Yes, it’s possible.
Yes, you can write stuff you like and get paid for it.
But it’s going to take a lot — A LOT — of work to get from where you are now to … well. There.
If you’ve never been through the process of applying for any kind of content writing job, you probably don’t actually know what happens behind the screens. How does an aspiring writer get from “Hi I’m a writer I want to make words happen on your behalf” to “Hi I work for you now”?
It’s not too different from the process of auditioning for, say, a movie. You present yourself, you do the acting thing, and they either schedule you for a callback or they don’t. And you keep meeting with people higher and higher up the “ladder” until you either get the job or don’t.
It’s not a one-step, one-shot process. But every moment does count.
There’s a lot of pressure and stress, practice and patience involved. You probably already figured that. What most writers aren’t prepared for is how much work actually goes into the entire process.
So I’m going to go into as much detail as I can, explaining the “audition” process I went through to land my first full-time writing job straight out of graduate school.
First, I submitted the equivalent of about a five-question Google Form from an original job posting, providing my name, email address, resume, and maybe a few other professional identifiers — the link to my online portfolio, if I remember correctly.
At the time, I found this step fairly unusual — usually when editors or other editorial or HR staff post a writing job, they ask writers to email them directly and provide, basically, a cover letter.
So I didn’t think much of the seemingly effortless task, until a representative from the company I’d applied to emailed me asking if we could schedule a phone interview. (This was a remote writing position.)
Surprised — this was about a week or two after I’d submitted the form — I corresponded with — let’s call her Hanna — and we scheduled an interview for later that week.
The purpose of the interview, as Hanna put it, was to “discuss my interests and the position more in-depth.” That meant the experience was a little bit like talking through certain points on my resume, which is usually the most awkward but worthwhile part of any “audition” process.
Sometimes, an official wants to clarify the kind of work you did at Job X. Or they want to hear more about the parts of your previous work that are most relevant to the position you’re currently applying for.
Hanna also wanted to make sure I understood the prospective position fully, in addition to making sure my writing strengths and interests matched what the company was looking for in a candidate.
At the end of the interview, she reiterated she’d let me know what the next steps to the process would be.
And once we hung up, one of the most important parts of the process was up to me.
The follow-up email
You’ve probably heard that sending a thank-you note to your interviewer after the fact is one of the most important parts of “auditioning” for a job.
You heard right. And in writing, it almost matters even more.
So as soon as Hanna and I finished our call, I started composing my thank-you/follow up message. I’ll copy and paste it here.
[Hanna];Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me yesterday about [company name] and the [writing] position. I loved learning more about your work and how my skills and experience can contribute to your mission and goals.I look forward to moving to the next step in the process. Pitching and writing articles is probably my favorite part of the editorial process!Thank you in advance for the opportunity to share my knowledge and ideas about [topic of relevance] with you. I write on these subjects because I honestly never get tired of talking about them – this will be fun.Talk to you soon,Meg
It’s not the smoothest follow-up message ever written, but it worked.
Showing them what you can do — Part 1
Yes — it worked because Hanna wrote back within a day or two asking me to try my hand at pitching article ideas — something we had already established I could do.
She actually told me to browse the company’s website to get an idea of the kinds of content they published on a daily basis, but they won’t always tell you that: it’s an unspoken process of sorts.
So I went off and did it. I looked at the site I’d theoretically be writing for and based my pitches off the content I reviewed. It probably took several hours, if not more, to familiarize myself with the archives enough to formulate my own five “unique” ideas.
Being persistent (without being annoying)
I submitted my pitches in a separate email with a relevant subject line to make it easy to find (partly because I sent the email over a weekend, and wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost).
Which turned out to be a good idea, because I didn’t hear back for about three days. On the third day, probably because I was trying to avoid a panic attack, I “followed up” again.
Hanna;Just checking in! I wanted to make sure you got my article pitches last weekend. I know sometimes emails get lost in the shuffle, so I thought I’d reach out just to be safe. Let me know if there is anything more I can do for you.Looking forward to hearing from you,Meg
Showing them what you can do — Part 2
Armed with a deadline and a brain filled with knowledge in my area of “expertise,” I set out to write the article that would play a major role in earning me my dream job.
Now, I can’t share the exact article with you, but I can share the email that contained the link to it upon submitting the sample.
Hi Hanna;As promised, here is a viewable Google Doc link to my article, [article title: link].I have also attached it to this email as a Word document.The article is about 1200 words total. All sources are sited via hyperlinks within the text.I know some sites link to internal articles and some don’t, so I’ve included a few in-text links to other Cheat Sheet articles in the article (hyperlinked/underlined but not in blue) just in case.Again, thank you so much for the opportunity to put this together for you and your team. I hope you enjoy the article, and I look forward to being in touch again soon.Best regards,Meg
My first interview was with a company representative. The second stage of the interview process involved speaking with the staff member who would serve as my editor/boss, if I were to get hired to do the job. We’ll call her Ayesha.
