So many of my students love being students. They enjoy reading and writing and researching. They are often good students and have been good students their whole lives. As a result, while graduation grows ever closer, those who are not pursuing graduate programs are concerned about their opportunities in the workplace. How do they find jobs that allow them to keep writing? How do they find jobs that allow them to be creative? How do they find jobs, period?
Here I outline my process for talking with students both in the classroom and in individual meetings. While I’m focusing on creative writing students, I have employed similar strategies with students across the disciplines, especially in the humanities. I recognize that the backgrounds of my students vary widely—from students who’ve never held a job to students transitioning from careers of twenty years or more—and I adjust my advising accordingly.
To first identify the fields they see themselves entering, I challenge my students to closely observe their own experiences the way they study texts in class. What recurring themes do they see in their interests, habits, and hobbies? Where are the turns, or moments of change and growth, in their personal narratives? What details or anecdotes exemplify their characters?
Often, students feel uncomfortable or flustered at the process of turning close observation onto themselves, so I draw from a variety of questions to guide our dialogue:
What is one of your favorite projects you’ve done?
What are your favorite classes? What do you like about them?
Where do you best complete your work?
What do you like to do outside of schoolwork?
What’s your favorite job you’ve ever had?
Just as with our creative writing texts, I ask my students to notice what they notice. Through these questions, I hope students can identify for themselves the type of work they like to do, the spaces they work best in, and the meaningful experiences they’ve had.
Next, I show them how to research and compile lists of jobs that demand the work and skills they value. I direct them to the university’s career services website, and I encourage them to schedule appointments with counselors there. I also show them job ads and resources from LinkedIn, Poets & Writers, and AWP. If my students have time before graduation, I suggest they take on an internship in a field of interest. Above all, I encourage students to conduct informational interviews; they need to call someone who has the job they’re interested in having and ask interview questions about that job.
Some of my students say they “just want to write” or they want to be novelists or poets. I encourage them in their pursuit of paths that allow them to write full time, but I am honest with them about the difficulties they may encounter. Their research assignment, then, becomes one of tracking the paths of their favorite writers and identifying the work those writers did that allowed them to write full time.
Once students find positions they’re interested in, the next step is articulating their skill sets and translating their skills into language that matches the job ads for those positions. For this translation process, I encourage more close reading and research. First, students have to break down the language of the ad and highlight key verbs and requirements. Then, they review the syllabi from their classes and examine the course goals and student learning outcomes, which often have clear verbs. I also encourage them to write out stories of their experiences and pay attention to the language they use when talking about themselves. Are the verbs in the ad the same or synonyms of words in the syllabi and personal stories? Are the experiences the job requires not exactly the same as what the students have, but similar?
Finally, I tell students to lean into their storytelling and argumentation skills. When putting together a resume and cover letter, and later preparing for interviews, I remind my students that they are experts in their own experiences. They need to familiarize their audience, potential employers, with those experiences in a compelling way. They can use story structures we employ in class—rising action, climax, falling action—to succinctly describe how they have successfully navigated workplace or workplace-adjacent situations.
By offering a structure for entering the job search process and reiterating the value of their skill sets, I’ve seen my students grow more confident and excited at the prospect of graduation. The strength of their searches rest on their abilities to re-see themselves in new, professional perspectives—a process that mirrors the way they return to their favorite texts and discover key elements they may have never noticed before. No matter what career path they pursue, I remind my students that if they desire to write they will find ways to do so, if not in the workplace itself, then certainly outside of it.