Sarah Eilefson received her PhD in English from Loyola in 2015. She is currently a managing editor for First Page Sage, a search engine optimization firm. Dr. Eilefson caught up with history PhD candidate Katie Macica to discuss her current position and how her education has helped her navigate her career path.
Describe your current position
I'm the managing editor for a search engine optimization (SEO) firm called First Page Sage (FPS). In this 100% remote position, I lead a team of 20 full-time employees and several dozen freelance writers. On any given day, I conduct one-on-one meetings with employees via video conference, review content produced by team members to ensure it meets our company’s high standards, develop new processes or protocols, work with the leadership team to roll out new initiatives, interview potential candidates, or speak with a client on a teleconference.
What are the most interesting and/or challenging aspects of your job?
Working remotely is fantastic, but it does cut down on the "water cooler" time that can be so critical to forming relationships and advancing individual and company goals. I love working with the writers and editors at FPS because they bring so much depth of research or personal experience to every project—I learn something new every time I get involved in a “deliverable” (blog post, article, web page, etc.) for a client!
How did your graduate education at Loyola prepare you for your position?
In many ways, my graduate study was crucial in preparing me for this role. Coursework exposed me to a variety of fields, theoretical approaches, and writing and interpretive styles, making me a better interpreter of the client’s wishes and a stronger editor. Preparing for the comprehensive examinations taught me to master enormous amounts of data, which was crucial in stepping into a dynamic and demanding role. Teaching composition and literature courses trained me in classroom management, pedagogy, and the importance of short- and long-term goals, which are critical for supervising, training, and motivating employees. Writing my dissertation taught me large project management skills, which I apply every time I develop and disseminate a new process or protocol to my team. Finally, Loyola helped prepare me by making available so many extraordinary faculty members who supported my interdisciplinary research: my mentors in my research and teaching assistantships, those in the graduate school who encouraged me to take part in the research mentorship program, and my exam and dissertation committee members.
How did you envision your career trajectory as a graduate student?
I have a varied resume. After college, I worked for four years as a divorce paralegal, and during my graduate study I was the grants and communications coordinator and then the director of programming for the National Veterans Art Museum. Although I would love to teach at the college level and have continued to write and research since graduation—including an article on the textual history of All Quiet on the Western Front forthcoming in Scholarly Editing—I never felt that an academic teaching or research position was the only career pathway available to me. I am grateful to Loyola for regularly providing opportunities to explore career pathways outside academia and think that my confidence to pursue a range of opportunities has stemmed, in part, from those insights.
What led you to this career?
Immediately after graduation, I took a part-time position as an editor for an online journal of medical humanities and taught one course with the "PhD" behind my name. I then worked briefly as a legal secretary before accepting a position as the communications director for a security consulting firm. After a year in that role, I accepted this opportunity to directly manage a large team and take a significant role in shaping process, policy, and output for a fast-paced and growing company. In many respects, my current role at FPS is the natural culmination of my past experiences at Loyola and beyond. Being the managing editor combines the strategic approach of being a divorce paralegal, the marketing and management skills of working at the National Veterans Art Museum, the content development of my time writing reports for the security consulting firm, and the large project management skills—and more—I honed as a graduate student.
Do you have any advice for current graduate students about career exploration and navigating the job market?
Recognize the value of your graduate training, and translate those skills into language that hiring coordinators can understand. Leverage your network: I’m always happy to hear from former students or Loyola alumni looking for professional advice. And find time to focus on what’s most important to you, whether it’s a passion project, a cultural event, or a networking opportunity with a potential mentor.