How to Break into Any Field (Especially Writing or Editing)

September 2021

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I occasionally am asked how to break into any field, but especially writing and editing. The referrals come from those who know my work and my track record.

I wanted to share some of that advice with anyone pursuing a creative field. These practices and guiding principles worked for me whenever I job hunted. And, they apply to anyone regardless of their stage in life.

Do your best, knowing some days will be more challenging than others.

Your best work may not be the same as someone else’s, but if you apply your talents and accumulated skills to every assignment or project, you’ll get noticed. This also is where you quickly learn your limits and can develop a personal improvement plan to overcome them.

Double check spelling, grammar and punctuation before turning in content for review. Make sure you consult a company or class style guide—this will earn you points because too often new writers or editors don’t. Map the finished product to the original request to ensure it ticks off all of the requisites. Then see where you can improve upon those mandatory elements to showcase your noteworthy abilities. Can you turn around accurate copy quickly? Add impressive language skills? Offer fresh perspectives on time-worn topics?

Energy levels are highly influenced by outside factors such as sleep, illness, relationships and workloads. Know some days will be more challenging than others. Resolve an ongoing issue so those challenging days are few and far between.

Don’t describe yourself as a perfectionist.

You might believe you are a perfectionist, but seasoned creatives know perfection is impossible and therefore those seeking it become impossible to work with. They tend to be narrow-minded, since not everyone views a project solution the same way. Perfectionists aren’t team players. And what an employer wants is someone who works well with others.

While we’re on the subject of interviews, avoid calling yourself a “people person.” Instead, explain how, as an extrovert, you gain creative energy being surrounded by others. The larger the group, the better the ideas. And if you aren’t an extrovert, then you are an ambivert or introvert and therefore are at your creative best when left alone. That said, you understand the importance of project collaboration.

Show enterprise in your work.

Enterprise is what makes a job candidate get called back. It’s what gets highlighted on a resume or job application. Where did you go above and beyond? What were the outcomes? Those who always do as told are noted for their reliability and consistency, which has value in an organization. But growth (personal, professional and company-wise) comes from taking an assignment one step further (with approval, of course) and experimenting. Writing articles based on tweets is not the same as taking that tweet and finding subject matter experts to comment on it—over the phone or email or direct messaging, not in another publicly available tweet.

Enterprising writers and editors spend off hours reading and learning, so they notice trends or unusual activity. Then they dig in to discover something novel or important to readers, viewers or listeners. They reach out to experts and then craft detailed, substantiated pieces no one else has. In content marketing, it may be a new approach to a company’s tagline or updating benefits to a product data sheet or introducing a new social channel with posts geared specifically for a new target audience.

Build an online portfolio.

You need to showcase your best work in an online portfolio. This is now expected of anyone entering a creative field. Whether using platforms like LinkedIn or one of these sites or generating your own site from scratch, it’s important to have a place to send prospective employers or clients.

This also means you need to have great work to display. One of the easiest ways to generate such work is through freelancing. Non-profits in particular are eager to work with writers and editors, especially if they offer their services for a deep discount. Set boundaries for expectations if you chose to do work for free, but do your best work nonetheless.

Stay in touch with people no matter their chosen field.

We all know networking is the No. 1 way to get a job. People hire people whose work, personalities and potential are better known. Too often we get hired and stop staying in touch with classmates, former co-workers or mentors. Make staying in touch part of your new role. It doesn’t take that much effort, and a job opening can come from the most unlikely sources outside your field. After all, who you’ll work with matters as much as who you’ll work for.

That’s one of the beauties of the writing and editing life. Our work is always in demand. Unfortunately, while demand has increased, so has supply. It’s a crowded field, which makes it all the more important to positively stand out. Do your best, play well with others, show initiative, build up a body of excellent work, and the referrals and job offers will come.

Thank you for reading this,