Ayesha and I talked a little more in-depth about my experience and qualifications. But we also talked more specifically about what my job would be, how I would fit into the team culture if hired, and details outlining, basically, what it would be like for her to work with me on a daily basis, and so on.
At this point, I’ve shown them my resume. I’ve showed them I can pitch articles that fit their audience/publication. And I’ve written them a sample article that, theoretically, they could have published on their site. They’re not asking me about my writing anymore. They’re asking about how I work, what I’m like as a professional. And it goes even a step further than that.
I did not follow this interview up with an email, but I’m not sure why. I’d suggest doing that even if you already did so after the first interview.
At this point, I’ve talked with HR, pitched and written an article, and spoken with a senior editor (one level above my prospective position). The ladder keeps going. This interview was with the managing editor of the publication. Yeah, a big deal. Basically like meeting with the producer of a film or show. We’ll call her Taylor.
Again, we’re past the writing focus here. They know I can write, follow instructions, meet deadlines, and communicate effectively. It’s all been a series of tests up to this point. Now it’s the last interview — not the final step, but still important.
A managing editor needs to know that hiring you will add an essential asset to the company as a whole — one it can no longer function without. This meant I had to ask questions about the publication’s production schedule and goals, how they tracked their data, and how my day-to-day operations would contribute to their overall goals and company culture.
Remember — you are not just a writer. You are, hopefully, a valuable team member. There are plenty of good writers. But companies would much rather hire people that are easy, even enjoyable, to work with.
I did follow up with Taylor, and made sure to highlight the specific elements we discussed in our interview. Meaning, I did not copy/paste my follow-up email to Hanna and send it to Taylor with a few tweaks. It’s a completely new email.
[Taylor];I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk with me yesterday about [writing topic], editing and [company name].It is refreshing to have an opportunity to discuss [writing niche] with those who share my passion and deeper understanding of how this all works. Balancing ideas, research, writing and revising is such a fascinating and rewarding process, especially when the focus is on the audience and how each published article can potentially enrich a reader’s life.It is also great to hear that a remote team of writers and editors is able to work together to accomplish so many goals on a daily basis. This is one of the characteristics about [company name] as a whole that has intrigued me from the beginning.I am consistently impressed by the content going up on the site, and hope to be able to offer my skills and background in writing about [subjects] to add to your flow of ideas and articles.Again, it was a pleasure speaking with you. I look forward to connecting with you again soon.Best regards,Meg
Again, not the best-worded email, but it got the point across.
And then came the step I will admit I was not prepared for, but should have been.
ALWAYS. HAVE. UPDATED. REFERENCES.
I somehow managed to gather two new additional references (two of my three were outdated at that point — as in, I hadn’t worked for/with them in over 2 years) and submit them to Hanna the same day she asked for them. But I should have been able to offer them up right away.
So before you even apply for a writing job, make sure former colleagues, professors, or other relevant people in your life are OK with getting calls or emails about a job you may or may not get.
I might go into more detail about how to prepare references to speak on your behalf about writing jobs. But only if you’re interested. I have no idea if anyone who started reading this has even made it to this point. I hope so.
And finally … the step many writers hope for, but never get to.
The offer call
There’s not much to say about the final step, except that I really felt I’d earned that call. You really don’t expect to put that much work into going after a job — I’m not sure why, but I know I was never really prepared for it in college, I just learned through freelancing and applying for 20,000 (ish) jobs after university.
You always remain professional yet conversational, excited yet sophisticated, and you always, ALWAYS express your gratitude for even being given a chance, even if they don’t pick you. Because you never know — you might cross paths with these people again. And they’ll remember that.
For many jobs — freelancing projects included — the vetting process won’t be anywhere near this complicated. This was a full-time position with benefits, vacation time, etc. — things, unfortunately, many writing jobs do not offer. But the more a job offers, the more complex the interview process will generally be.
But you still need to remember the things editors are looking for in quality writing candidates, follow all instructions, ask plenty of questions, and do all you can — within reason — to show who you’re metaphorically standing in front of that you want — dare I say, deserve — the job.
Well, this is officially the longest post I’ve ever published on this blog. If you made it this far, congratulations — and please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you have about writing job things. I’m sure there are similarities between this and corresponding with an agent or publisher, but I try to be clear that I’ve never been through that process myself, so I’m not the best person to ask about book publishing. Maybe someday soon. ;)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.