help me become a better potential employee.
May 19, 2012 6:59 PM   Subscribe

How can I make myself employable / find a job in any writing or editing fields, with a BA and MFA? (in the Atlanta area, if it helps.) Snowflakey details abound.

I have a BA in English with a creative writing concentration from a smallish public liberal arts university and an MFA in creative writing (fiction) from a state university in the Southwest. Went straight to MFA from undergrad, it was a three year program and I graduated a year ago. I moved to Dallas with my fiance and worked in a call center selling insurance for the past year. It started out as a seasonal job but I ended up staying on in the new year and it made me rather complacent in my job hunt.

Well, the relationship has gone down in flames and I'll be moving back to my hometown in the Atlanta in about a week, to live with my parents (ugh), with no immediate job prospects on the horizon (double ugh).

In grad school I taught freshman composition and remedial composition courses at the local community college and, briefly, at the university I attended. The "positions" available at grad school for the literary magazine and things like working on the freshman comp textbook each year, or anything dealing with the technology center, went to those with graduate assistantships, which I only had my final semester (during which I worked in the university's writing center). So I didn't get the kind of experience my colleagues and, I imagine, many people with MFAs got.

At this time I don't really have an interest in a career in higher education, even though the MFA as a terminal degree *could* get me a tenure track position.

I have been looking for writing/editing/whatever jobs on CareerBuilder but every one wants tons of experience that I don't have. Years of experience in copyediting or technical writing. Familiarity with software that I have no idea about. Even administrative jobs want years of experience, and I just don't have it. I have a lot of experience writing and editing papers, creating composition courses and assignments, grading and editing students' papers, but nothing in the professional world.

I am freaking out. I'm seeing a future for myself working some shitty minimum wage job or going into sales (which I abhor), living in my parents' basement, seven years of higher education squandered on useless degrees. I look at my friends who got degrees in science or technology and I wonder why the hell I didn't do that. Not to mention I'm already getting myself in a tizzy anticipating the conversations I'll have with my dad every day about how many jobs I've applied for, etc.

I don't even know where to start in making myself a more attractive job candidate. Should I get some kind of certification in copywriting, copyediting, or technical writing? What can/should I teach myself? I am good at writing and editing and I'm a fast learner, and I have no doubt in my abilities to adapt to an unfamiliar job situation, but it seems like I don't even have the chance of that unless I have 5-7 years of experience doing a thing and intimate knowledge of the specific industry for whatever company is offering the position.

Anxiety about my job situation is, of course, tied in with the general upset and depression of my fiance leaving me and living alone in this unfamiliar city with no friends like I've been doing for the past two months.

Concrete steps to take to make myself more marketable, encouragement that my life is not going to suck as much as I feel like it does now, and general helpful tips for getting through the unemployment/job searching phase would all be greatly appreciated.
posted by adrianna aria to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Get a job in technical writing and be willing to locate to where those jobs are (although there are plenty in ATL).
posted by TestamentToGrace at 7:13 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

You do not need a certification to get hired as a writer or editor. You do need references and published pieces you can point to.

Don't limit yourself to just looking for a writing job -- start by looking for writing gigs. Once you have a few one-off writing projects under your belt it will be easier to convince someone to hire you for a long-term position.

I do not recommend doing lots of work for free to get your foot in the door; this generally leads to people exploiting you. However, one thing you might consider is doing some volunteer writing work for a non-profit organization or a friend with a small business that needs promoting. This will get you published and get you a couple of good references.

You absolutely should create a website and put samples of your writing on it so that potential clients / employers can see for themselves what you're capable of. Adding a blog and submitting new content to it once or twice a week would be even better.

If there's a particular subject you would like to write about, and you feel you don't know enough about that subject, research the heck out of it until you do know it, and then write about it and then try submitting your work to publications that specialize in that subject. If you research well and write like a professional, editors -- and readers -- will believe you are one even if you do not have much experience.
posted by BlueJae at 7:20 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

First, I am so incredibly sorry about your situation. I can't quite imagine what you're feeling right now, and dealing with employment on top of the relationship thing and the moving in with your parents thing is a whole lot.

I know you said that you're not that interested in higher ed, but it would surely be better than "some shitty minimum wage job or going into sales." Especially since you have experience teaching remedial writing, you should definitely look at part-time work at GGC, GPC, Southern Poly, Clayton State, etc. You could also look at the technical colleges (Dekalb Tech, Gwinnett Tech, etc), but my understanding is that they pay significantly less than the University System of Georgia schools.

