Name: Beth Zeanah
College & Majors/Minors: Major - English: Professional and Public Writing; Minor - English: Creative Writing
Current Location: Huntsville, AL
Current Form of Employment: Full-time Technical Writer
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I currently work as a technical writer at a telecommunications network and hardware company located in Huntsville, AL. In this position, I research, develop, and write the documentation that eventually goes out to internet service providers and their customers. My content typically comes from the different engineering teams who developed the hardware and software, which I then analyze and reorganize into the customer-facing user guides.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first writing job was a student technical writing position supporting Auburn University's Campus Web Solutions team, which a senior in my major recommended to me before she graduated. When I started looking for jobs after my graduation, I narrowed down the area I wanted to be in and started exploring various job sites for jobs in my target area. If I recall correctly, I found my current position on Indeed.com.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
My first technical writing job on campus was crucial to me getting valuable experience working in a professional environment, as well as getting experience in useful software programs and tools that I wasn't exposed to in my classes. This job experience as a student set me up for a lot of opportunities and the connections I made there were very helpful post-graduation.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
The track for my major was fairly flexible in that I could pick and choose the classes I wanted to take as my core major related courses. As such, I was able to tailor my major track to focus on classes that developed important skills I would need if I was going to pursue writing as a career. A lot of my classes, for example, were focused toward professional and business writing, so I gained a lot experience in practical every-day writing that I still use today. A perk to these classes was that they typically included a resume and cover letter portion, which really helped me in those first few months after graduation when I was applying for jobs in earnest, because I already had developed a living resume and cover letter template. I also was able to take an editing class which, although it was one of my harder classes, was essential in fine-tuning writing skills I took for granted, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation etc. Carefully selecting my courses to strike that balance between practical classes and the more fun literature courses was key. I was able to develop useful skills I still use every day post-college, while still managing to get rich experiences in the other areas that first drew me to major in English.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
As a student, take advantage of the resources your university offers you. Most public universities have career centers and writing centers, both of which can be great resources for developing those practical skills that will help when starting your career. I also highly recommend taking advantage of your professors' office hours. They may seem daunting, but having those one-on-one discussions with your professor can be a great chance to further sharpen your skills, as well as a chance to make a connection that could spark inspiration, whether that be in your course-work or for your career goals. If you can, try to pick up a part-time job related to your career goals or pursue an internship. The connections and skills you develop in college can make a huge impact on your success post-graduation. Upon graduating, don't stop learning! Always be looking for opportunities to learn a new skill or topic that can help further shape your career. Don't discount the value of creating a robust LinkedIn profile either. Spending time creating a professional space to show-off all of the wonderful things being an English Major taught you can make a big difference in landing that first (or second) job!