Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Moira Allen
Do you know what a writer's resume looks like? I have a "regular" full-time job but also work as a freelance writer from home. Recently I saw two ads for writing jobs, requiring a resume along with clips and a query leter. Should I include only my writing credits and education? Or should I include my whole employment history even though many of those jobs had nothing to do with writing?Here's a dilemma freelance writers often face: How do you go about getting a "day job" in the writing or publishing business? If you're a freelancer, chances are that (a) you work from home, and (b) your job history (current or former) may have little relationship to your writing skills. You know that you have the skills to handle a regular writing or editorial position, but how do you convince an employer?
Don't despair: There is an alternative. Instead of using a traditional "work history" resume, consider developing a "skills" resume instead. This type of resume is a perfectly acceptable alternative to the chronological resume, and enables you to focus on the skills and experience that are directly relevant to the job for which you're applying.
Putting Your Credentials First
A skills resume differs from a job-history resume in that it lists your skills and qualifications in a separate section, rather than as a subset of your work history. The basic framework for such a resume might look something like this:
Section 1: Name, address, telephone, fax, e-mail, URL
If you're using a print resume, center these in a larger, attractive (but not too fancy) font, as follows:
123 Quill Pen Rd. · Hometown, CA 94000
(555) 123-4567 · (555) 123-4568 (fax) · e-mail
Great Writings Page · http://www.greatwritings.com
Optional. If you choose to list your objectives, use no more than two lines here.
Section 3: Qualifications
This is the critical part of your resume. You may want to give this section a more definitive title, such as Writing and Editing Experience. Here, you'll want to list each type of skill that is relevant to the job you're applying for. For example, if the job listing asks for demonstrated writing and editing skills, plus familiarity with Internet publishing and HTML, your "qualifications" section might look something like this:
Section 4: Work History
Even if your work history has nothing to do with your writing skills, you should include it. A history of employment indicates to a potential employer that you are, in fact, employable. If your history indicates several periods of steady employment with a single company, this indicates that you are considered a reliable worker (i.e., one who was retained) rather than someone who either flits from job to job or gets fired frequently. If you've been promoted within your company (past or present), list this as well, as this is another good indication of your ability to function well as an employee.
Unlike the job-history listings in a regular chronological resume, however, you'll want to keep these sections short. List your job title, dates, the name of the company and its location, and a contact name and number if you wish. Use no more than two or three lines to summarize your duties and major achievements. Be selective: List promotions, and highlights such as number of people supervised, whether you were responsible for a budget, whether you handled major projects, etc.
If you have been self-employed as a freelance writer for a period of time, list this as your most recent "job." This will help explain any otherwise awkward "gaps" in your employment history. For example:
Needless to say, if you can find any duties in your work history that relate to writing or the job you're trying to obtain, list them -- even if it's something as obscure as "contributed to the company newsletter." Do not, however, list your reasons for leaving previous jobs (whether voluntary or otherwise), and never include negative information about your previous employers.
Section 5: Education
Every resume should include your educational history, starting with the most recent degrees and working backwards. If you have a college education, omit information about high school. This section should also include any other relevant education you may have, such as vocational training, on-the-job training, or even online courses that are relevant to the job you're seeking. (Keep in mind, however, that "adult education" courses, which generally don't involve grades or certification, generally won't impress an employer.)
Many writing and editorial jobs ask for a degree in writing (e.g., journalism, English, etc.). Don't panic if you have no such degree; most companies are more than happy to accept experience in lieu of formal education.
Section 6: Awards and Memberships
This is the section to list any awards you've received, especially relating to writing and editing. (Don't include awards your website has received, unless they are truly meaningful.) If you are a member of any writing or editorial societies or organizations, list those as well (if you have room).
Section 7: Personal Information
It was once fashionable to list personal interests and hobbies on a resume. Now, however, that is considered inappropriate. If you have specific "hobby" skills that somehow relate to the job in question, try to find a way to list those under "skills" instead. (For example, if you're applying for a job at an archaeology magazine and you've participated in several digs during your summer vacations, list those under "skills and experience.").
Pulling it All Together...
Here's what your resume might look like when you're finished:
In addition to your resume (which you should try to keep to one page, unless you've had truly extensive relevant experience), you'll also want to provide a publications list. This should also be kept to a single page. Give it the same header (name, address, etc) as your resume, and use it to list your most significant publications or those that are most relevant to the position. Double-space the list, which should include the title of each article or story, the publication in which it appeared, and the date of publication. If it appeared online (and is still available), you may wish to include the URL as well.
You may also be asked for clips. Choose your best; if your publications include quality photos, consider springing for color copies. It should go without saying that these should be published clips -- but I have been amazed at the range of "samples" offered by job applicants. One individual who was applying to a job I was about to vacate offered the first three pages of two unfinished short stories as "samples" of her writing ability (need I say that she wasn't hired?).
If you haven't assembled a portfolio of your best work, this is a good time to do so. Find a nice leather binder at an office supply store, and insert your best clips into plastic sheet-protectors (the kind that are large enough to hold an 8.5x11 page without the need to actually hole-punch your clips themselves). Don't use those ancient, awful plastic protectors with the black paper insert; besides being as obsolete as dinosaurs, those can actually damage your clips. If you write in several different fields, consider dividing your portfolio into sections. Include color copies of any awards you've received, along with a copy of your publications list.
Preparing in Advance
This resume advice may seem all very well if you actually have something to put in your "skills and experience" section -- but what if you don't? The short answer is that you're not likely to get the job of your dreams. The long answer is: If you know you'd like to be able to apply for a job in the writing, editing, or publishing business in the future, start preparing now.
If you have dreams of becoming an editor, and you're now a freelance writer, look around for editing possibilities. Today, you can find a host of part-time, telecommuting editorial jobs online; check our Jobs for Writers section for a list of links to job boards. For many of these jobs, all you need is skill and a modem. Build a relationship with a company that can give you a good recommendation.
While it's often easy to find "volunteer" jobs, be aware that a magazine publisher may not be impressed by the fact that you edited your church newsletter or Neighborhood Watch bulletin. A history of "paid" positions, even part-time contract jobs, will serve far better (and put food on your table at the same time). Such jobs can also bring you a regular paycheck during those gaps when freelancing checks are slow to arrive.
A good "skills" resume may be all you need to get your foot in the door. After that, it's up to you. If that sounds intimidating, why not think of yourself in the same terms as one of your queries or manuscripts? With the proper presentation -- the right envelope, a professional approach, and appropriate credentials -- you'll be well on your way to the job of your dreams.
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.