Eman Ghanayem recently interviewed Carly Smith, who graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in English, and who currently works as an assistant editor at reverb.com. Here are some of the great things she had to say about how she decided on her career path and how her training in English helped here:
What is your current job? How did you get there? What do you like about it? Where do you hope to go from here?
My senior year of college, I was determined to get a job before I graduated. I had been serving at a restaurant to support myself through school, and I was really ready to move on.
But when I started applying for jobs in October of that year, I was met with a lot of disinterest. Because I had to work full–time on top of school full–time (including over breaks and holidays), I hadn’t had a lot of spare time for internships. And despite writing for Buzz magazine for a year, I felt that the internship gap in my resume was hurting my chances.
I think it was right after winter break that I received a mass email from the English advising office advertising an opportunity to intern as a writer for Smile Politely. After I applied, SP brought me on, and I was able to intern remotely until I graduated in May.
By March, I was still on the hunt for a job. Because I am a musician, I was surfing around a Chicago–based online musician’s marketplace I personally frequented — Reverb.com — and decided on a whim to check out their careers page. I saw that they were hiring and was immediately excited.
I was able to interview in Chicago over spring break and after jumping through a few hoops, I accepted an offer a couple of weeks later. The Monday after graduation (which was also my 22nd birthday, coincidentally), I packed up all of my stuff and moved to the city. I started at Reverb as part of the Listings Team a few days later.
Reverb.com is the world’s largest online marketplace for musicians. We facilitate the buying and selling of music gear online between all kinds of musicians. Our users include everyone from larger brick and mortar shops down to individual private sellers to famous artists like Jimmy Chamberlain, Rick Nielsen, Ray LaMontagne, and more.
In tandem with the marketplace, we also produce written and video content on the Reverb News side of the site. Those features include interviews and performances with musicians, tips and how–tos as related to music and gear, product demos, and much more.
As I mentioned, I first started as part of the Listings Team, which is responsible for making sure that the thousands of listings uploaded to the site daily are in accordance with our guidelines and that the products listed are matched with our Price Guide.
Three months after starting at Reverb, I was promoted to an editorial position. I now work on the News side of Reverb full–time with two other editors. In this station, I write original content, interview artists, edit, work with freelancers to formulate and actualize pitches into pieces.
How has your English degree helped you? What skills that you learned in your college classes do you find yourself using now?
My English degree has been beneficial in all of the obvious ways. Spending years studying grammar and syntax has certainly had an immensely positive influence on my career, considering how much editing I’m responsible for every day.
The exercise in writing papers was also tremendously helpful in getting me to this point. My own writing for Reverb is both creative and informative and all of it is rather heavily researched, so the process of writing research papers about a creative work — such as a novel or a film — definitely helped me to develop an assertive editorial voice that isn’t totally stale or devoid of personality.
What other parts of your college experience do you continue to draw on?
I freelanced a little bit while I was at U of I, and those experiences were really valuable now that I work on the other side of that. Getting comfortable pitching yourself and your ideas to publications, working on deadlines, and the experience of working with an editor really helped inform how I work with my own freelancers now.
What was the best part of your college experience? And how did it affect you intellectually and/or professionally?
To be quite honest, the best parts of my college experience were directly related to some of the teachers I was able to take classes with. Whether or not I was initially interested in the subject material when I first signed up, it was often the professor who determined how much I ended up enjoying the class.
I took classes in which already killer subject material was enhanced by an even more passionate professor, as was the case when I took Modern Fantasy Lit and Comics & Graphic Narratives with Rob Barrett and Jim Hansen’s Fincher/Nolan and Hitchcock film classes.
I was also able to take ENGL 301 with Hansen — a mandatory class with a less than stellar reputation — and it turned out to be one of my favorite courses at U of I because of how great of a professor Hansen is.
Similarly, I decided to take a class that I wasn’t looking forward to at all about John Milton in the last semester of my senior year to satisfy another requirement. It was taught by Catharine Gray, and though I might not have been converted into a massive Milton enthusiast by the end of it, it still turned out to be one of the best classes I took.
These three professors and a handful of others were what made U of I specifically special to me. Because even though I’m sure this subject material isn’t entirely unique to U of I, I know that there isn’t anyone better suited than those professors to stand at the front of those classrooms teaching it.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in college? What advice do you have for current English/CW majors?
I was a transfer student to U of I. I spent my freshman year of college studying finance and English at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and had every intention of completing my degree there.
I didn’t decided to transfer until I got back to the States that summer, so I ended up taking the following fall semester off to restock a bank account depleted by unfavorable USD to GBP exchange rates. That semester off, coupled with the loss of a semester’s worth of classes at St. Andrews because of the Scottish–to–American credit translations, meant that I was a year behind my graduating class. And I really wanted to graduate on time.
I ended up applying for credit overage allowances almost every semester, stayed in Champaign for summer school every summer, and took advantage of the winter break classes when the school started offering those.
If I could talk to younger Carly, I would tell her to slow down a little bit. I don’t regret the path that I chose, but I do sometimes wonder what my experience would have looked like if I would have taken everything a little easier.
I worried a lot about the future, what with all of the talk of English and other humanities majors having a terribly hard time finding work. But being where I am now, I see that there’s really nothing to worry about. Great opportunities will always still be there, even if you take your time and especially if you enjoy what you’re doing.
What are some of your future professional goals? How do they connect to what you’re currently doing?
I’m really happy with what I’m doing now. I’m a large part of a very small editorial team, and I have the unique pleasure of working closely with the larger marketing team. I’m learning and absorbing new things every day, and it’s pretty wonderful and empowering to get to be a part of a growing organization that I believe in. I’m not sure what the future holds, but for once in my life, I’m pretty okay with that.
What advice do you have for students interested in exploring the field you’re in now?
If you’re interested in writing and editing, get as much experience as you can. Whether creative writing or copywriting, giving freelancing work a shot while you’re in school and the stakes are low. You’ll most likely get turned down quite a few times, but the experience of writing a piece, editing it yourself, and working with an organization as a freelancer is really invaluable if you end up on the other side of the coin working with freelancers yourself someday.