A handful of people — acquaintances, 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 all of this: I'm still early in my career; I'm fairly young (though my once-a-month, stress-induced grey hair may imply otherwise); 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 or, heaven forbid, 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 and strengthening a career. I have experienced a wide range of employment ever since working as a water park ride attendant in the seventh grade (RIP demoralizing T-shirt tan), each job accompanied with incredible mentors, managers and co-workers.
And most importantly, I genuinely love what I do. So, I thought I would share the following advice on this blog (some of which can apply to job-seekers of different fields), along with a handy-dandy checklist:
Take an editorial internship, even if it’s unpaid. Yes, 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.
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 actually 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, y'all.
Read whenever you can. Read non-fiction, read fiction, read magazines and read the newspaper. Subscribe to theSkimm if free time is scarce, but make time for The New Yorker. Brush up on your vocabulary, grammar skills and AP Style. Watch TEDTalks. Listen to podcasts when you are driving in Los Angeles traffic and want to weep silently into your doughnut or whatever your on-the-go breakfast is.
Digital media skills are integral for journalism jobs. There's a big chance you will have a hand in digital, even if you work for a print magazine. Understand what content strategy is. Learn about SEO strategy. Get familiar with free tools such as Google Analytics and Google Adwords Keyword Planner. Download a trial version of Adobe Photoshop before deciding if you want to splurge on the real version. Other awesome tools: Hootsuite to manage multiple social media platforms and Asana to collaborate with a team.
Sure, rejection sucks. In the course of my working lifetime, I can't even begin to count how many resumes I have submitted and how many were ignored. I've driven alone to San Francisco from Los Angeles for a job interview, right after my last senior-year final, and did not even receive a rejection call or email — just numbing silence — after I followed up about the "opportunity" multiple times. Ouch.
I'm not always prepared. My resume wasn't always up to par. I can be a nervous wreck in interviews. (At one such interview, I joked with my interviewer about the importance of frequenting Friday happy hours. Do not do this.) Others may have been better suited for the position than me, but, hey, rejection can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Maybe those jobs just weren't meant for me.
Take it all in stride. Allow yourself a little sadness, one slice of pizza or four and then move the hell on.
Contact people – friends, former classmates, family members, friends of family members, acquaintances, that godforsaken person who always borrowed your pencil in class and never gave it back – who might be able to lend a hand. Don’t feel ashamed about asking people for favors. We have all gone through a similar struggle. We may still be going through it.
Even if someone was in your class two years ago, reach out to him or her via Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc., if he/she knows of any pertinent openings or has fruitful connections elsewhere. You would be surprised about how many people are willing to help when they understand your situation.
Karma can be wonderful. Favors often boomerang back. Don’t expect that by any means, but be kind, anyway.
Sending good vibes, luck and inspirational music videos your way,
banner graphic via; infographic created by Valerie