Hey, it's Alyssa here (the English major behind Dear English Major)! Three years ago, I graduated from college (holy cow, those three years have flown by...), and since then, I've learned A LOT about the job-search process. With a new season of graduations in full swing, it has me reflecting quite a bit on my post-grad journey.
After starting DearEnglishMajor.com and hearing from several of my fellow English majors, I came to realize that there was a great demand out there for some post-grad guidance. Hearing the same questions time and time again inspired me to want to share everything that I knew about the job search as an English major, and of course, that's why I wrote From Graduation to Career Ready in 21 Days: A Guide for English Majors.
Being able to commiserate with my fellow English majors and has always been a big help. "They asked you WHAT in the interview?" "Hey, can you read my cover letter? I have no idea what I'm doing." I thought it might be useful (and kinda fun) to share what finding my first full-time job was like.
My Post-Grad Stress Fest
When I graduated from college in 2012, I had a general idea of the job search process. I knew that I needed to have a resume, and I knew that I would need to write cover letters. I knew that eventually I would need to go to interviews with people who asked daunting questions.
For those of you who are seasoned professionals or are already in the job-search routine, you know it can get A LOT more complicated than that! “Needing a resume” translates to writing multiple versions of a resume, taking the time to edit it, and giving it a visually appealing design. “Writing cover letters” translates to dozens of drafts and hours of trying to sound confident instead of cocky. And if you actually do get an interview, it can be a long process of phone interviews and in-person interviews with multiple people (sometimes all at the same time). And that’s just the tip of the exhausting iceberg. (Already panicking? This book covers everything you need to know.)
Luckily, I had some awesome mentors and friends who had experience with all of this and were willing to share tips and information with me. But even then, I had to learn some things for myself.
Rejected From an Indie Bookstore = :'(
The summer after I graduated from college was spent at an internship, going on small vacations with my family, and babysitting while I looked for full-time employment. It was a confusing time—lots of people had all kinds of encouragement to offer (“Oh, don't worry—you’ll find something!”) but I rarely heard back from job applications that I submitted. I was pretty open, and applied for a variety of positions: library assistant, copywriter, social media strategist, blogger, etc.
I finally scored an interview at an indie bookstore for a part-time position. Deep down, I really wanted a full-time position, but I figured it would be great experience, especially if I wanted to go into publishing (which, maybe I wanted to do?). They said that out of 50 applicants, I was in the top six they were actually interviewing. I was excited—working in a bookstore as an English major is kind of a no-brainer—but also incredibly depressed. There were 50 applicants?! This was a part-time job paying minimum wage, and there was already so much competition?! Oh dear.
I was interviewed at a huge table by four people all at once. They asked me to tell them about myself, what my favorite books and authors were, and general customer service-type questions. At the end of the interview, I felt that things had gone fairly well.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job. In a way, I felt relieved—it freed me up to continue looking for full-time employment, instead of combining a part-time job with babysitting for who knows how long. I was ready to have a “real” full-time job already!
My parents assured me that I didn’t get the job because the people interviewing me knew that I would take a full-time job if one was offered to me instead (since I was just out of college, after all), and probably wanted someone who was seriously only looking for a part-time job. But it was also a slight blow to my ego—I had a college degree and couldn't get a part-time job that paid minimum wage?! What did that mean for the rest of my job prospects?
OMG, I Just Found My Dream (First) Job... Now What?
Sometimes when you’re searching for a job, you’ll finding a listing that puts a fire into your job search. It sounds PERFECT; you know you’re just right for the position, and it’s almost too good to be true. This is how I felt when I came across a job position as a full-time copywriter for a new e-commerce company that sold children’s products. It sounded fun to write about toys and cute kids’ clothing, and I felt comfortable with the topic because of my babysitting experience. (It might sound funny that I felt so excited about this; during college, this was NOT what I had in mind for a career. But hey, being fresh out of school really puts things in perspective!)
