Name: Sara Shepherd
College & Majors/Minors: English Creative Writing & Theater
Current Location: Portland, OR
Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I am currently working as a freelance writer for a few companies. My “bread and butter” jobs are pretty uninspiring; I recently completed a job where I wrote 400-word pieces concerning the demographic information of different area codes. Not exactly the next greatest novel, but hey, I am making money with my writing and I am able to do it from my home. It's especially great because it allows me to stay with my eight-month-old daughter while continuing to build a professional career.
In the past I have held a couple of marketing positions, one for an engineering company and another through the Department of Defense while my husband was in the Army. In both of those positions I was responsible for turning technical information into readable and engaging content for the public.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.
I found my first job through Craigslist while I was still in school. It was as a marketing and office assistant at an engineering firm in Seattle. The position was entry level, but I gained the marketing skills and experience that lead me to the freelance positions I hold today. The company was a small engineering firm in Seattle owned by some really nice people. They felt my personality was just as important as my skills, as well as my willingness to learn new tasks. The interview was far more personable than I expected. They were looking for someone who could help them create marketing materials as well as update their website, and were happy I knew a little bit of HTML, Photoshop, etc. That was a really great job. I ended up having to leave when my husband and I were moved to an Army base across the country.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
At Fort Stewart I worked as a clerk for the Department of Defense. It's not as exciting as it sounds– I was actually working at the front desk of a school-age childcare facility. The work could be downright dull at times, because I had to prepare a lot of government documents with very specific guidelines. Eventually a new manager was hired who recognized my skills in marketing and design, and I began taking on more creative assignments. I ended up designing the center's activity calendars, fliers, and I co-authored a 30 page customer handbook. The position taught me a lot about following strict guidelines, preparing official documents, and gave me a low-level security clearance which could have been applied to other jobs, had I pursued it.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
One of the most important activities I did while in college was work for the school paper. The job forced me to learn how to write on a tight deadline and made me more outgoing as I was always having to interview people I didn't know. I also picked up some very marketable skills like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. Many freelance positions ask specifically for writers with news-writing and journalism experience, and I am continuing to write journalistic pieces for my own website.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
It took me a while to realize this, but writing is actually really hard for most people. I used to say “I should of gone to college for something practical, like a trade skill,” but writing IS a skill! Since entering the workforce, I have encountered some really terrible writing from folks who are professionals in other fields, but simply can't organize their thoughts on paper. As English majors, we have the education and experience to create high quality content that most people simply can't. We also the ingrained ability to think creatively. Don't sell yourself short – you do have a professional skill to offer, and every business needs someone who can write.