3 skills budding writers need - before and after the interview
I’ll let you in on a secret: I never thought I’d land a job as a writer.
My interview was mortifying. My future boss asked if I had any samples of my writing and I actually stuttered: “No - I don’t have any on me right now!” I sounded like a complete dork!
I was hired. But if I could turn back time, here are three things I wish I’d known from the start.
#1. BEFORE THE INTERVIEW: BE A “WRITING WHORE”
I once asked a celebrity photographer how he got a foothold in the business. He immediately said: “I was a photo slut in University”.
What he meant was, as a photography student in an arts college, he always volunteered to take photos for his classmates’ advertising projects. They needed original images, he wanted experience. It was also a great networking exercise - his classmates remembered him and when they landed jobs in the advertising industry, he was the first photographer they’d call for commercial assignments!
The same principle applies to writing. While you’re still in school, write as much as you can, even if it isn’t for your first-choice publication. Your aim is to get exposure and connect with editors and other industry people whom you can tap on for advice and referrals.
In my final semester of Uni, I interned at a small publishing house - non-existent pay and I had to cut paper frieze patterns for a photoshoot (yes, it was all DIY). But I got my first taste of what it’d be like to be a writer and I loved every moment of it.
My only regret: I wish I’d started writing much earlier, like in my freshmen year, so I could’ve built up a better portfolio. I would’ve been able to talk more confidently about my experiences during the interview as well - AND have proper writing samples to show!
#2. DURING THE INTERVIEW: KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS
When I applied for my job, I had minimal experience but wanted to sound like a wildly-versatile writer.
So, I breezily told my interviewer that I could write just about “anything”. You name it. Fashion, skincare, the latest makeup trends (though I didn’t even own eye liner). She stared at me and said: “No offence, but you don’t look like a ‘fashion person’ to me.” Ouch!
She later explained that if my heart wasn’t in the subject, I would soon find the writing tiresome and “frivolous”. I didn’t listen.
Later on, I was assigned to cover a topic I didn’t quite understand or enjoy. The interviewer’s words came back to haunt me. While I could perform the functional aspects of the job (writing, chasing newsmakers, filing stories on time), I wasn’t enjoying it immensely.
I later switched to features writing, which I found was more my cup of tea. I love it and haven’t looked back.
I’m not saying you should limit yourself by insisting that you can only write about subject X - at the start of your career, you should be open-minded and adaptable. But I feel it’s important to have a sense of where your strengths and interests lie and to package yourself accordingly instead of being a wishy-washy, “anything-goes” writer.
#3. AFTER THE INTERVIEW: READ. A LOT.
Getting the job is only the beginning. As a new writer, I struggled for a while to come up with story ideas that I didn’t think were poor, bland or predictable.
The turning point came when my editor told me - “Read beyond the genre you write for.” Why? You want to be different from your competitors. You don’t want to be chasing the same ideas, stories and angles.
I used to only read titles like Cosmo, Glamour and Marie Claire - because I wrote for a women’s magazine. The problem was the ideas I pitched sounded exactly like something straight from Cosmo, Glamour and MC! Yawn.
Now, I supplement my women’s glossies with Wired, Fast Company, GQ, Esquire and Psychology Today. They give such a different, refreshing perspective on things and they’ve inspired some good, slightly-kooky ideas.
As a writer, it never hurts to have broad interests and to follow trends outside your field - I dare say you’ll sound smarter and more well-informed too.
Now, who doesn’t want that?