What Do I Do With My English Degree?

Last night, I was invited to be a part of a Career Mixer for English Majors/Minors at Hofstra University. I was one of 10 panelists asked to share career advice, lessons learned and all that good stuff. All of the panelists had used their English degrees to forge a variety of careers in the writing field — editors in book publishing and magazines, authors, executives in public relations, freelance writers and staffers for newspapers and library systems. It was a wonderfully diverse group. Still, with all of our different backgrounds, there were many commonalities in our advice for Hofstra’s current crop of graduates:

Work hard. Really hard. No matter where you are or what you’re asked to do. A Hofstra student on the panel talked about working the prop closet for a fashion mag. Established writers talked about getting coffee, picking up dry cleaning, all the cliches you’ve read about and seen in films such as The Devil Wears Prada. Personally, I don’t remember if I’ve ever picked up anyone’s dry cleaning, or if I would, but I can remember cleaning up after a goat named Bunky during an internship at Fox.

Networking. Everyone talked about it. I had to laugh, though, because I think I’m a terrible networker. Actually, I’m not terrible, I’m just not fond of it. I mean, that’s the reason I became a writer, isn’t it? So I can sit in a dark room by myself and write? But the great thing about networking is that so much of it is now online, in social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and that kind of on-the-spot, in-my-bunny-slippers, spur-of-the-moment networking I happen I love. Also, something I did want to say last night, but didn’t get the chance to (I was the last speaker, so I wanted to keep it short and sweet, not be repetitive and also leave the kids on a high note — OMG, did I say “kids”?) is that what I’ve lacked as a “networker,” I’ve gained as a “hard-worker.” In other words, prospective clients interested in hiring me didn’t necessarily meet me at a cocktail party, but were referred to me by current clients who raved about my work.

Don’t be disappointed if your first job out of college is not your “dream job.” I worked at an assistant editor at a local newspaper for about $12,000 a year when I graduated from college. And, as I mentioned to a sweet student last night who approached me after the panel, I regarded every job I’ve had as a stepping stone toward where I wanted to be. And the great thing about writing is, it’s such a versatile career, so those stepping stones landed me in all types of fields: local news, the trades, consumer magazines, online magazines, corporate publishing, book publishing and more.

Believe in yourself. Hey, this is one of my tenets in The Holy Trinity of Writing. And it’s true. Believe in yourself, and every rejection you get becomes a “badge of honor,” as David Baldacci told me once during a presentation he did at my local library. Believe in yourself when no one else will, and you can achieve your goals. Just keep your eye on the prize, work hard and believe anything is possible, and you’ll see that it just might be.

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