This week’s Featured Spartan was Kimberly Medlock, a Writer by trade and Communications Expert by practice. (See her LI profile for more information.) Kimberly agreed to answer questions about her industry, career background, projects, and anything else that may help Spartans to develop as a professional. This discussion was open from 04/07/15 until 04/22/15.
Spartan Insights is a regularly scheduled Linkedin discussion thread inside of the MSUALUMNI Linkedin group. Each discussion is meant to give you the opportunity to ask questions regarding one Spartan’s experience within a specific company, industry, or occupation. Answers will be given at the convenience and discretion of the featured Spartan and will be answered from the Spartan’s own personal experiences and opinions which are not meant to be representative of his/her company’s official position. Questions regarding a person’s applicant status at the featured Spartan’s place of business will not be answered in this forum. Interested in being a helpful Spartan? Contact me at email@example.com.
Hello Fellow Spartans!
I am excited to connect with each of you and participate in this discussion!
Just a few quick points of background to kick things of…
* I am born and raised in the Lansing area, and still enjoy the opportunities and continued growth of my hometown! (#lovelansing, anyone?)
* I hold BAs in English and Professional Writing, both from MSU
* Currently, I’m working on an MS in Integrated Marketing Communications,
* I started my MSU journey with the intent to teach, and realized quickly that my passions rested in helping others reach their audiences and communicate effectively. (It was then that I retuned to MSU for my second degree)
* I consider myself a life-long learner, and am a firm believer in taking the road less traveled to find that right next step toward becoming your best self.
My experience spans both private and public sector, though at this point in my life, I couldn’t imagine being any place other than my current position. Public education administration offers the challenge of both worlds, and has allowed for my career talents to diversify and expand within internal and external communications as well as marketing and advertising.
I look forward to your questions, thoughts, and ideas! Thank you for the opportunity!
Hi Kimberly! Thanks for helping Spartans in this way. I’ll kick things off with the first question. I’m curious about how you integrate you love of literature (English major) into your professional writing (Marketing/Communications.) Are these separate worlds for you, or do they collide in some way that those of us who are “non-writers” can’t quite understand?
Great question! The short answer: The two DEFINITELY collide! On the whole, my first degree shaped my ability to better understand narrative construction and meaning – and telling a great story can be a magic tool in reaching an audience. This can be particularly true in circumstances when you’re tasked with framing and promoting a brand’s image or constructing meaning behind campaigns – creative narrative can always lend a helping hand!
For me, I often reach for a narrative tactic when aiming to elicit an emotional response or connection from the reader that may otherwise feel disconnected from the information you’re sharing. It pulls people in on a level they may believe to be more approachable, and opens the door to a relationship between the reader and the message.
That being said, I’m fortunate to have been able to continue to “use” my first degree by teasing out and building upon the skills and knowledge that translate across industries!
I love that idea of translatable skills the cross industries, I wonder if you could talk a bit more about that? Aside from knowing mysterious (mysterious to me, anyway) things like how to actually use a semi-colon correctly, what other kinds of things might a person learn from having majored in “English” or “Professional Writing” that are marketable across industries/occupations? A related question: Do you have any advice for experiences/classes/skills that current/future students should be getting involved with before they leave MSU? Finally, I’m pretty sure I used that colon incorrectly in the prior sentence, because I think the rule is that it is suppossed to precede a list. However, I’m not really sure (because I was never an English major, and grammar is a fair-weathered friend of mine.) As a result of my ignorance, it is likely that you are seething inside, while still remaining calm, professional, and friendly on the outside. So, here is my third question if you want to answer it. What common writing errors do you see that people really need to learn how to fix? (No offense taken if your list happens to include my common errors.)
Colleen – Hi Kimberly! I am graduating in four short weeks and have been actively searching for a Marketing or Event Planning job in the San Antonio, TX area. I am really striving to work for a creative/boutique marketing firm. What would be your best advice for making a cover letter more creative and giving the reader a sense of your personality while still making it sound professional?
I’d be happy to expand on the concept! (Credit where it is certainly due, the notion of translatable skills is a valuable lesson I learned from you while working at the Alumni Association!) One thing I learned quickly as I entered my career is how valuable accessible and diverse writing can be across diverse work environments. Identifying transferrable skills in the application process starts with first recognizing your own universal talents or strengths within your own experiences, maximizing/highlighting those on your resume, and pointing to their applicability within your cover letter. You also have the option to build upon those skills with supplemental training or more focused coursework.
Additionally, I suggest that everyone thoroughly research various positions and job postings while still working toward your degree – it allows you to be one step ahead in recognizing the applications of you knowledge base, and provides insight into building your professional skillset around your education and personal passions (without feeling that it is at risk of being “wasted”).
As an example, while I adore writing, the industry opportunities for writers are minimal. I made a point to work toward a skillset in multi-media communications, graphics, and design. In the age of content creation, blogging, online journalism, and small-business branding, those with English degrees can offer so much across various industries in terms of creating effective, useful content applicable to various media platforms.
To your question regarding common errors: while I’m slightly out of practice with my proofing skills, there are a few common mistakes that jump out frequently (though I am far from perfect, myself!)
Grammatically, you’d be surprised how many people underuse punctuation, particularly commas, in general communications. These are the pieces that help convey the meaning behind your text! The use of a proper dash, semi-colon, comma, or parenthesis can transform the experience for your reader.
Stylistically, I’ve noticed in my freelance work that many often reach for a thesaurus as a means to elevate the sentence, and I often find that to be a mistake. The construction of your words can achieve a great deal – without having to utilize those “five dollar words” that send most readers to the dictionary (or away from your writing).
