefer to apply those skills.
  • Self-knowledge. You might be good at it. Fundraising is one of those talents–like writing rhymed verse or playing a musical instrument–that you can’t know you have until you give it a try. Unlike those other things, though, you can get paid for the time you spend on the venture.
  • Life skills. You’ll get a lot of practice dealing with rejection. The sooner in life you can get comfortable with hearing “No” and moving gracefully on to the next conversation, the more opportunities you’ll give yourself to hear “Yes.” A U of I Foundation job can compress a lot of transferable life experience into a relatively short time frame. And you get paid for it.
  • Fun! The Foundation values its student employees and does its best to make the experience enjoyable and worthwhile.
  • It is, after all, a good cause.