Carolina VonKampen

Editor. Reader. Writer.

Tag: career advice (page 1 of 2)

What I Learned From My First Conference Experience at the Sigma Tau Delta Convention

Last week, I attended my first-ever professional conference, the Sigma Tau Delta convention, in Cincinnati. As the Sigma Tau chapter president at my university for two years, I was giddy at the prospect of attending the conference and interacting with fellow Sigma Tau Deltans. Even though I’m not in academics or pursuing a master’s degree, I wanted to experience a conference and be in an environment where books and writing were the focus all day and night.

I attended the convention with Hannah, my fellow English major and Sigma Tau officer friend from college, and we had a blast. Spending the days listening to fellow book lovers talk about themes in classic literature and exploring Cincinnati’s bookstores lived up to my expectations. But as with anything in life, I realized after further reflection that I have a lot to learn about the art of conference attending. Here are some areas I learned I need to improve on from my first conference experience:

1. Rest

The crowds were a bit overwhelming!

I did not realize how packed the convention schedule was. Some days, we were in the convention center at 8 a.m. and left at 9:30 p.m. Sure, there are breaks for lunch and dinner, but it’s really hard when you’re an overachiever to feel like you can skip a session if you need a rest. I felt like I needed to attend every session because I paid to be there and it would be a waste of time and money to not get the most out of the experience. But…that’s pretty taxing, especially when you’re an introvert who melts a little just from being around people (even when you’re not talking to them).

At future conferences, I’m going to be a bit more strategic about planning breaks throughout the day, even if it means skipping a session to sit alone in a corner somewhere and refresh.

2. Live

In addition to needing time to rest amid the crazy convention schedule, I also learned that in the future, I need to make time for certain aspects of my everyday life. For example, I didn’t call my husband on the phone from Tuesday to Saturday. I finally made time to call him on Saturday—and we came home on Sunday. I learned that I can’t just focus solely on the conference; I need to also schedule time to talk to family.

Additionally, for future conferences, I need to have a better plan for handling freelance work that pops up during the event. At this point in my freelance career, I have very few clients, so I try to say yes to everything. Unfortunately, a few existing and new clients wanted things edited while I was at the convention, which was very difficult to swing given the busy schedule.

3. Restaurants

I don’t regret spending money on this amazing drink one night.

I regret not planning which restaurants I wanted to try before the conference. When you arrive in a new city and have no idea where you want to eat, you end up staring at your phone a lot, scrolling through restaurant after restaurant. It’s not a good use of your time. Next time I attend a conference, I’m going to have a list of a few restaurants I want to visit before I set foot in the city.


4. Food

Speaking of restaurants, I also learned it’s super expensive to eat out for every single meal when you’re at a conference. Part of the problem here was that I frequently slept in too late, meaning I didn’t have time to eat the cinnamon rolls I brought or the coffee our Airbnb host provided for us.

Hannah, on the other hand, very smartly packed sandwiches to eat for lunch throughout the conference; even though the sandwiches got a little boring by the end, this approach definitely saves money. For future conferences, I’m going to plan out a few meals that I can prep beforehand.

That said, some of the best parts of the weekend were spent at restaurants. It was worth it to spend a few bucks on a drink here and a nicer meal there; it made hanging out with Hannah and exploring a new city even more fun. I think I just need to focus on balancing restaurants with prepared food and snacks more.

5. Hydrate

It’s the most cliche advice for literally any event, but I messed up anyway: I kept forgetting to throw a water bottle in my backpack. As in, I forgot to do this every. single. day. Needless to say, I was a bit dehydrated in general throughout our stay in Cincinnati, although the convention did provide water in each room. But you probably can’t count on conventions providing water, so next time, I’m putting a water bottle in my backpack and filling it up frequently.

6. Explore

Luckily, there was a bookstore right across the street from the convention.

This is something we actually did do! Hannah and I visited some of Cincinnati’s bookstores, walked to the convention from our Airbnb when the weather allowed, and toured the Harriet Beecher Stowe house while we were in Ohio. I’m so glad we made time to walk around the city and get to know it a bit.

