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Getting That First Job

Recalling encouragement from his mentor Alice Echols, Sean Little ’06 traces his bachelor’s in English to an M.B.A. to a position as vice president of marketing at a job placement startup company.

By Laura Paisley
May 23, 2013

Sean Little, who graduated from USC Dornsife in 2006 with a bachelor's in English, was inspired by his professor and mentor Alice Echols to use his English degree in an innovative way. Little photo by Erica Christianson. Echols photo by Philip Channing.

Sean Little, who graduated from USC Dornsife in 2006 with a bachelor's in English, was inspired by his professor and mentor Alice Echols to use his English degree in an innovative way. Little photo by Erica Christianson. Echols photo by Philip Channing.

As many children do, Sean Little dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Then the Manhattan Beach native decided spending his days in the sunshine as a lifeguard was his calling. By the time he reached high school, he felt a tug to become a doctor — until he learned that meant a decade in school.

“When it came to my aspirations, I had interest in a mix of things,” said Little, who graduated from USC Dornsife in 2006 with a bachelor’s in English. “But, everything I wanted to do had some aspect of wanting to help people or change things for the better.”

At USC Dornsife, he decided to pursue English, since language, reading and writing had always been second nature to him. By this point, pursuing law seemed like a “safe and standard” career path, and he knew the skills from an English degree would be transferable.

His perspective changed after taking a course from Alice Echols, Barbra Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies and professor of English, gender studies and history in USC Dornsife.

“Alice is one of those rare teachers over the years that really stands out,” Little said. “Her life blew me away, she’s done so much — she was a deejay, she’s written books, she’s been all over the world. I thought, ‘This is who I want to be: someone who lights up a room, someone who makes a difference in the world, is dynamic and has myriad interests.’ ”

During his senior year, Little took an internship with a law firm. The experience ended up throwing “a bit of cold water” on his idealistic vision of a career in law. Shortly after he graduated, he was ready to try something different. Echols encouraged him to explore his passions. With a growing interest in business, he accepted his first job with a personal finance company. Interacting with individual clients and families was satisfying to him, and he was pleased to find himself frequently contributing his writing skills in an office of colleagues who were generally more business oriented.

Little followed his passion for business to the University of San Francisco, where he earned an M.B.A. in 2012. Today, he is vice president of marketing for FirstJob, a San Francisco-based technology startup. The Web site helps students and recent graduates find internships and entry-level jobs through a curated database of positions and by harnessing the power of their existing social networks.

“It’s great because I’m able to be in the business side of things and manage all the marketing and messaging, but we’re also here to make an impact and help college grads get their first jobs, which is very important for them and their lives and the country as a whole. The fact that I get to work toward both things at once makes me happy.”

Even with his business school education and position at a technology startup, Little finds he uses his English degree every day. He writes the company blog, manages its social media channels and is a guest blogger for a number of other companies and Web sites.

“[Echols] helped me realize that I could combine my love of business with my loves of English and making an impact in the world — that I didn’t have to choose a one-dimensional path.”

If you’re wondering how Little got his first job out of school, the answer is simple: by utilizing his social and professional network. FirstJob, he said, accomplishes this in a streamlined way. Naturally, he has some advice for recent graduates.

“Don’t let your major define who you are. Try to understand what your strengths are and how your skills might transfer across disciplines. Be open to new experiences, try different things, find a mentor and develop yourself as a person.

“Some people say ‘just follow your passion,’ but sometimes your passion can grow from hard work as you get better at doing things. Take your skills, enhance them and let your passion drive you.”