A Writer of All Trades

resume-1799953_1280While I am relatively content in my current position, I still make an effort to scope out new positions at different companies every once in a while. It never hurts to see what other opportunities are out there, and so this morning, I did just that.

But after looking through the results that came up after searching “Content Manager”, I regret the amount of stress and exasperation that I put myself through at not even 10:00 in the morning. Good grief.

First of all, I saw a position for a Social Media Manager that offered minimum wage. Intrigued, not because I wanted it, but because I was wondering exactly how amazing their company must be to pay someone that little, I clicked the posting. Now, I can’t even remember what the company was or how absolutely wonderful they were (which speaks for itself), but I do remember the requirements for the position.

They wanted someone with excellent written communication skills with experience in Photoshop, CSS, HTML, and JS, as well as a Master’s Degree. Oh, and aside from the responsibilities you would associate with the title, they also wanted someone who could write speeches, prepare reports, and, a little cherry on top for good measure, someone who had management experience. For minimum wage.

Next, I was taken on a different kind of journey. This time, the job title actually matched my search for “Content Manager”. A good sign. The posting was fairly straightforward, but there were a couple of typos, which just goes to show that yes, they really do need a Content Manager.

Since the posting looked relatively interesting, I decided to move onto the next phase of pre-application investigation: I reviewed their website. Oh, boy. Here are some of the issues that I can remember:

  • On their About page, the company name was spelled incorrectly (an obvious typo).
  • They had links to their Team, Websites, and Company pages that just redirected back to the Home page.
  • Their social media links also went back to the Home page.
  • They had nothing on the site to indicate that it was under construction.

While this may not seem as bad as my first finding, I felt it was a bit of a slap in the face. Why? Because the hiring company expects applicants to put in time and effort to apply for this position when they can’t even take the time to ensure that their posting is free of typos and to even mention that their site is in development.

And, as a potential candidate, I was decidedly unenthused after learning that I wouldn’t be able to view their site or social media pages. Something that virtually every applicant will want to do before sending in a resume.

Next was a position from a company that not only spelled the job title incorrectly but that I had worked for in the past, albeit in a different department. I’ll be honest and tell you that I looked at this position mostly out of curiosity and not genuine interest.

Now, this posting was a little more subtle in its faults, but it was a perfect example of how writers, communications professionals, and content leads are expected to “do all the things” in a role that should be specific to their skills.

This job wanted someone who would communicate effectively with clean writing and grammar, develop a cross-country marketing strategy, and create content for online, print, radio, and everything in between, aside from a plethora of other responsibilities.

Now, it doesn’t sound that terrible, I know. But the issue with it lays in the desire to have a writer who can create content for so many different platforms. Yes, we writers are versatile, but just because we know how to write for one medium does not mean we can write in another.

For example, writing for radio is a writing specialization. Certainly, any writer who wishes to can learn how to do it, but it isn’t something that we necessarily just know how to do. It isn’t a ready-made skill that we have in a back pocket, picked up while we took a general communications certification or degree.

Job hunting is hard enough on its own, without all of the garbage job postings and unrealistic expectations these postings seem to be looking for. We are writers. We create content. That does not mean that we can also code a website, design branding, kill it on social media, and essentially run the entire marketing department for a company.

And for those of us who can, minimum wage isn’t going to cut it.

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How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work Experience

How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work ExperienceWe are all aware of the vicious circle that new grads and professionals face—employers want you to have work experience before they will hire you, but you can’t get a job without having experience in your chosen industry.

So, how are you supposed to get work as a writer if you can’t get experience anywhere?

It’s time to use one of those writerly tools that you have hidden away in your back pocket—your creativity. If you can’t find work to put in your portfolio, you’re just going to have to make some for yourself. Because the writing industry is booming with non-fiction postings right now, I’ll focus on how to build your portfolio as an online content creator.

To start, you’re going to have to do some writing that will showcase your skills, whether you’re getting paid for it or not. As someone who has been part of the hiring process for a number of writers, I can tell you that we like to see a variety of pieces, but prefer when at least one is tailored to our industry.