Even if it's not what you want to do permanently, you might even be able to get a position for the summer (I know GGC is always hiring instructors at the last minute) to at least tide you over while you build a portfolio and a network for what you really want to be doing.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:29 PM on May 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks hydropsyche. I probably should have mentioned in the OP (as if it weren't long enough!) that I am looking for part time / adjunct positions at community colleges as well, but I'm not sure yet if it's something I want to do forever. But thank you for the links, I'll be sure to check them out!
posted by adrianna aria at 7:45 PM on May 19, 2012

E-publishers are often looking for freelance editors of all stripes; since they can't pay a lot, they're usually willing to take on people with less experience who are less established.

For ex, one of my editor friends recently linked me to etopia's call for copyeditors and proofreaders that specifically says no experience is needed for proofreaders. I've seen at least one other e-publisher make a call like this in the last month or two, although I can't remember the other off the top of my head. It might be worth it to dig around a little and see which other e-publishers have similar open positions.

It's much easier to get freelance editing gigs when you have some experience under your belt; if you establish yourself as fast, accurate, and reliable, that will go a long way.

I'd also recommend checking out Editorial Freelancers Association; for a membership fee, you can be listed in their directory, and you also get access to their mailing list where they post freelance editing/writing job opportunities -- there's a huge variety of jobs, from students looking for help with papers to proofreading to ghostwriting.
posted by shamash at 8:07 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in university public relations, and writing is a huge part of the job. Look at the colleges around you and see if they are hiring any editorial staff. Schools put out magazines, websites, press releases, speechwriting, etc. You'll have other stuff to do, but a lot of it is writing.
posted by elizeh at 10:50 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Should I get some kind of certification in copywriting, copyediting, or technical writing? What can/should I teach myself?

Frankly, you have enough qualifications, what you need is experience. Yes, a lot of places won't hire without it, but that's why you need to offer volunteer services where they will make sense (note: charities are often first port of call for people in these situations, but they usually have their own comms people; they need envelope stuffers more than writers). Pitch for jobs, start building up a portfolio and absolutely set up a professional looking website with some examples.

Having been on both sides of this equation, unfortunately a lot of recent grads often start aiming for the skies on the basis of their degrees, but the reality is that most forms of writing jobs are pretty popular, and people generally end up doing shit for a while before they get to the good stuff. They have to demonstrate they can do the good stuff vocationally before it's an option.

Now, what do I mean by shit? Publishing and updating pages in a CMS (content management system); writing low-stakes copy for small-audience newsletters, or simply proof-reading/copy-editing for small-audience newsletters; being first point of contact for employee or general public responses (the "touch point").

It will get better, I swear to you, and it's not all bad right now. You have the skills, you just need to show people you can use it. If you want to beef up your skillset, look at branching out of the writing tree not expanding it - again, very vocational focus; learn some basic HTML, get comfortable with basic website/layout/email design & programs - do you know how to understand web metrics and write a nice looking/reading report about them? For better and worse, most people think they can write, and so are very picky hiring writers. A surprisingly large number of comms/writer-type people know shit-all about metrics, html, actually productive and stylish uses of the Microsoft Office Suite, the basics of audio recording and/or editing (can you offer the ability to podcast/vodcast?), image editing, etc etc. At this level (because in my experience people who hire writers generally don't value these other things as much as writing and so are happier to get someone with less experience in these skills) the "value-add" is a good path to take. You're not just getting a writer, you get an X, Y, and Z as well. Again, portfolio is key. You don't need the experience because it's not the main event, but you need to prove you can and have done it.

I think, personally the best places for you to aim right now may be the kind of places that can't afford one person who *just* writes. Look out for small orgs/institutions/departments. Associations and peak bodies are ripe for this kind of thing.

Also, your teaching experience is totally valuable. The ability to connect with people, put something in their heads, and have it stick is versatile and valuable. If you're totally hard-up, you could always sign up with a high-school tutoring company, they would love to have someone like you and if it's a smaller company, they might be open to a pitch on a new marketing plan/outreach program.

Good luck, don't worry you'll get there. I turned out all right in the end and have a super steady job now. ;)
posted by smoke at 5:23 AM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

It may not be your thing but PR and media relations type jobs often require a solid background in writing, proofreading, and editing.
posted by forkisbetter at 11:04 AM on May 21, 2012

Don't forget to check out Georgia Tech for writing jobs (I taught tech writing there for a few years and now do editorial and copywriting for clients all over). Copywriting doesn't have to be in-house, either -- look for gigs here in ATL but don't be limited by them. Get your clips and put them online for an easy portfolio.

My rule is to never write for free. Barter if you want to, though!
posted by mdiskin at 6:19 PM on May 23, 2012

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