Name: Abi Humber
College & Majors: Communication Arts (placed my own emphasis on writing)
Current Location: Chicago, IL
Current Form of Employment: Communications Coordinator at 826CHI (a creative writing non-profit)
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I work as the Communications Coordinator for 826CHI, a non-profit that brings totally-free creative writing programs to Chicago Public School students. I create content for the organization's web site, write our monthly e-newsletter, manage our Facebook and Twitter, and act as the Creative Director for the promotion of each of our signature events and fundraisers.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
Well, for a really long time (like 7 years) I was a bi-weekly columnist for my hometown newspaper. I wrote about hiding in lockers from seniors, refusing to try cottage cheese, moving away from home, and Canadians. In college, I took a ton of expository writing classes, honing my ability to synthesize giant amounts of super-dense information and turn it into something readable. I thought I wanted to enter the world of journalism and felt really stuck when none of the news-related internship opportunities seemed interesting or inspiring to me. I stumbled upon 826CHI's web site one random afternoon and applied for an internship during the Fall of my senior year. I immediately fell in love with the organization and its mission—it was the perfect marriage of my love for written expression and inspiring/affirming the voice of young people. Thankfully, the love was mutual and I was hired into my current position about 2 months into my internship. I also spent a lot of time cat-and-plant sitting for my professors and trying to impress boys during dumb intramural sports tournaments. That last sentence very adeptly sums up my collegiate experience.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
This is the part where I talk about how lucky I got. I was a Programming Intern at 826CHI in the Fall of 2012, working directly with our amazing students on a variety of writing projects. My supervisor sometimes had me work on copywriting or social media projects for the organization, because I understood its goofy, irreverent voice and worked quickly. At this point, I considered being on staff at 826CHI my "dream job." I planned on extending my internship into the spring semester, and was starting to look into entering the Americorpos VISTA program as a way to stick around even longer.
Then, out of nowhere, a staff member informed me that the organization's Communications Coordinator position was open and encouraged me to apply. Euphoric and frenzied (my quintessential self), I pulled together my resume, stumbled through a cover letter, and borrowed a blazer from my roommate. My interview was held in a busy coffee shop, where I sat surrounded by the organization's five other staffers who, just 10 minutes before, were my internship supervisors. They were mostly interested in my ability to work in a wildly collaborative environment, and the degree to which I understood and could convey the organization's culture and voice. The writing component of the interview involved writing a fake event listing and a few social media posts for a super quirky event...the rest is history, I guess, and now they let me make jokes on the internet all day.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
You need real-world experience. I would suggest starting an internship—not matter how informal or infrequent—as early as your sophomore year. Some advice I got from a mentor: There is no such thing as a wasted internship. Even if your experience is miserable...well, now you know that's not something you want to pursue! Also, try not to be so focused on what you think you're looking for that you fail to recognize other opportunities as they arise. I found out about 826CHI via the "Chicago Artists Resource" blog when I was scouring the internet for journalism internships. I am so glad I clicked the link even though it initially seemed unrelated. Also! Find a mentor. Or two. Or three. Everyone who is currently a "real adult" or a "contributing member of society" was once just like us—wandering, unsure, scared. They didn't become their successful selves overnight, and it is really important to hear from people who have been where you are, but found ways to move forward.