So if you can’t find paid or volunteer work, or what you have done isn’t necessarily relevant or appropriate for the jobs you are applying for, you need to start creating content specifically for your portfolio. That means writing for the sole purpose of having pieces to show potential employers.

Based on what I would want to see, potential topics include:

  • Tech content related to new products, services, news, and more. Pick something that you want to know more about so that at least you are learning something new while writing.
  • Real estate content about landlords, renters, the housing market, DIY projects, selling and buying tips, and first-time buyer and credit information. This is stuff you’re going to have to know at some point anyway, why not start now?
  • Small business and entrepreneurship posts about startups, employment, marketing, and anything in between. You’re basically doing that now if you are trying to start a freelance career, so write about your personal experiences.
  • Industry news and changes related to the places you are hoping to be hired at. Don’t be so specific that you can only use one piece per application, make your content general enough that you can show it to a variety of employers.
  • Writing and editing advice and tips. Show off your skills by working your way towards becoming an influencer in the industry. You can cover things like the technical aspects or talk more about creating a company voice and language.
  • Digital marketing trends. Generally, employers hiring writers now want them to know about SEO and other content-based technicalities. Write about how SEO works, how to use it best, and why it is important.

Aside from writing about these topics, make sure that you showcase your abilities in being a versatile writer. Switch up the type of posts that you are making by writing in a variety of ways, such as:

  • List posts
  • Case studies
  • How-tos
  • Short-form posts
  • Whitepapers
  • Sales focused content
  • SEO heavy pieces

And make sure that you follow best online writing practices with your content, whether you are sending it as a digital attachment or printing it out. That means that you need to make sure that you:

  • Have titles and headers.
  • Break up big chunks of content.
  • Follow best linking practices (specifically regarding anchor text).
  • Use bullet lists.
  • Avoid multiple fonts and overusing bold and italics.
  • Cite sources.
  • Never, ever plagiarize.

Although you aren’t going to be able to say that you wrote this content for a popular website or other online publication, your desire to showcase your skills shows both initiative and determination.

It also shows that, regardless of your lack of experience in the industry, you are fully capable of creating quality content, and that you really do know what you are doing.

Just make sure that you edit carefully and that your samples really are well done. To get an idea of what your dream employer wants in terms of content, spend some time looking around their blog to get a feel for their style and tone before you apply. That will help you to figure out which pieces are best to send them.

And don’t forget to switch up your style between pieces. It’s nice to see versatile writers who can go from sleek, enticing copy, to informational guides, to casual blog posts.

Once you feel that you have enough content, create a digital or printed portfolio, and show recruiters and hiring managers that you have what it takes.

Do you have a portfolio? Do you find it hard to get work as a writer?

I’m on Facebook if you want more.

Writers: Making Yourself Marketable

tie-690084_1280There are two kinds of writers: those who only want to write a book, and those who only want to write.

The first kind only want to write on the side while working a different full-time job. The second kind wants writing to be their full-time job. I am of the second type, and lucky for us, the popularity of the internet has opened many new opportunities for us.

But, as the job postings seem to prove, the simple skill of writing is often not enough for you to get the interview. More and more, employers want candidates to have skills above and beyond one profession, and it can be a steep hill to climb.

However, there are a few skills that can help you to stand out amidst the competition that don’t take a whole new degree to learn. If you are seeking an online writing position, try to add the following to your resume in order to boost your marketability:

SEO. Search engine optimization is something that any business producing online content will want. In a few words, it is writing in a way that uses keywords and long-tail search phrases to get organic traffic from search engines. This basically means that employers want you to write in a way that will help their content to get picked up by Google.

It is way less intimidating than it sounds, and employers value keyword research and SEO writing highly. Do some research, learn about the tools that are out there, and familiarize yourself with them. It’ll do you a world of good.

Social Media Management. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social platforms are a norm for almost any company. Many businesses will want to hire a writer who can not only write posts for social media, but schedule, plan, and maintain them as well.

