How to get ahead in copywriting
February 5, 2013 7:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about attempting to land an entry-level copywriting position, after working for over ten years in an unrelated field (public librarianship). I'm wondering if I currently have enough relevant experience to start sending out resumes, or if I need to beef up my portfolio a bit. And any general advice on copywriting careers would also be welcome.

My relevant experience is this:
*I've recently published articles in a few not-terribly-prestigious publications (two children's magazines, one book review journal).
*I volunteered to to write newsletter articles for a local small nonprofit back in '08-'09.
*I worked in the development office of my library school back in '00, composing letters to alumni, donors, potential students, etc.
*I worked in the PR office of my college in undergrad (waaaaaaay back in the mid-'90s) writing most of their press releases, program brochures, etc.
*I wrote a successful grant for my current library (not copywriting, I know, but still sort of relevant...maybe?)
*I was an English major (that has to count for something, right?)

Is that enough to get started? I know it couldn't hurt to just knock on the doors of a few other nonprofits to see if I could get more current experience writing for them, but I am crunched for time these days (working full-time, doing some caregiving for a family member) and would like to make the most of my efforts. My partner thinks I've got enough experience and should just start sending out resumes. I tried doing this a few years back and was met with the proverbial chirping cricket. I realize the economy factors into all of this, so am looking for ways to quickly make myself look as appealing as possible to potential employers.

Thanks Metafilter!
posted by indognito to Work & Money (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh crap, and I forgot to mention that my dream job would be to work in the communications department of a university, so if anyone has advice pertaining specifically to that goal I'd love to hear it.
posted by indognito at 7:39 AM on February 5, 2013

I think your biggest issue is that you are sending out resumes instead of making connections. In my experience (longtime CW, though in the agency world) you get gigs two ways: making connections and having a terrific portfolio. I know zero people who have gotten work by answering an ad. I would start by building up your connections and your body of work. Most folks in a hiring position want to see that you have succeeded in a similar context to the one they are hiring for, so if you're looking for an academic marketing gig then start by volunteering to do that work for free, and start making buddies with people who work there. One way to do this is to connect to your own alumni association and ask for an introduction to the appropriate person. Staff will be likelier to respond favorably if you are a grad of their institution.
posted by Lieber Frau at 7:52 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh crap, and I forgot to mention that my dream job would be to work in the communications department of a university, so if anyone has advice pertaining specifically to that goal I'd love to hear it.

I work in a communication department at a research university. Getting hired on depends entirely on what you want to DO for the department.

A PhD in communication is typically required for a tenure track position, although not ALWAYS, as long as you have decent publications in an area suited to the department. Since it is a field that overlaps with several others, communication departments are sometimes full of English, Psychology and Sociology PhDs. Some colleges may have tenure tracks available for people with a masters in communication only, but I am not sure how common they are.

To teach as a full-time or part-time lecturer you may be able to get hired with a masters in communication or sometimes you can hired on with a masters with at least 18 hours of communication coursework. Having a strong background in a specific area (broadcast journalism or social media, for example) may allow you to land a teaching job if there is a need for an expert lecturer. But we're talking EXPERT here, so decades of experience or maybe even a few accolades. I work as a part-time lecturer and my peers fit these three profiles. Also keep in mind getting hired on as an adjunct typically requires an "in" of sorts.

To work as administrative (office) staff, I don't think your education matters so much as your background/experience in administration.

Communication departments may differ depending on the size of the university, so certain institutions may have more staff roles that need filling that I am not aware of, so keep that in mind as well.

I worked as a temp copywriter in graduate school for what it is worth. Not sure if this is something you're willing to do to boost your resume or if that option is even available to you in your area.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:44 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think you're doomed, unless you can make some semi-magical connection.

The reason I say that? In a word, competition.

It's always been a tough field, people more experience than you have are willing to work at relatively low levels for low wages and it's challenging to see why someone would pick you over people with more (and more recent) examples of their work.

If you're determined and willing to start at the bottom, "Graco's 2CV6 bottle steriliser gets the job done in just 12 minutes, it holds up to six bottles and it runs on batteries or AC current...," there's no loss in trying to do it for some organisation(s) on a volunteer basis.

That said, realistically, in the best case, there's a long, hard slog ahead; you're a decade behind; and the fresh grads and 20-somethings with better, fresher experience will be tough competition.
posted by ambient2 at 10:43 AM on February 5, 2013

I got into development writing by starting at a Jack-of-All-Trades job at a not-for-profit, and, over time, convincing them I was a great writer. As they gave me more writing responsibility, I silently built my portfolio: screengrabs of websites I'd written copy for, reports, donor communications. When a development writing job came up at a nearby (more prestigious) not-for-profit, I applied with that portfolio and started at the bottom.

You might want to apply for something that's in the ballpark of what you're looking for, in the place you're looking for, but not quite the job you want yet. Heck, Bob Dylan's keyboardist had no idea how to play but lied about it to get in the band.
posted by Bluestocking_Puppet at 12:26 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I hear ya on the competition front, ambient2. It's the big reason I've been stuck in my current job for about five years past my due date.

I do think temping is an option in my area, Young Kullervo, although going from full-time employment to temping is a frightening prospect. Interesting, though, and will keep it in mind.

Bluestocking_Puppet, I will keep my eyes peeled for just that opportunity you describe.

Lieber Frau, yes, I do need to network! I've never considered the alumni association route, hmmm.

Thanks again!
posted by indognito at 6:01 AM on February 6, 2013

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