How do you get a writing job with no experience if you need a job to get experience?
It’s the conundrum every budding professional faces. You know that you want to be a professional writer, but you’re not sure how to get started. It might feel like you’re not qualified for any of the roles you want. You might be afraid that your writing sucks or scared to ask for feedback.
All of these concerns are valid — especially in creative fields like writing. When I first started, I didn’t think of writing as a separate, paid skill set. I had always been considered a “strong” writer, but I figured that would just help me find other paid gigs.
When I began to shift my career towards writing full-time, I asked a lot of questions about how to get writing jobs with no experience. I found that if I was determined, motivated, and a little bit flexible, there were ways to get my foot in the door. I also paid close attention to what separated successful writers from struggling writers.
Whether you’re looking to start a side hustle or change careers, here are 7 tips to land that first writing job with no experience.
What qualifications do you need to be a freelance writer?
Before you plunk down lots of money for a degree in English Lit, know this: there aren’t any special qualifications or certifications you need to become a professional writer.
That being said, certain skills will definitely give you a leg up when it comes to both applying for writing jobs and actually doing the work. A degree in journalism or communication may have polished your writing and research skills. Coursework in marketing, literature, or design might give you an intuitive understanding of brand voice and personas.
Some jobs might require a bachelor’s degree. Usually, you can have a degree in any field or a related niche. For example, I write about health, wellness, and mental fitness quite a bit — so my degree in psychology comes in handy.
Of course, writers need to have a solid mastery of the language they’re writing in. They also need to be creative and have knowledge of their industry. If you’re freelancing, you’ll need the skills and experience to write in a range of different genres. Different clients will have different needs, and your content will need to meet their needs.
You’ll also want to have good systems in place for working independently. Whether you’re in-office or remote, in-house or freelance, time management is an important skill. You’ll need to be good at managing your time and keeping yourself motivated.
Finally, you’ll need some basic equipment. A reliable computer, reasonably fast internet connection, and a comfortable place to sit for hours should do.
How do I get my first writing job?
In my experience, few writers start off full-time. Many professional writers freelance at one time or another in their careers. It’s a great first step for several reasons.
3 benefits to freelancing
For one, you get to see if you like writing as a full-time job. It can be really demanding. You’re always up against one or more deadlines, and you rarely get to write what you want to write. When writer’s block — or worse, writing anxiety — kicks in, you’ll have to be prepared to overcome it.
The second reason is that you’ll get to put together your writing workflows. You’ll want to get a good idea of how, when, and where you do your best work. Most writers swear by a pre-writing ritual that they use to get into a flow state.
Finally, you’ll get something that will make the biggest difference in applying for writing jobs: a byline. The best way to show off your writing skills is to send a link to published work. Almost every single client, job application, and even writing workshop will ask for them. These links, or clips, will become the foundation for your writing portfolio.
The importance of building a portfolio
A writing portfolio is a collection of samples of a writer’s work. It helps to demonstrate the writer’s skills and abilities, and can be used when applying for jobs or other opportunities.
When applying for a writing job, nearly every application will require a writing sample. So as an up-and-coming writer, your first job is to start racking up samples. These samples will help you showcase your skills and expertise. It should include the types of writing you are capable of, highlight your niche, and show that you can deliver on assignments.
So how do you build a writing portfolio if you don’t have any writing experience? The good news is that you can create and publish your work anywhere. It’s acceptable to send most employers your writing samples as a Word doc, PDF, or Google Doc.
If a potential employer specifies that they want to see published work, don’t fret just yet. You can always publish your work on a site like Medium.com. Medium is a popular forum for writers since you can monetize your content (i.e.: get paid when people read it).
You can also create a personal website. A strong writer’s website should contain your contact information, links to any published work, and writing samples. If you’re freelancing, you can also list your content writing services.
Every writer — new or experienced — should keep an up-to-date portfolio of their work. I like to post my favorite pieces under the “Featured” section on LinkedIn. I also send out my Muckrack profile, which automatically pulls my bylines from across the web.