7. Network

I’ll admit: I didn’t really talk to anyone at the conference. The only people I talked to included Hannah (obviously), the registration desk people, and the panelists at the roundtable on creating a university publication. I recognize how…bad…this is. One of the main points of conferences and conventions is to mingle, network, meet people who can later connect you to your dream job in book publishing, etc.

But in my defense, I had no idea what to expect. It was a lot of people. And I didn’t really have anything to say to anyone other than the lit mag editor panelists. That’s not a great excuse though; at future events, I’m going to push myself and set goals to talk to more people.

8. Notes

I did take notes consistently throughout the sessions I attended, and I can’t imagine attending a conference and NOT taking notes. I’m not the best at remembering verbal presentations, so scribbling stuff down helps me keep it in my memory. After all, there’s really no point in paying to go to hear people talk about books and writing and such if you aren’t going to remember any of it a week later.

9. Weather

I totally blanked and didn’t check the weather for our drive to Cincinnati. Turns out, there was a snowstorm that night, and as I hate driving in snow, we ended up staying at a hotel in Indiana instead of driving through the snow. Lesson learned: Next conference, I’m going to check the forecast.

In conclusion

I enjoyed attending my first conference experience and my first Sigma Tau Delta convention. I could have planned a better experience using the takeaways above, but overall, it was an excellent week, and I learned so much. I’m excited to put these takeaways into action for my next conference, the ACES Conference in Chicago in April, and I can’t wait for next year’s Sigma Tau Delta convention in St. Louis!

What are your tips for attending conferences and conventions? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Your Career Column: Here’s How You Find an Internship

So you think you want to be an intern? Great idea—an internship can help you earn college credit, gain real-world experience in your career field, make connections with people in your line of work, and figure out whether you really want to do this type of work once you get out of college.

But finding internships that are relevant to your career interests isn’t always easy, especially if you can’t afford to move outside your home state or the area you attend college. Luckily, I’ve got a few tips and tricks you can use to find an internship near you: Continue reading

How I Successfully Cold Emailed My Way Into Two Publishing Internships

‘Twas the summer of 2016, and I was desperate for an internship somehow related to publishing. After my searches for internships showed that there were no relevant ones in St. Louis, where I would live for the summer, I had to figure out how to get the professional experience I desired. I had a list of publishers and literary magazines in St. Louis, so I started cold emailing. Not all of my cold emails were successful; most recipients never acknowledged my emails, in fact. But two were successful.

I emailed Amphorae Publishing and Open Books Press/Brick Mantel Books, introduced myself, and asked whether they needed an editorial intern for the summer. Both publishers responded that yes, they could use an intern.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I know some special secret about cold emails. I don’t—I just got lucky. But if my emails succeeded, maybe they’ll work as helpful templates for writing your own cold emails. Continue reading

Your Career Column: How to Rock an Interview

I’m not going to lie to you: Interviews are scary.

Even worse, interviews don’t get easier. In fact, based on my experiences, they only get harder as the stakes get higher. Interviewing for my first job at a movie theater in high school was nerve-wracking to be sure, but there wasn’t quite as much at stake as there was when I interviewed via Skype for my first editorial internship and managed to get diagnosed with pneumonia hours prior to the call. And once you get into interviews for actual jobs—not just internships—you better be ready to sweat it out and try to not get sick in the hours before it.

I’ve interviewed various ways for internships and jobs in the past few years, from Skype conversations to phone calls to emails to driving four hours round-trip for an in-office interview.  Read my interview tips in my column with The Sower: “Your Career Column: How to Rock an Interview.”

Your Career Column: What Do I Put on My Resume?

Oh, how I wish there was an easy, cookie-cutter answer to the question, “What do I put on my resume?” I can tell you for certain to include your name, contact info, education and relevant work experience, but beyond that, you’re going to have to do some Googling.

