Portfolio? No one said anything about a portfolio!
September 8, 2008 4:33 PM   Subscribe

I applied for a copywriting job that I thought I had no chance of ever hearing back from, and they have actually asked me for a portfolio. But I don't have one - yet! Help!

I have a BA in English, and I'm sort of in an MS in computer science program at a university in Chicago, taking prerequisite classes before I actually enter the program in the winter. I've been unhappy so far, and so I've been researching jobs in the area, and stumbled across an awesome advertising company located downtown, and lo and behold, they had a junior copywriter position open. On a complete whim, I applied, never actually expecting to hear back. Well, my cover letter must have been pretty good, because I got an email back asking for my portfolio. The catch: I've never actually written copy before, and I don't have a portfolio.

A portfolio is something that I've been meaning to put together for some time, but I've never felt that I had any real content to display. I almost feel like I must have been a little disingenuous in my cover letter, because why else would they have responded to me? But I didn't claim to have prior copywriting experience, and my resume definitely reflects that. The job description said that the position required 0-2 years of prior experience, which was why I had the temerity to apply in the first place. I believe that my writing skills are strong enough for the job, but the only writing samples that I have would be from essays that I had written for school. I also could link to a Flash presentation and a website that I built for class projects.

My question(s): is it worth it to pull an all-nighter and try to get something online? If I do try to throw something up, what should I use? Should I try to put it all in something like Wordpress or Blogger? I think that I have some online storage through my internet provider - should I try for that route (and if so, what are some good templates to use, and how does one go about registering a domain name)? Or should I just admit that I have nothing to show them yet, because I've never actually done this before? Am I just wasting their/my time?

All advice, insight, and answers would be greatly appreciated. I would like to have something to send the recruiter by tomorrow morning.
posted by andeles to Work & Money (9 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how much help this will be, but I have an online portfolio of sorts, with work samples. Maybe it will give you some ideas (note: I don't have a job and am having a hard time finding one. LOL). Allene.org

I use GoDaddy for hosting.
posted by All.star at 4:53 PM on September 8, 2008

"My question(s): is it worth it to pull an all-nighter and try to get something online?"

Absolutely. And if this job falls through, you should keep that portfolio up as a testament to other employers as to what you can accomplish in X hours.
posted by Spurious at 4:55 PM on September 8, 2008

Err, I'm confused. What makes you think you can't just send them a bunch of Word docs or PDFs? If they're hiring you to write copy, they probably don't expect you to be an HTML whiz.

My writing portfolio was just a list of articles with descriptions and links to PDFs.
posted by meta_eli at 5:04 PM on September 8, 2008

And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with writing samples from your old English classes. Odds are they just want to see that you can use proper grammar.

Unless you seriously misled them with your resume and interview, they aren't going to be expecting a copy of your New Yorker cover story.
posted by meta_eli at 5:06 PM on September 8, 2008

I'm a writer and sometimes hire copywriters, so here are some suggestions from both sides of the fence.

First off, congratulations on getting through the first step. Your cover letter obviously showed you can write. I reject most applicants just based on their cover letter, so if you got a request for samples from me, that would mean that you were one of very few.

While proper grammar is good, it's important for you to have a lively voice for ad work, so you'll want samples that demonstrate that.

For your "portfolio," you could just pull some of the livelier paragraphs from your academic work to create some short samples, put them in a Word doc, and send that to the recruiter. An ad agency is not likely to want a full-length paper; they just want to know if you have a good ear and can make your point with some energy.

If you really want an "online portfolio," you could pretty quickly do the following:

1. Sign up for a free blog at Wordpress.com.

2. Keep the default theme or spend at most 10 minutes choosing a simple! professional! theme.

3. Pull some of the stronger paragraphs from your academic work to create mini-samples.

4. Make each mini-sample a blog "post." Give each post a pithy headline, because pithy headlines are important in copywriting. Maybe also introduce the mini-sample with a sentence explaining what it's from. If you have 4-5 samples, they'll probably all appear on one screen, which will make them easy to evaluate.

Write a short email to the recruiter pointing out that while you have no copywriting experience, you can write persuasively, concisely, and energetically, and include a link to your "online portfolio" or attach your Word doc.