7 steps to get writing jobs with no experience
Your portfolio is an important part of applying for jobs as a writer — especially if you have little or no experience. With a strong enough writing portfolio, many editors and hiring managers will be willing to give you a shot.
Once you have your portfolio, though, where should you go? How will you know if your writing’s any good? And how do you actually make money as a writer?
Here are 7 steps you can take to get your first writing job:
1. Review and share your portfolio
I know, I know. Another point about the portfolio. But it’s really that important. After you put it together, you’ll need to actually show it to people.
By sharing your portfolio, you’ll start to get feedback on what you’re doing well and what you need to improve. You’ll begin to feel more confident that you’re actually a good writer. And you’ll start to spread the word that you’re looking for work.
When people get a chance to see your work, they’ll begin to think of you as a professional writer. These early reviewers might be potential clients — or may refer you to potential clients down the road.
2. Update your social media
If you have platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, update your profile to include writing as a skill. You can share your writing on these platforms or network with other professionals.
I find LinkedIn to be one of the best places to find writing gigs. I really like Facebook, though, for connecting with my writer friends. I found my coaches, Brandi Riley and TaKenya Hampton, through a Facebook group, and they helped me launch my writing career.
3. Reframe your current experience
Even if you don’t have formal writing experience, there’s a good chance that your previous roles have equipped you with some transferable skills. Did you write proposals, sales pitches, website copy, or class descriptions? If so, that’s a solid background as a copywriter.
You shouldn’t say that you’re an experienced writer if you’re not. After all, no one will be happy to find out you fibbed. But you should emphasize how your experience has prepared you to be a successful writer.
In addition to putting words on pages, writers often need good time management, collaboration, communication, and research skills. These skills are just as important — if not more so — than writing ability. I know lots of editors who would rather hire someone that always hits their deadlines over an amazing writer who’s always late.
You don’t have to be a full-time writer yet to have the makings of one. Focus on what you do well and build from there.
4. Find places to publish
While you’re working towards that full-time writer gig, you can keep building your portfolio by offering to write for other sites. Websites and digital publications are always in need of content, and are almost always open to working with new writers. There are often job ads for online writing jobs on LinkedIn, in Facebook groups, and on sites like Upwork.
I don’t do a lot of cold pitching myself — although I know a lot of writers that have built successful businesses doing this. I like to meet other people and ask if I can write a guest post for their site.
They almost always say yes.
I can honestly say that I am terrible at marketing, but I’m great at networking. The introvert in me doesn’t really like putting myself out there. However, I love getting to know people and I love what I do. In one-on-one conversations, that passion shines through. As a result, when people need writers for projects, they often think of me (and I’m forever grateful for that!).
You don’t have to be a social butterfly to be good at networking. Start with people you know and tell them that you’re making a career change. You can introduce yourself as a new freelance writer and go from there.
If you’re feeling bold and you have your portfolio or website set up, you can send them to your site. Even if there’s just a couple of blog posts on there, it’ll reinforce (for them and for you) what you do.
6. Learn other skills
Whether you’re hoping to freelance or work in-house, learning other skills will increase both your value and your confidence. You might learn SEO, instructional design, content marketing, web design, or any number of related skills.
If you’re not sure which skills to work on, take a look at the job boards and see if anything looks interesting. You might find that you have more marketable skills in your wheelhouse than you thought.
7. Apply for jobs
This last point may seem like it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: you can’t get a job you didn’t apply for.
Even if you’re a little scared to put yourself out there or you don’t meet 100% of the requirements, apply anyway. And don’t shoot yourself in the foot by only applying for long-shots. I’m all in favor of reaching out of your comfort zone — but don’t complain that you’ll never get writing jobs with no experience when you only applied to be Director of Content.
Find jobs that you feel good about and apply. Create a resume that highlights your strengths as a writer and a cover letter that emphasizes your skills. If an opening comes up at your current company, apply for it.
As the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The more effort you put into preparing and applying, the more you feel like you deserve to win. And you know what? You do.
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