Finally, and this is just a personal peeve, study your quick lists of commonly confused words. I recently posted an article to my Facebook page that is SO helpful in finally breaking through those tricky and confusing pairs! (Here’s the link for those who may be interested http://muse.cm/1CkXLYR)
Thanks Kimberly! To your own credit you were a terrific employee and bright student, so there really wasn’t much for me to teach you. You had a terrific start, and it has been fun watching you grow as a professional! Can you talk a bit about what that has been like for you? Were their “landmines” that you stepped on in your workplace(s) that helped you to learn something new as you were starting out? Which of your assumptions as a student did you find to be untrue (or true) about the way the world outside of school works post-graduation?
That is a question that I think everyone struggles with as graduation approaches (is there anyone out there who enjoys writing a cover letter??) With the benefit of hindsight, I would ensure that you take the time in your cover letters to relate your creative insights to the image of the firm’s own specific brand. Research examples of work they have done. Use a few sentences in your cover letter to acknowledge your appreciation of their work, and emphasize the value you bring with your own similar qualities and taste.
Some would recommend branding or designing your cover letter and resume to demonstrate some of you basic marketing and branding abilities. My advice would be to proceed with caution when it comes to over-embellishments (keep it chic and clean), but to utilize continuity and certainly allow your own tastes and creativity to shine through.
Another recommendation for anyone embarking on the adventure of job searching is to keep in mind your audience. One thing about creative, and especially boutique, marketing/PR firms is that they are often smaller operations with few staff, so you are less likely to have your application run through a machine of departments; chances are, your cover letter and resume will be seen by one of the firm’s directors (or even founding members). You will be reaching out to people who have a deep connection to their firm, and want to hire those with the commitment to appreciate the grassroots effort and personally invest. If you take the time to share your genuine appreciation of the unique qualities of the firm (while also interweaving your own abilities to work well with those qualities), you will be able to hit on those key touch points, and highlight your professional talents and contributions.
On that note: Please let me know as graduation approaches if you’d appreciate a second set of eyes over your application materials! I’d be more than happy to assist!
Colleen – I hope you will take Kimberly up on that offer. I can attest that she knows what she’s talking about, has a great eye for details, and is a terrific “brainstormer” and editor!
Kevin Palczynski -Read, read, read! Read anything and everything, all styles, all forms. Read newspapers and magazines. Read novels and poetry. Read scientific journals.
And then when you’re done reading others words to fill your mind and inspire you, find the time to sit down and write, write, write. Write letters, write poetry, write gibberish. Craft your style. One day, work on expanding your thoughts; the next day, work on editing your work to condense it to its very essence. Find your voice on paper (on the computer screen) then run with it.
Dave Isbell – Great advice Kevin! Kimberly, related to Kevin’s comment, what are a few “must reads” that you think every writer should have in their collection?
There are so many great resources out there! My recommendations here are primarily for those outside of the “nerdery” of copy editing and grammar enthusiasts. The books below were chosen because they are accessible, broadly applicable, and appealing to those within various industries. Of course, these are just a few that I believe any can sharpen up nearly anyone’s writing style and skill, and if anyone out there is looking for something more specific – reach out! I’ll help in any way I can to help track down something more suited to your questions.
The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing (2000), by Thomas Kane. An all-around, endlessly useful, and inclusive resource for those tasked with any type of writing, from admissions essays to short stories!
Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (2010), by Patricia T. O’Conner. If you are looking to grab hold of the “quirks” of the English language that many of us ignored in high school, this is a great book for aspiring grammar enthusiasts!
The Elephants of Style (2004), by Bill Walsh. This book is living proof that grammar can be fun, and helps every writer to understand and brush up on the “biggies” that strengthen your writing and prevent a cringe from editors.
Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) (2013), by Marcia Riefer Johnston. Whether you’re an experienced writer hoping to brush up or an occasional writer looking to improve your skill and confidence, I recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves faced with the task of writing on the job (isn’t that all of us, at some point?).
Hope one or more of these might be useful! I’m always excited to share the tools that have increased my love and appreciation of writing, so it was tough to narrow the list down to just these few.
Great list! Thanks! I’m no “writer” but just to add one more, a writer friend recommended “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg, and when I read it I was really inspired to attempt to write. One more question. What are some “non-instructional” books, you think everyone should read as a great example of how language can be beautiful as art, or how it can innovate, inspire, or move people to action? (One example that comes to my mind is “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It not only was a great read, but it is often attributed as the inspiration for northerners to get involved in ending slavery during the 1800’s. Talk about the impact a book can have, wow!)
This question has the potential to expand into pages of dialogue! But I’ll try my best to be brief. I have less of an objective response to this type of question, because I believe that many non-instructional books – just like any other form of art, such as movies or music – speak the loudest to who you are and where you are at that moment in your own life. Moreover, connections to books are deeply personal; a book that I find inspirational, moving and beautifully written could land with a thud when I recommend it to one of my peers! On the whole, personal favorite authors/titles include Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri (everyone should read Interpreter of Maladies), Junot Diaz, and Gabriel García Márquez. There’s also much to be said for the value of several pieces within what are often defined as the classic and modern canons of literature: two of my own favorites being Of Mice and Men and Beloved (amongst many others). While they may not inspire action in everyone, these texts have certainly changed the way I view certain aspects of my surroundings, taught valuable lessons, and left behind lingering, long-term effects.
As a final note, I want to genuinely thank everyone (especially Dave!) for this opportunity to engage with each of you and share some insight into the world of professional writing and communication! It has been a true pleasure!