Name: Irene Etzkorn
College & Majors/Minors: Undergrad: C.W. Post College, B.A. double major in English and Biology, Graduate: Carnegie-Mellon University, Master of Arts in Professional Writing
Current Location: New York City
Current Form of Employment: Branding and Simplification Consulting firm
Where do you work and what is your current position?
Chief Clarity Officer, Siegelvision in New York City
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
I was in graduate school at CMU in Pittsburgh and heard Alan Siegel from NYC come to campus to speak about his then brand new firm, Siegel+Gale. He had just been on the cover of People Magazine as “Mr. Plain English” and I was fascinated to learn that he was making a business of simplifying complex communications for government and commercial clients. Having worked for the IRS and US Census Bureau while in college, I recognized the need for simplification in many facets of daily life. I was hired for a summer writing internship at Siegel+Gale and worked there for 30 years, leaving there 3 years ago to follow the founder and CEO when he moved to form another similar, smaller firm, Siegelvision.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I co-wrote a book titled, Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, that was published in 2013 (for sale on Amazon so you can find more about it there). Seeing it translated into Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Hungarian made me realize how universal the desire for simplicity really is. Cognitive fluency has only recently begun to be studied and understood by psychologists. Because ease of interaction and understanding affect believability and comprehension, people gravitate towards clarity.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
Working while in college helped me to realize I didn’t want to go to medical school (the path I was on). A summer in a hospital cured me of that desire, while working at the IRS gave me a sense that there were many areas I hadn’t considered that would benefit from clear writing and that I actually loved business.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Don’t shy away from being an English major because you envision perpetual unemployment. Couple your writing ability with a minor or double major in another area and you will find many employment opportunities. Also, the skills associated with English majors—curiosity, interviewing, clear expression—are valuable in many types of jobs.