That’s because what to include on your resume varies by what type of job you’re applying for and what industry it’s in. It’s like how you use different writing style guides for papers in different academic departments: English papers use MLA, history papers require Chicago and psychology papers work with APA. Similarly, various career fields will want you to highlight or emphasize particular aspects of your professional development.

And just like each professor has different requirements on a class syllabus about attendance, participation, late assignments, etc., each employer has slightly different requirements and job descriptions. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when it comes to crafting your resume—figure out what each employer is looking for and tailor your resume to those expectations.

Read my tips for creating a customized resume in my latest Your Career Column for The Sower, “What Do I Put on My Resume?”

Your Career Column: Building Your Personal Professional Website

First of all, what is a personal professional website? It’s basically a website about your professional goals and accomplishments. This could include a portfolio of your work, whether that’s descriptions of your teaching philosophies and classroom experiences, links to articles or poetry you’ve written, descriptions of career-related projects you’ve developed and completed, or collections of your artwork or photography. Your personal professional site could also double as a blog if you want to write regularly about a certain topic.

If you’re worried that you don’t have enough to show off, your personal professional website can just be a more detailed version of your resume or LinkedIn profile. For example, when I created my first professional website, I made pages for each section you’d put on a resume: skills, education, work experiences and more. On each page, I went into detail about projects I’d worked on, what I learned from my classes, etc. I also included links to samples of my work, such as blog posts I’d written and social media accounts I had started. My goal was to show future employers what I was passionate about and show them how my education and experiences made me a great candidate to work with. Continue reading

Do I Need a Blog as a College Student?


Okay, that seems a bit simplistic. One word and the entire article is done. But let me explain.

Some career paths are more geared toward blogs and personal websites than others. For example, I knew that I wanted to get into book publishing. A common skill required of entry-level positions in publishing is writing reviews of manuscripts, a.k.a. reading a book/story/collection of poems and submitting a written evaluation of it. Naturally, then, a way to prove to potential publishing employers that you know how to write book reviews is to have a blog where you write book reviews. Thus, having a book review blog seems essential to the college student looking to break into the publishing world. Continue reading

Your Career Column: No-Stress Guide to Filling Out a LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn can be intimidating. It’s one thing to throw a Twitter or Instagram profile together; it’s quite different to create what is essentially an online resume. The pressure of putting together a perfect profile seems daunting, but I promise it’s not hard.

The benefits of filling out your LinkedIn profile definitely outweigh the nervousness you’ll feel by taking a tangible step toward your career. Filling out a LinkedIn profile makes it easier to create your resume, research jobs to apply for, connect with people in your field and attract the attention of employers looking for the perfect candidate.

Block off half an hour to an hour to sit down with your computer and follow these steps to create your LinkedIn profile. And remember, if you get stuck on something, just Google it and you’ll find plenty of professional advice on crafting LinkedIn profiles. Read the rest of my “Your Career Column: No-Stress Guide to Filling Out a LinkedIn Profile” with The Sower.

Why You Should Make a LinkedIn Profile Before Your Resume

Everyone who has applied for a job—or even started the application process—knows that every company asks for your resume. Resumes are important; they have all the information about you and your work experience that a potential employer needs to know. But although resumes are a very important part of applying for jobs and internships, you shouldn’t try to create one without first filling out your LinkedIn profile. Here’s why. Continue reading

Why Studying Abroad Is Great for Your Future Career

If I’m being honest, classroom time was one of the least valuable experiences I had while studying abroad.

I know, I know; that’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true: It’s the experiences that take you outside the classroom that make studying abroad…well, studying abroad. You can take classes anywhere in the world, but it’s going out and exploring new place that you’re in that makes studying abroad such a rewarding experience.

But that also means that the experiences you have outside the classroom while you’re studying abroad are hard to quantify. It’s easy to show how your internship or classes line up with specific skills employers are looking for, such as proofreading, implementing a nutrition plan or entering data into a spreadsheet. Figuring out how to include study abroad on your resume is harder because the skills you develop while studying abroad are soft skills. Continue reading

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