It’s really quite easy to manage a business page, so to get a feel for it, try setting one up for yourself and play around with it to learn the ropes.

Copywriting and Long-Form. Sure, you can write long-form content, like guides and whitepapers, but can you write copy? Copy is essential for ads, social media posts, emails, and more. It’s also not as easy as it sounds. Copywriting can, in some ways, be more complicated than long-form because you are limited in what you can say. It’s sort of like comparing what you can write in a Facebook post to what you can fit in a tweet.

The same goes for the opposite; if you can only write copy, start learning how to produce longer pieces like articles, blogs, and the like.

Although, in my opinion, it isn’t enough to just do a little research in order to learn how to copywrite or write a whitepaper, doing some reading or taking a course can only help you to beef up your qualifications.

Online Writing. Writing for print and writing for websites are two different beasts altogether. While it is appropriate to have long chunks of writing in print, you want online content to be easy to scan and sort through.

Learn the ins and outs of writing for an online audience, and showcase your skills in your samples. This can help a potential employer to see that you’re ready to publish content to their audience.

Editing. Although most people think that writing and editing go hand-in-hand, they actually don’t. If you are a good writer, but you are a little foggy on when you should use an em dash or what a style guide is, you have some room to grow.

In businesses where you are not the only writer, you will likely be expected to edit your co-workers’ content, which means that you need to know how to spell, punctuate, and organize a sentence.

Brush up on your skills and edit a few pieces as a volunteer to use in your portfolio.


If you invest time in yourself, you are more likely to get noticed. In a job market that is saturated with educated hopefuls, you need to stand out.

By adding a few extra skills to your resume in your down time, you can up your chances of getting noticed, and you might even get a higher compensation offer.

What kind of writer are you? What skills do you have on your resume other than writing?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

 

Creative Ways to Volunteer

Creative Ways to VolunteerIn my experience, volunteering is essential to building writing skills and references. While it can be a bit of a pain to work for free, it helps you to build your resume and portfolio, which you need to do in order to nab that eventual writing position.

Most people start with contacting local newspapers, magazines, or blogs to get their first gig, but many of these places have been inundated with applications and likely aren’t looking for volunteers. Not hearing back can get frustrating, and I know better than anyone that there are only so many places that you can offer services to.

That’s when you need to start getting creative about who you offer your skills to, and just how you offer them. You may have a specific type of writing that you are interested in, but when you’re first starting out, you may have to relax your grip a little in the beginning.

Think about this: basically everything on the internet is content-based. Everyone needs writers. Turn your eyes to charities, small local businesses, and museums. Read up on how to write social media posts, listicles, how-to posts, informational articles, and everything in between. The more skills that you have to give, the more someone is likely to pick you up.

It’s also a good idea to start a blog or site of your own to showcase what you can do. Look for content that needs a good polish in ads, on websites, social media pages, and so on. You are the superhero of good content; where there’s bad writing, you’re there! When you find it, write a polite proposal that talks about how what you do could benefit the business/charity/individual, and highlight that in return, you just want to build your portfolio.

If that doesn’t work, place an ad yourself. Writing today isn’t limited to online content, you can also use your skills to help people by offering to help write speeches, eulogies, obituaries, wedding vows, and more. This makes for unique content that looks good among your other samples, and it’s also a way to use your superhero writing skills for good.

Again, I know it’s not ideal to work for free, but when you’re fresh out of school, and employers are looking for candidates with experience, you have limited options in how you can make yourself stand out. It also gives you a great opportunity to learn new skills and to make excellent professional connections.

Besides, the holiday season is the best time for giving. Even if you don’t have money to donate, you have valuable skills that may even help to make someone’s Christmas all the brighter. Be creative and be open to new things and you’ll build a strong portfolio in no time.

What volunteering or portfolio tips do you have? What is the most unique writing you’ve done?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Applying for Writing Jobs

Applying for Writing JobsAs a senior writer at my day job, I have had the unfortunate task of reviewing a couple of resumes for an opening that we have for a junior writer. Luckily, the ones that I have seen have been narrowed down from a hundred and some odd resumes by someone else, so I’m getting the best of the best (or worst).

