Kenneth Lapins, Freelance Journalist & Copywriter
1991 DePaul English Alum
Allow me to introduce you to Kenneth Lapins. Kenny graduated from DePaul in 1991 with a BA in English. Since then, he’s established himself as a freelance journalist and copywriter. We sat down with (ok, emailed) Kenny to ask the really good questions, including how to find jobs after graduation, establishing contacts in your field, networking, and making your English degree work for you. Here’s what he had to say:
Underground: What year did you complete your English major at DePaul? Did you have a concentration, or did you double major or minor in another area?
Kenneth Lapins: 1991. I did not have a concentration, double major, or minor.
U-2: Did you pursue any graduate or professional studies after you graduated?
U-3: What’s your current position? Describe a typical day at work.
KL-3: I am a freelance copywriter working at various agencies in Chicago. In the past 18 months, I have worked at Leo Burnett, Element79 Partners, and Sapient. In a typical day, I will be writing a copy describing a wide-range of consumer products (such as refrigerators, dishwashers, frozen foods, and tractors). I may meet with a creative director or client to deliver the copy and respond to and incorporate their feedback.
U-4: How did you find your first job after graduation and/or your current position? Be specific about the steps you took to explore possibilities and to secure a position. (Inquiring minds want to know!)
KL-4: My first job was as a proofreader for a tax and law publisher. It was horribly tedious work. I got the job through the referral of the father of a friend. However, I still had to interview and nail the interview tests, so getting the referral from a friend’s father was just the first step … I had to earn the job like everyone else.
My current position was obtained through networking. I recently made a career change back into the creative agency world in Chicago, after having spent a few years in an internal communication role at a corporation. To do this, I reached out to the creative directors I worked with in my past and asked them if they knew of any opportunities. One of them responded positively and enthusiastically recommended me for a job at Leo Burnett. Once I had Leo Burnett on my resume, other opportunities for freelancing in the city became possible. My short-term goal is to secure a full-time agency position as a Senior Copywriter.
U-5: How important has networking been in your employment searches? How did you find or build contacts in your desired field?
KL-5: As mentioned above, networking is critical. You simply cannot get ahead without a recommendation. Think of it this way: every time a job opportunity opens up in this economy, hundreds if not thousands of people will apply. You need a recommendation from someone in your network to get your resume to the top of the pile. Again, this is just the first step; you still have to earn the job by nailing the interview and having relevant experience.
U-6: How does your English major help you in your current position?
KL-6: As a professional writer, I would not be able to do what I do without the knowledge I gained at DePaul. Period. I also have a column in my local newspaper. Again, without my English degree and the things I learned about creative writing, style, and journalism, I would not be able to do it.
U-7: What advice would you give current English majors about their studies or extracurricular activities while they are still at DePaul?
KL-7: No matter what field you go into, being able to write well will give you an advantage.
U-8: What advice would you give to graduating students as they move into the job market?
KL-8: Be prepared to start at the bottom. However, once you are “in” somewhere, it is up to you how fast you move up. I started my career as a proofreader, but I only stayed in that position for eight months. I applied for and got a position within my company as a technical writer in a different department. I then parlayed that position into a position as a technical writer at a consulting company in Chicago. Within a year I was a team leader. Within five, I was leader of the group. You are responsible for your career growth, no one else. You have to differentiate yourself. Do more than is expected. Be invaluable. Be innovative. Over-deliver.
U-9: Is there any additional advice or information you would like to pass on to our majors?
KL-9: It CAN be done. You CAN succeed with an English major. Just focus on your strengths. They will be valuable no matter where you end up.
Check out Kenny’s interview with DePaul’s ASK Network (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) about being a newspaper columnist in the digital age.
Written by: The Underground, 2011
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