Name: Sidney Charlotte Tribe
College & Majors/Minors: Willamette University, English Lit, University of Washington, J.D.
Location: West Seattle, Washington
Current form of Employment: Appellate lawyer, Talmadge/Fitzpatrick/Tribe, partner
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
After undergrad, I did not know what I wanted to do for a career. I had an English degree and was not very creative or diligent about researching ways to use it. The only job I could think of was teacher, and that required more school. So I moved back to Seattle and spent the next five years going from job to job—bookstores, clothing retail, whatever. My first job was at Half Price Books in Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, Washington. I had worked there a couple of summers during college. I was a little overqualified, so I must admit it wasn’t very hard to land the job.
In 1998 was temping through an agency when I landed a job as a receptionist at a law firm on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I got to see firsthand what lawyers do every day, and it convinced me that my skills (reading & analysis, writing, researching, etc.) were a good fit. That’s when I decided to go to law school, which obviously got me into my current career.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
Honestly, I don’t think I did much of anything to prepare myself for after graduation. I focused on school and I guess I just thought the rest would take care of itself. Obviously I was not correct about that. I did not avail myself of the many resources I had at my school for career planning. And I really just did not research what to do with my degree. However, I want to stress that I do not regret how I spent my five years after undergrad. I think that a really lasting career comes from understanding what you want out of life, and that comes from just living everyday.
I also think the retail etc. jobs I had in high school, college, and after, gave me an appreciation for what is a good job and what is a bad job. I had both. Plus I had a lot of fun before I had to officially grow up. I started an 80s cover band and was a barfly at my best friend’s cocktailing job. I travelled (on the cheap) and enjoyed life a bit. I was very hard-charging all my years through college and honestly it made me quite a basket case. By the time I started law school I knew who I was and what I wanted. I don’t think I would have been as successful in law school or in choosing my particular field if I had gone straight after undergrad. Maybe I didn’t need five years, but a little break can be good for perspective.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
My advice is first, definitely think about your personality, work habits, and predilections, and how they led you to be an English major. In other words, why, out of all the other fields of study, did it interest you? And the answer can’t just be because you like reading. Go deeper. Your job is what you will be doing eight or more hours a day, five or more days a week. You’ve got to figure out what you actually want to be doing with that time before you can narrow down careers.
Second, use the resources at your disposal to research as broad a range of jobs as possible. Don’t just approach the issue with the question “What are good jobs for English majors?” Instead, approach it from a skill set. What are good jobs for creative writers? Technical writers? Researchers? Readers? Analysts? Did you get into English study because it is an exploration of the human condition? Maybe you want to pursue something related to sociology. Did you get into it because you like technical writing? You can write anything from journalism to users manuals.
Being an English major gives you a lot of fundamental skills, but unfortunately most of them are somewhat unquantifiable and “intellectual” and I don’t mean that word in a bad way, as some people do. These qualities make the career search challenging, but give you more of a range of options than you might think.