Now, before this posting I didn’t quite realize how popular a writing job would be. But it turns out it is quite a desirable position. Whether it’s due to a less than stellar economy, or it’s that there aren’t many writing jobs out there, the response to this particular posting was overwhelming.

But even the few resumes that trickled down into my hands weren’t really all that wonderful. They both had potential, but I was honestly surprised that these were the absolute best of what we had received. That’s why I am going to go over some tips for those of you looking for writing jobs, that may or may not help you to get the position.

    1. Send relevant samples. If you have content related to the business, for example, finance, send it. Even if you only have one piece. Don’t only send that one article you did for an internship. And never send personal writing, such as the speech you wrote for your cousin’s wedding. Only send creative content if it’s requested. Stick to non-fiction for businesses.
    2. Spell the company name correctly. Pay attention to not only the spelling, but the formatting.
    3. Look over your resume for spelling errors at least 3 times, and request that a friend (who has a good grasp on the relevant language) reviews it as well. Use spellcheck. Often, a spelling error on the resume of a writer merits immediate disqualification. Harsh? Maybe.
    4. After you are certain your resume is in perfect shape, and I mean perfect, save it and send as a PDF unless otherwise indicated. It will save your formatting so that it doesn’t look off.
    5. Pay attention to the categories on your resume. Creativity is not a skill, it is an attribute. Social media may be an interest, but unless you have professional experience with it, it is not a skill either. Education should be for your education only, list your awards in a separate section.
    6. Have a professional email address. Of course your email might have to end in “@gmail.com” or “@hotmail.com”, but at least have it start with something like “firstinitial.lastname”.
    7. Don’t butter yourself up too much. In your cover letter and on your resume, avoid using too many adjectives. The person looking over your resume is likely a walking thesaurus from having to read over what you and all of the other applicants have said about yourselves. Be clear, not flowery.
    8. Try to match the writing style of the business’s existing content. Look for onsite content or blog posts and get a feel for their tone and style. Reference it in your resume by saying something like, “I have attached an article that I wrote for ______, similar to the one that you published on your blog about______”. They will love to know that you’ve been paying attention.
    9. Don’t be scared to put a firm salary. Many people put a range that stretches to about a ten thousand dollar difference. That’s a lot of wiggle room. Pick a number that you think you are worth based on your skills and industry standards.
    10. Watch out for your personal social media profiles. If you’re linking to your Twitter or blog, make sure there’s nothing on there an employer shouldn’t see. Guaranteed they are going to take a look, and if they find anything damning, you’re out.

Applying for a writing position can be a little more intense than other positions since your resume is likely to be torn apart and the tiniest mistake can affect whether or not you are considered. Make sure that you have actual, relevant, professional writing experience, a variety of samples, and a good friend with a sharp eye and you’ll be starting off on the right foot.

If you don’t yet have experience or samples, start looking for internships or contract pieces before you start applying for writing positions, if possible, to build your portfolio.

What’s your experience like with applying for writing positions? Do you have any tips for other writers?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

The Unpleasant Parts of Writing

The Unpleasant Parts of WritingI often talk about the good parts of writing on here. The things that make it worth it, and the things that bring us writers together. But writing is not just one big wonderful ball of enjoyment and pleasure. There are aspects of it that I would liken to psychological torture, or perhaps, for the less dramatic, the sound of nails on a chalkboard.

Some of the things that I most abhor about being a professional writer include:

Editing my own work. Seriously, it’s the worst. Once I write something, I want to publish it and be done. I don’t want to look it over, and I really don’t want to read it more than once. As a writer, though, I can’t do it. To pass it off to another editor or writer without even giving it a once over would be quite rude.

Of course, editing the work of someone else is a different beast that I actually enjoy. I would describe it as being like an Easter egg hunt, in that I know there are errors somewhere, I just have to find them.

