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Friday, May 04, 2012

Five Top Tips for Getting a Job as a Commercial Writer

Today I'm pleased to welcome a new guest writer, Helen Gallagher, to my blog.

Helen has some cogent advice for anyone who is hoping to get a job as a full-time business writer.

Over to Helen with her first tip, then...

1. Watch Your Mouth

I studied English and Creative Writing at University and learned a lot; including the fact that professors are not above ego-tripping, and that watching your mouth was a useful trait (I blithely corrected an English professor about an aspect of the famous Beat Generation poem Howl... I didn't get more than 50% for the rest of the year).

Later, I was lucky enough to get some interviews at very good companies - including Reed Elsevier, where my big mouth got me into trouble again. "Is there anything you don't like about the company?" the interviewer asked. I said, "Yeah - the cluster bombs."

Needless to say, I didn't get that one. 

2. Suss Out the Culture

Remember that when you go for an interview, you need to see if you would be comfortable working there. If you are naturally a scruffy person (no shame in it) an uber-polished office where you are expected to look pin-sharp every day is just going to stress you out and negatively impact your work.

I interviewed at Foxtons, a vast warehouse of a place with a strict, glossy corporate culture. The job would have included taking my piercings out and wearing a suit every day. I considered it, but I knew I wouldn't have fit into that kind of super-corporate environment and I wouldn't have lasted.

Think about whether you would fit in with the social atmosphere. Introverts can find busy, social workplaces incredibly stressful and distracting. I eventually got a pretty good job sub-editing questions for the Buzz! Computer games. It was good fun, but the laddish atmosphere (one bloke bought another a blow-up doll one day) was off-putting and the managers were unscrupulous, routinely cutting corners and demanding unpaid overtime from their staff (only one of whom was over 25).  

3. Don't Work for Free

Don't fall into the trap of working for free, unless it is for a charity that cannot afford to pay you. In this case, be careful about how much time you commit. Freelancers are particularly vulnerable to being asked to work for free, or 'exposure' - an illustrator friend of mine writes continuously on his blog about people who have gotten in touch to ask/demand freebies, ranging from a quick sketch to an entire graphic novel.

Commercial writing/editing jobs can be just as bad - the usual entry into publishing is an unpaid internship or extremely low wage entry-level job. When I was looking, companies were offering an average of 14,000 UK pounds a year (pre-recession) in London and Oxford. This makes it impossible for most people to enter the field, unless they are being supported by parents or a  spouse.

Another role was advertised as a writing position with 'some client interaction'. I accepted a lower wage and a long commute to pursue my passion. Turned out to be a bit of a con. The job was mostly phone work and promised raises failed to materialise. 

4. Dress Appropriately

Make sure you attend interviews on time, well groomed, with minimal jewellery  and make-up. Wear a suit and carry a smart briefcase/handbag, or at least wear a shirt and tailored trousers. Making the extra effort in your interview, even if the boss is wearing a zip-up hoodie and ratty jeans (and they usually do) is important. Little details will stand out; do take the time to brush your coat free of lint, polish your shoes, remove any old nail varnish and make sure your shirt sees an iron beforehand. 

5. Stay Hopeful

Luckily I was able to progress away from the customer service role and got into SEO, my current job and one I love; I'm also working for a better company now, one that is honest, straightforward and ethical. I get to write, and blog, learn new skills and explore how the internet works - the only way this could get better is if I were working on the Fallout franchise. Another friend of mine worked writing product descriptions for a flower website while creating his (now published) novels. As with anything else, just be aware, be safe and be careful; remember at every single interview that you are a good writer, that your work is worthwhile, and that you are also interviewing them.

Byline: Helen Gallagher, SEO manager at Urban Attic.

* * *

Thank you to Helen (pictured, right) for her hard-won practical tips. I hope younger readers of this blog in particular will enjoy and benefit from this advice.

There are plenty of jobs that involve writing, and even if your ultimate ambition is to become a freelance, there's a lot to be said for doing a paid job for a few years at least, to gain skills and experience and build your network of contacts. Having a guaranteed monthly income has a lot to recommend it too!

In my earlier life, I worked in public relations, an occupation which involves writing all types of content, from press releases and articles to newletters and reports. Other types of job with substantial writing content can include copywriting, journalism, website design, SEO, research, publishing, marketing, and so on.

If you have any comments or questions for Helen (or me), please feel free to post them below.

Photo Credit: Toby Working by Dave Fayram on Flickr.  Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Photo of Helen Gallagher supplied by the writer.

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Blogger Steve Wilson said...

Great tips buddy! These are just things that every job hunters/applicants must be reminded of. In these hard times, challenged economy and employment rate, people should make the best out of themselves to prove corporations their arsenal. Resume writing and proper interview handling tips are discussed over and over but that is how it should be.

By the way, i have an ebook released lately and if it's any possible. Would you mind looking at it and let me know what you think? I need t hear reviews from experts like you are so that i would know its weaknesses and lapses. Hope you wouldn't mind. By the way, here is my blog where my Ebook can be downloaded. How to get a job with a good cv.


2:24 AM  

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