Name: Elizabeth (Liz) McKendry
College & Majors/Minors: BA in English from Catholic University of America in Washington DC, MS in Project Management from St. Mary's University of Minnesota
Current Location: York, PA
Current Form of Employment: Full-time permanent, part-time contract
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I work at a military defense contractor as a Technical Writer. Basically, I write about tanks. As in, PEW PEW AMERICA tanks, not fish tanks or gas tanks. I climb on the latest tracked howitzer being developed for the U.S. Army, look at drawings and photographs, talk to engineers, and write instructions on how to operate and repair them.
After I finished my Master's degree, I was bored, so I sought out some side work doing textbook proofreading for a publishing company that I used to work for. It's a great way to keep my skills sharp and earn a bit of money working from home.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first job was a customer service rep at Clipper Magazine. They found me on Monster, interviewed me, and hired me the day before I graduated from undergrad. I started the following Monday. It gave me a great introduction to working in an office and what my strengths and weaknesses were, leading eventually to my first steps into proofreading and editing.
My current job, yet again, found me on the internet. I had held a temporary position as a Technical Editor at a very small local defense contractor and that experience opened the door to beginning my career at my current company. Once I was hired here, I swore that they would pry this job out of my cold dead hands. I first worked as a contractor Technical Editor for 2.5 years, then was hired on permanently as a Technical Writer. This job is not what I ever thought I'd be doing when I graduated with a degree in English, but I really love it!
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Each writing job built upon the prior one. From working as a proofreader for a coupon mailer to writing complex technical procedures for military manuals, I have learned something in each job that I have been able to use in my next job. I used to work as an Editorial Coordinator overseeing the editing process for textbooks at a publishing company. I was laid off from the company on good terms, and keeping those connections open gave me the opportunity to pick up some part-time work down the road.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
Honestly, not as much as I could have. It was only when I got divorced at 27 and had to support myself that I got serious about my career. In retrospect, I would have looked at more jobs outside the "liberal arts" area. There is a growing need in STEM fields for people with English degrees to work in communications, writing, and other careers that necessitate excellent communication and writing skills. My company offers several intern programs and I wish I would have had the foresight to seek one such program out, as the people who have gone through the programs have excellent career prospects.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Think outside the box when looking for a career and get really good with technology. If you're interested in becoming a Technical Writer, learn XML and the associated programs used for technical writing. Get really good at MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access.
I never thought I'd be working for a defense company as a writer, but I love it! I also encourage you to seek out companies that offer tuition reimbursement for graduate programs. My English degree made writing numerous papers in graduate school much easier than it would have been otherwise, and having a graduate degree gives me a competitive edge in today's workplace.