Name: Steffany Powell
College & Majors/Minors: University of Washington (UW): English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing / Masters in Communication in Digital Media
Current Location: Seattle
Where do you work and what is your current position?
Mondelez International (the makers of Oreos, to name a few). My title is Manager of Global Content Marketing.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
When I graduated from the UW, I thought I could just get a writing job no problem. I had two issues when I graduated: 1. It was March of 2007 and little did I know that The Great Recession was weeks away from taking away most of my job prospects. 2. I had little or no technical skills when it came to working in corporate America. Long story short, there were no jobs and I did not know Excel. I finally settled on a job working at a small eCommerce company. There I wrote product descriptions, marketing copy and I managed the blog posts. It was fun. But it paid $18 an hour. Part time. No benefits.
But I got scrappy. I took any writing job I could so I could fill my resume with writing jobs. I worked contract (fyi most of the best content writing jobs are contract) and I lived cheap. I learned new skills. I took classes. Finally, I went back to grad school to really focus on what I wanted to do: online content strategy.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I wrote horoscopes and event previews for a mobile site called Go2. This was pre-smartphone so it was pretty popular and had been around for about 10 years when I started. I was really able to hone my craft because no matter what, I had to produce 12 horoscopes (one per sign) every day of the year. They had to be short, insightful and most of all funny. It is not always easy to be funny, but I became good at it and actually enjoyed that job even though it paid nearly nothing. To this day, I credit that job and those strict deadlines with my success.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I was a teacher’s assistant for one of my creative writing teachers. This actually showed me that I didn’t want to write books, at least, not right off the bat. He was/is a successful writer and I learned so much from him (especially that I did not yet have the ego to be a published author).
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Specialize in some aspect of writing or publishing. Don’t be a generalist. Even MBAs think they can write. You need to distinguish yourself and be great, not just good. If you think of yourself as an editor you should know not just Chicago style but also AP and MLA. You should know how to write and maintain a style guide. If you want to be a copywriter you should learn how to write in many voices. Learn more than just one style of writing and if you need to make a living—learn technical writing. Play with enough technology so you can speak to developers. Finally, learn localization techniques and get good at them. Get fluent in a foreign language. If you want to be an author, live. Get out of your hometown and don’t write about yourself for at least five years.
Please note, some of this advice was given to me when I was in school. Some of it is just stuff I know because I work in online content. But all of it I have found to be true. Don’t take my word for it, wait… do. That is my other advice to you. Be fearless, be arrogant, but make sure you can back it up.