I can't speak for the people you need to impress tomorrow, but I prefer portfolios that are quick and easy to scan, with everything right there on the page or screen. Portfolio sites that have lots of links to PDFs or Word docs are less appealing to me, especially if the links are cryptic, and especially when I'm reviewing multiple applicants at once.

Good luck!
posted by PatoPata at 5:34 PM on September 8, 2008 [7 favorites]

Anyone who is going to hire you to write is going to want to see writing samples. Call it a portfolio or whatever, but if you want to be employable in that way, you're going to have to do it. For advertising, it's a must include.

I've hired tons of junior copywriters throughout the years. A portfolio can be anything you want it to be. Most juniors, the writing is made up ads for products they didn't work on. The design can be terrible as long as the thinking is sharp.

Things I want to see in a copywriter (of any level):
- Ability to write clearly
- Ability to write differently for different situations (I can't tell you how many portfolios I see all written in one "brand voice", sounding like a semi-snarky male 22 year old - which only works when that's your target market)
- Awareness of rhythm, word choice, tone, structure that seems thoughtful and appropriate to the reader
- Ability to write strategically. What's the idea behind what you're writing? How do you imply things that you can't directly state (this = stylish!)?

Pulling an all-nighter? I'd do it if it were something I were interested in. But only put in things that you feel are good reflections on how you write. It's better to have 8 pieces of brilliant than 27 pieces of crap. With anything, I'd do intros or an explanation of how it relates to copywriting, the target market, etc.

Just throw it together on a Wordpress or whatever. Here's a good example of just using Wordpress to talk about your work. (From a very good copywriter who doesn't spend a lot of time making an elaborate site).

If this is something you're going to pursue in the long term, The Copy Workshop Workbook is the text I used for years that is a nice guide in creating fake ads to show you can create ads. Good luck.
posted by Gucky at 5:56 PM on September 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm not a copywriter but I broke into a job as a medical writer and I also did not have a portfolio when I applied. My cover letter also stated "entry level" and I did not claim to have experience.

If I were in your shoes, I would not stay up all night; however, if possible, do try to create a few samples.

In my first few interviews I brought writing samples (eg, pages of my dissertation, materials I wrote to teach students, etc.). These writing samples were not particularly relevent, and consequently, I was not offered a job position.

Before other interviews, I told recruiters that I did not have a relevant porfolio. Some of the recruiters obtained tests for medical writers from the respective companies, and I prepared a relevant sample from that. In addition, I e-mailed and made contact with medical writers and asked to see the type of material they produced (and used that as a model). Subsequently I was offered a couple jobs.

In addition, most places gave me a writing test during the interview. I know my current company has made decisions to hire or not hire based on performance of job applicants on these writing tests.

I'd be willing to bet a company that states it is willing to hire someone with 0-2 years experience would probably not expect lots of samples and would also give you some sort of writing test.

Please let us know how this all works out -- I am curious about writing jobs in other industries (eg, what they look for, interview process, etc.). Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I doubt you'll write anything good pulling an all nighter. Instead, edit a couple of those essays. Also, tell them you would be up for writing a sample assignment.
posted by xammerboy at 8:39 PM on September 8, 2008

is it worth it to pull an all-nighter and try to get something online?

I am an art director, which means I'm the kind of person you'd get teamed up with in an advertising agency.

I am not clear what kind of company this is you are applying to. if we are talking about one of the big agencies in downtown chicago, which would be ddb, bbdo, leo burnett, draft fcb and perhaps one or two more, the answer to your question would probably be negative. these shops expect portfolios of spec ad campaigns in a book. I don't think you are talking about this kind of place though as you said you got a response based on a cover letter. I also suspect you found this ad in a newspaper, which wouldn't be where you'd find out about these kinds of creative department jobs. if you clarify what this company does and what exactly the requirements outlined are you'd give me a better idea of what they are expecting.

there are different kinds of copywriting jobs. it could be that you are supposed to have ideas for campaigns and ads, it could be that you are supposed to make 'xyz' sound better. you could be writing corporate literature. all this depends on the place you are going to work for and it could be that they just want to see your writing style. if they don't want ads, you might have a shot by collecting clippings and examples of your work.

again, this all heavily depends on the company and clarification would help.
posted by krautland at 7:03 AM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

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