A handful of people — readers, friends and friends of friends — have reached out to me, asking for tips on securing a professional writing job or switching careers and breaking into journalism.
To preface this post: I am, by no means, a wildly successful writer or editor. I’m pretty low on the totem pole at work. I’m still fairly young (though my once-a-month, stress-induced grey hair may imply otherwise); I make mistakes; and I have eons to learn about journalism, digital media, writing, the world, myself, etc. And I’m aware that anything could happen (a bad economy, a bad stroke of luck, a bad piece of steak) between now and two months from now — or maybe three years or even a dozen years.
But I will say that I have a decent amount of experience job hunting and going through the meticulous and painstaking yet rewarding steps of starting a career. I have experienced a wide range of employment ever since working as a water park ride attendant in the 7th grade (helloooo T-shirt tan!), each job accompanied with incredible mentors, managers and co-workers.
And right now, I can say that I genuinely love my job. So I thought I’d share the following advice on this blog (some of which can apply to job-seekers of different fields), along with a handy dandy checklist:
Dear friend, hopefully not foe, who is valiantly searching for a writing/journalism job,
Be willing to sacrifice — temporarily — notions of a dream job or a specific niche.
- Take an editorial internship, even if it’s unpaid. (And unpaid internships can still be difficult to find if you are not in school, as companies usually prefer interns who can receive school credit. See if you can find a company willing to bend those rules or pay a small stipend.) Also, internships can sometimes evolve into full-time positions. If they don’t, fine — that internship is another relevant position to beef up your resume.
Both of my past editorial internships were unpaid. One took place during summer, while I tutored at my alma mater’s writing center; served/bussed/hosted at a restaurant; and participated in launching the university’s first online magazine as editor-in-chief (also for free). The other took place after I graduated with a degree in journalism, on Saturdays and Sundays while working full-time during the week for a temp admin/technical writing (i.e., non-journalism) position. Neither turned into a full-time role. Yep, internships are not really fun or glamorous. But you do get invaluable learning experience, and as of right now, they are a reality of the writing industry.
– If an internship is out of the question — none are available, or you just don’t have the time — pitch stories to publications. Write for pennies, or write for free. Write because you love to write.
Personally, patience is far from my strong suit. But striving to maintain a balance of patience and a strong hustler mentality will ease this trying process. Pinky swear.
- Make that resume shine! Check for spelling and grammar (remember, verbs describing tasks at former jobs should be in past tense!); list all apropos experience, awards/honors and skills; and be thorough and comprehensive with your past job experiences.
- Add (an appropriate dose of) personality to your cover letter. Your future employer has to work with you and see your lovely face every single day. So your face better come with a likable personality! Give a little sneak peek of that in your cover letter. Also, I particularly enjoyed, and have utilized, this Slate piece about cover letters. To sum it up: keep it short, advocate yourself, prove that you have done your apt research, explain how you will benefit the employer, stay relevant and follow instructions.
- Pimp out your LinkedIn. Good news! You have much more space to #HumbleBrag on your LinkedIn page than on a 8.5-by-11-inch sheet. Recruiters DO peruse Linkedin for job candidates (I was recruited for my first full-time editor job through that magnificent social media platform). Treat it as a digital resume: no errors and no typos. Ask former co-workers and employers to endorse you, but endorse them first! :)
- Create an online website/portfolio showcasing your knowledge, expertise and best assets — in addition to your sparkly resume and Linkedin profile. And if you’d like, start a blog, which can serve as a live portfolio of your writing skills, graphic design skills, social media skills, etc. It also shows you are willing to put in extra “work” hours outside of a full-time job in order to pursue a passion. BE THE UNICORN.
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