Writing short copy. Oh, the agony! I find it so boring to sit and think of five different ways to say the same sentence or phrase. I’m good at it, and when it’s done I feel satisfied for having said something in the best way that it could be said, but I really can’t say that I enjoy the process itself. It’s like fishing in a way, waiting for the perfect wording to come to you, baiting it with lesser words and combinations. Hoping something bigger bites so that you don’t end up leaving the office knowing you could have done better.

Finding clients. I haven’t done much of this in a long time, but when this was a focus of my every day life, I found it to be so daunting. I guess I am just better suited to having employment contracts as opposed to relying completely on what business I can drum up.

Writing poorly because that’s what someone else wants. Sometimes clients and employers want what they want. Sometimes, that means writing content that you don’t want to, or writing content in a way that you don’t want to. Sometimes clients may want something that isn’t grammatically correct because it looks or sounds better. Sometimes they want you to mask some tricky marketing message with a bunch of fluff. A sad reality is that your writing may not always be something that you are proud of.

Writer’s block. Thankfully this doesn’t happen to me too often, but when it does I feel like a useless lump. It happened to me today, but I forced myself to write because that what we have to do. The fairy tale notion that movies portray of writers doing what they want to most of the time, and then sitting down one evening, apparently inspired, to write a bestseller is ridiculous. Many of us don’t have the luxury of choosing when we write, but do it either because it’s the only time we have, or because we are paid to do things by deadlines.

Running out of books. Lastly, and this is one that I am suffering from at this very moment, having nothing to read. I have reread everything on my shelf at least once, I have no book orders on the way, and anything that I actually do want to read is packed away in another province out of my reach. I haven’t seen anything I want to pick up lately, and I haven’t received any recommendations that I really wanted to pursue for some time. I’m really just craving a long series or the release of paperback versions of new books that I want to read. It makes me feel like I am in purgatory and it’s quite unpleasant.

I am certain that not all of you will have the same list of negatives as I do. If you did, the writing profession would certainly be a dull and boring thing.

So, what do you dislike the most about writing? Does it change based on how your writing is going?

Please feel free to join me on Facebook if you have a moment.

Freelancing—Will You Have to Work For Free?

Erika_9_typewriterIn short, and in my experience, yes. Because we are in a society where you need experience to get experience, an education is often not enough to get you a job straight out of school. Publishers, marketing firms, and other writer-hiring businesses want you to know what you are doing and to prove that you know. That’s hard when you are just starting out and cannot, for the life of you, find a paying job for whatever you took in school.

It’s disappointing to think that after you accrued a large amount of debt for being trained by professionals, you still don’t qualify for your dream job. It’s even more disappointing to take a job that you could have done before you ever went to school. Let’s note here that I am taking about writing professions here specifically.

Sometimes, the only answer is to start freelancing on your own. But potential clients almost always want to see a portfolio, or at the very least, examples of your work for other clients. How can you show them that you can do what you say if you haven’t worked on any projects yet? You can’t. Unless you work for free.

It’s a devastating blow sometimes to take clients who are willing to accept your skills for free, but who won’t pay you for them. It stings and it gnaws. But if you don’t do some volunteer work, how else are you going to get started? I’ve done my share of free/volunteer work and now I even do some just to be nice. If you find the right people to volunteer for, they’ll likely let you use the work for a portfolio as well as give you a great endorsement. Keep track of everything so that you can use it for a website later on.

I started out by doing an internship with a local magazine. It wasn’t paid, but it was simple. At the end of it, I had a couple of articles published in their national magazine, a recommendation letter, and a valuable reference. Aside from them, I have volunteered for an independent publisher, a clothing business, an RMT, a food business, and now I volunteer for a brilliant little organization called Leaf2Wing (they are trying to save Monarch butterflies by reestablishing milkweed growth in North America). I don’t really need the experience from volunteer work anymore, but it sure feels good to do it anyway.

My advice to any aspiring writers is to start finding volunteer work while you are in school.

