The Nitty-Gritty on Getting a Job: The 5 Things Your English Professors Don't Teach You

The first year out of college is a tough one for every graduate. For the first time in our lives, we are forced to define success for ourselves, without syllabi, rubrics or grade reports to guide us.

Rest assured, English majors: Your skills are indeed practical and sought-after by many employers! But there are a few crucial tactics you need to know in order to make a smooth transition from English class to employment. And chances are, your English profs won’t teach them to you.

Read on to find out how I made it over the unemployment hump, and how you can do so quickly and in one piece!

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Starting the Search: Avoiding Scams & Knowing Where to Look

Thanks to internships and part-time jobs, you’re probably familiar with the whole job application drill. But actually finding the right jobs to apply for can be tricky. Here’s how to get started:

Craigslist, LinkedIn and Indeed were my go-tos in the trenches. Each has its pros and cons, but together they’re a triple threat.

LinkedIn and Indeed are best if you’re looking for full-time work. Each allows you to customize your search by location, industry, desired salary, experience and more. But unlike LinkedIn, which only displays postings from companies that are registered on their site, Indeed aggregates listings from thousands of websites, including job boards, newspapers, and company career pages.

Craigslist on the other hand shines in the diversity of its listings – if you’re looking for interesting local projects or part-time and/or freelance opportunities, Craigslist is your best friend. Keep in mind, though, that you won’t find as many legitimate full-time offers there.

As with any Internet forum, beware of posts that seem half-baked or offer minimal explanation of the open position. If the description is convoluted or appears thrown together, chances are the company isn’t one you’d want to be working for. Any full-time job posting worth your time should include:

  • The name and a brief description of the employer. For the most part this applies only to Craigslist. It sounds like a no-brainer, but being able to vet the employer is crucial for weeding out scams.
  • A clear explanation of job duties. Titles like “Marketing Associate” and “Communications Coordinator” are vague and mean different things to different companies. Make sure the position you apply for is actually one that will move you in the right direction career-wise.
  • A detailed description of the skills desired/required.
  • The position’s duration (i.e. contract, part-time, full-time or freelance).
  • A few words about compensation. This doesn’t necessarily mean an exact number, but it’s important to know whether the position is salaried or paid hourly, and whether it’s eligible for benefits such as health insurance and paid vacations.
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Being Prepared: Put Those Organizational Skills to Work!

Juggling multiple classes, jobs and extracurriculars has no doubt taught you to be organized and proactive. Take advantage of those skills in the job search! If you haven’t already, make a list of your best writing samples and create a searchable index of the topic, publication and publish date of each piece (Excel and Google spreadsheets are great for this). If most of your work is saved on your hard drive, organize it in easily accessible and clearly labeled folders. If you’ve been published online, compile a list of links.

This may sound tedious and unnecessary, but I promise it’s worth it. Job opportunities come up unexpectedly and they get snatched up just as fast. The last thing you want is to be overlooked for a great position because you didn’t submit your application fast enough.

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Being Present Online: Creating a Killer Portfolio

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a strong, unified online presence while on the job search; for creative professionals, online portfolios are the business cards of today. Not only do they prove to potential employers that you’re familiar with digital media – a must for nearly every early career writer – but they also ensure that your clips are accessible at a moment’s notice. Plus, they’re easily sharable on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, and you can add your website’s URL to your email signature.

When it comes to creating an online portfolio, you’ve got lots of options. If templates and step-by-step instructions are your thing, consider using Clippings.me, Pressfolios, or Contently. Each of these sites is free and will get you set up with a basic portfolio in as little as a few hours. Their style and content display options are fairly limited, but they’re easy to use and well known in the industry.

If you’re a DIYer, I’d recommend WordPress or Squarespace. These guys require a bit more legwork, but they give you tons of options for theme, color, style and layout. Don’t let the learning curve intimidate you! There are oodles of tutorials available on YouTube and WikiHow. Plus, knowing how to use them will look great on your resume.

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Quality Over Quantity: Resisting the Machine Gun Approach

Every career counselor says this and I’m here to tell you that in my experience, it’s absolutely true. Though you may feel compelled to fire off your resume in all directions, this isn’t a wise use of your time. Your chances of success are infinitely higher if you take the time to tailor (and I mean seriously tailor) your application materials to the job description. (Read our article about how to craft a stellar cover letter and resume.)

Learn as much as you can about the company you’re applying to, the management and the job duties. Tune in to the tone and voice on the company’s website. Try to get a sense of the company culture. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and add some personality to your application.

Yes, this approach takes time. Don’t be surprised if you’re spending upwards of four hours on a single application, especially if you’re soliciting feedback before you submit. This is normal, and I promise your hard work will be worth it!

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Being Intentional: Deciding Where to Draw the Line

In addition to tailoring your applications, it’s a good idea to direct your energy toward a specific area of the writing industry rather than attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades. This can be tough when you aren’t quite sure what you’re looking for, and it’s completely understandable to want to keep your options open. But in my experience – in the job search and elsewhere – in order to take the next step, you’ve got to know what the next step is.

Decide what area of the writing world you’d like to enter – retail copywriting, marketing copywriting, editing, blogging, technical writing, proposal writing, social media management, etc. – and dive into it. Do your research. Make a list of the specific skills these employers are looking for and read up on what it’s like to have a job in the field. In short, have a clear understanding of the industry and what you can bring to it.

Hesitancy and unpreparedness will come through in your application and turn employers off. On the flip side, knowing how you can contribute to a company and being able to articulate it in your application will move you to the top of the pile.

This doesn’t mean you need to choose the direction the rest of your career will take. You can always change your mind, and you probably will! But for now, it’s important to see your first job as a short-term goal and approach it systematically.

You Can Do It!

Your early 20s can be a stressful, confusing and uncertain time. Figuring out where best to direct your energy is a constant learning process – for all adults, not just recent grads! And unfortunately, no one is going to tell you whether or not you’re doing it right.

But by knowing where to look for jobs, presenting yourself well to employers, and being intentional about the choices you make in the application process, you can avoid heaps of unnecessary stress and make your transition into the professional writing world much more seamless.

Recently employed? What skills did you need to land your first job?


About the Author

Grace Heerman is a Seattle-based writer, editor, journalist and blogger. Published in print and online, she has written everything from news reports to feature stories to in-depth research articles to recipes. She’s currently working as a Blog Coordinator, but when she’s not putting pen to paper, Grace is likely cooking up something delicious, perfecting her dancing warrior pose or listening to NPR. Read more of her work at www.graceheerman.com and check out her daily photo blog.


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Posted on April 22, 2014 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles, Job Search Resources.