Name: Aíne ("AAN-yuh") Norris
College & Majors/Minors: M.A. in English (research concentration), Virginia Commonwealth University; B.A. in English (minor in Religious Studies), Virginia Commonwealth University
Current Location: Richmond, Virginia
Current Form of Employment: Senior Communications Administrator, Virginia Commonwealth University
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I’m currently a Senior Communications Administrator at Virginia Commonwealth University in downtown Richmond, VA. My role specializes in academic and faculty communications, and I’m responsible for the strategy, content, social media, and maintenance of a variety of university websites within that area. My role also includes writing, design, and project coordination.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
After receiving my B.A. (2008) I continued working full time for Apple Retail, specializing in business sales for corporate or large-business customers. At that point in my life I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my English degree, and found it safest to stay put at my current job. Apple was a fantastic employer and I learned a lot about technology, consumer trends, customer service, and how people use technology. This knowledge prepared me for the day in 2011 when one of my clients, the co-owner of an integrated communications agency, hired me as an Account Manager.
Working at an agency offered the opportunity to learn a variety of new skills, but was also the first job where my English degree was needed and sought after. Copywriting, editing, concept brainstorming, proofing advertisements, and website development all require a firm grasp on effective communication and language, as well as attention to detail and linguistics.
In 2013 I began work at my alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, working in communications and using a lot of the skills I cultivated at both previous jobs. Today my work requires a variety of skills, but the strongest and most useful is the ability to write and communicate in an effective way for different audiences.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I’ve freelanced for Richmond GRID magazine and worked as a website content writer for Elevation Fitness, a workout software company, amongst others. I always encourage recent graduates to pursue freelance writing gigs (even unpaid ones!) in addition to their full-time work. A successful English writing portfolio doesn’t have to rely solely on Chaucer or Fitzgerald; writing about current events, local news, or niche topics helps cultivate your communications voice in a way that isn’t quite as formal as a university paper. Freelance writing keeps your writing sharp and offers opportunity to experiment with different styles to find what works. Get hard copies of your articles (or use screenshot software), print them out, and put them in a portfolio to show prospective employers.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
The term “post-grad” is tricky for me, because I ended up going back to university part-time for my master’s degree in 2014, graduating in December 2016. I’m actually considering more graduate work to potentially switch gears and focus on research and teaching in the near future.
However, both my undergraduate and graduate work have taught me not to turn down opportunities to use or fine-tune your English reading, writing, and editing skills. If you have an opportunity to learn something new that can be added to a resumé or CV, take it. Want to work on a newspaper or in journalism? Learn AP style. Want to specialize in website content? Learn about SEO and keywords. See an interesting corporate-level writing job? Take a course in technical writing. We live in a world where everyone has the power to communicate via social media, but only select individuals have the power to craft words that are truly powerful.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Don’t put yourself in a career box based on preconceptions of what it means to be an English major. There are very few jobs where effective written communication isn’t important, but it’s all about having the right skill set. English majors are detail-oriented, granular thinkers with the capability to read, write, and edit. Many fields need minds like this, so don’t sell yourself short. Attend departmental alumni gatherings (or organize one, if it isn’t offered from your university) and learn what other English majors are doing.
More than anything, my advice is to keep learning, formally or informally. New jobs and uses for the English language are born daily (just think: 10 years ago we didn’t even have social media directors writing and scheduling Twitter/Facebook/Instagram posts for companies!) and if you stay current and keep learning, you’ll always find a job that needs an English major.