  • Post free ads online, talk to friends and family, post flyers, and do whatever else you can think of. Do it while you are in high school and university. Start contacting newspapers, newsletters, publishers, book stores, author groups, and anything else related to your concentration. Make sure that you outline that you will use this work in a portfolio and ask them for a written endorsement after the work is done. Keep their contact info just in case you need to use them for a reference or if you want to check in later on.
  • Be wary of those who ask for too much for free. Set your limits and outline them clearly. I’d suggest using a contract for anything that you do, but sometimes that isn’t practical. At least have a saved email message with the terms outlined and a response back from the business or person acknowledging those terms.
  • Understand that although most of your experiences should be positive if handled properly, not everyone is a “good egg”. Some clients will disappear, get work to you late, or dislike your work for whatever reason. It happens. Suck it up, let it go, and move on.
  • Branch out a bit from your area of expertise. I took publishing in school, but now I work full-time as a writer, and I offer social media marketing, editing, small business planning, and even some design on the side. I haven’t been out of school for that long, but the more that you learn the more likely you are to find people to work for.
  • Don’t be afraid of other industries. I’ve worked with clients in real estate, dentistry, food, publishing, marketing, law, massage, and tons of other industries. Just because you are trained in a specific area doesn’t mean that other industries won’t need your skills. It’s all about gaining positive experience.

All in all, it takes a lot of guts to be a freelancer of any kind. The income is unstable most of the time, if not all of the time, managing multiple clients can make you feel as if you are being pulled in a million directions, time management is difficult in the beginning, and it’s hard to just go out and “find a mentor”, which is what I was told to do many times and never did, though I tried.

Remember that if you keep at it, you’ll get there. It might not always be fun, and it might not always be as magical as you’d hoped, but if you’re doing what you really want to do, and you find some happiness in it, you’re going down the right road.

Do you freelance? Are you hoping to freelance one day? Have you worked for free, or did you start out differently?

 

The Jobs Behind Writers

Work_life_balance_rat_raceBefore I went to school, I did a lot of research on what I wanted to be. I emailed people from all over the world who had the jobs that I wanted to see how to get there. This was how I figured out what I wanted to do. At first, I wanted to be a copyeditor. I have always wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to learn the intricate rules of writing so that I could write in the best way possible.

After figuring out where to go to school, what to take, and so on, I started classes and soon changed my mind about being a copyeditor full-time. I thought that I would despise sales and marketing, but I actually really enjoyed it. Although I have never liked selling things to people who didn’t want them, I found a lot of joy in assisting authors with selling their books and getting the word out to other people who would be interested in them.

I asked every one of my instructors how to start my career, but found the answers to be vague and less than helpful. It seems that writers, marketers, and editors all have different starts. It isn’t as easy as “go to school, graduate, get a job” like in some professions. I faced the usual “you need experience to get experience” difficulty. I did an internship and started to offer writing and editing online and through family and friends. My business did not prosper immediately, but after I signed on with an independent publisher, things got a little better.

Still, I wasn’t satisfied. I spent a few years gaining experience by offering social media marketing, writing, blogging, and even by volunteering once in awhile. I provided these things to many different businesses in various industries. I had to branch out from publishing, but I was ok with it. Still, the constant issue of inconsistent income had me down. Doing what you love doesn’t always pay the bills.

Tomorrow I will be starting my first job as an employee since I went to school. I won’t work for myself, I won’t be a consultant, and I won’t be a contractor. I’ve finally gained enough experience to become employed as a full-time marketing writer. This is both exciting, and a little overwhelming. I’ll still be taking some clients here and there, because I’m addicted to the high that comes with giving someone a hand, but I’ll be doing less and I’ll have a boss that isn’t me.

I know that many writers and editors start out by growing their own businesses while working full-time at an office or elsewhere. It’s what we have to do to get the experience that will get us to where we want to be. I don’t know if I am there yet, but I have been lucky enough to be able to catch a job doing something along the lines of what I want to.

Where are you on your journey as a professional writer or editor (or other)? What’s the best or worst job that you have had while trying to get to where you want to be?

Note: I’ll try to keep up on my posts, but I might miss a few in the beginning as I adjust to my new schedule. Bear with me, folks. I have a feeling I’m going to be pretty worn out.