I submitted my resume and cover letter, and waited. And waited. There was no one to email or check in with once I hit the “submit” button on my resume, and that was so frustrating to me! I knew I needed to follow up. So I headed to LinkedIn and found someone who was a recruiter for the company. I considered messaging him, asking if there was anything I could do to follow up on my job application… and hemmed and hawed. Should I just wait a little longer? (Wait… while MY job was given to someone else?!) Would reaching out to the recruiter show initiative, or would messaging him be totally annoying and ruin any chance I might have had?
I decided I didn’t have much to lose. It was September already and I felt that I needed to get more aggressive. I messaged the recruiter, and didn’t receive a response.
However, about a week later... I got an email response to my application! They wanted to send me a copywriting test! Basically, they sent me a brief style guide I needed to stick to, and eight different products I needed to write about within a certain time frame. I spent time exploring their website and reading the writing that was already there, trying to nail down the company’s voice. Even though I did the test in private and no one was timing me, I was still nervous while I did it. (Would my writing be good enough? Could I think and write fast enough? What if I got the job, and completely froze when I was given an assignment? Etc.)
I submitted it the test, and it was reviewed by the copy team. About a week later, the Human Resources department scheduled a phone interview with me. The awesome thing about a phone interview is that you can have any notes you want in front of you. The not-so-awesome thing is that you can’t see the facial expressions or body language of the person you’re talking to, and it can be hard to gauge how the interview is going. It was nerve-wracking to say the least, but then I also don’t care much for talking on the phone in general.
After the phone interview, I was asked to schedule an in-person interview. To prepare for the interview, I looked up “commonly asked interview questions” online and actually typed out my answers. This process ended up being SO valuable. First of all, it helped me figure out what my answers actually were, as well as articulate specific ideas. Then I practiced answering the same questions out loud—yes. I sat alone and talked to a wall, no joke. And it helped!
I was given a little tour of the office that day, and was interviewed by three people (not at the same time), AND took another copywriting test where I was asked to write about a product on the spot (I’m sure it wasn’t my best writing, but I completed it, and that felt like a victory at the time). I found it really easy to talk to the three people who interviewed me, and I was sure to mention how my babysitting experience gave me insight into what moms think when they’re shopping for their children.
It turns out that my interview prep was extremely useful, even though a lot of the same questions were not asked. Because I had thought through some broad questions, I was prepared with material to talk about in general.
Money Can Be Awkward, But I Asked For More Anyway
I headed home and felt like things had went well, but I had also felt like this after the interview at the bookstore—so I figured, who knew what would happen. A few days later, I got a call back… with a job offer that included a salary, 401k, health benefits and stock options. Holy cow. I wanted to say “YES” before they could change their minds. But luckily I had some awesome mentors who convinced me not to accept their first offer... so, against everything my excited-to-have-been-offered-a-job brain said, I asked for more money. Yep.
Money can be an awkward thing, and asking for more of it—for a job you’d take in a heartbeat anyway—felt so confusing and counterintuitive. But the recruiter said that the team was anxious to hire me, so he would check with them and see what he could do. He called back later and had met me in the middle.
My First Full-Time, Big-Girl Job as a Copywriter = :-]
Not only had I secured the job I really, really wanted, but I had scored more money, too. Whoohoooo! The whole process—from the date of applying to my first day on the job—took two entire months. It’s a long time and definitely an investment that might not have worked out, but of course, I felt that it was worth it once I was hired.
To this day, I still don’t know if that LinkedIn message worked or not. The recruiter never responded to it, although he did add me as a LinkedIn connection after I was hired. Maybe it caught his attention after all! I’m glad I took a chance and went out on a limb.
Through my first couple of full-time jobs, and now my full-time freelance career, I realized that I have learned A LOT about the job-search process. I also realized that English majors had TONS of questions about the whole job search in general, from “Where do I look for jobs?” to “How do writers network?” From Graduation to Career Ready in 21 Days: A Guide for English Majors answers all of those questions and more. Check out what other English majors had to say about the book on Amazon.