How to land your first copywriting job
Breaking into copywriting is tricky, but it’s not as hard as it’s made out to be. It’s not true that you have to work for nothing for years on end. It’s not true that you have to make thousands upon thousands of cups of tea and even more photocopies. And it’s certainly not true that you can only get in if you know someone who’s made it already.
I know this because I got my first copywriting job without having to do any of these things. And before you assume this was decades ago when things were different – I started said job in November 2007. Pre-recession, yes, but you’ll be pleased to hear that things are if anything even more geared towards the determined solo copywriter now.
This post is aimed at solo writers because that’s what I am – and because I want to bust another prevalent copywriting myth, namely that you’re not going to find a copywriting job unless you’ve got an Art Director and a flawless portfolio. Piffle.
This is one of the most difficult things about applying for your first creative job. Until you’ve had a job, you don’t have much to put in a portfolio. When I applied for my first copywriting job, my so-called book was five pieces of writing cobbled together from whatever I had. Something I’d written for my blog, something I’d written for my uni newspaper, that kind of thing. No ads. And I got the job.
All you need to prove is that you have imagination, determination and a talent for writing. The Creative Director at that first job of mine chose me over much more experienced writers, even though I was an Account Exec at the time, because I wasn’t jaded or arrogant. I wanted to write, all day every day. It was the best thing I could imagine being paid for. And that came across. Make sure it does for you, too.
What kind of jobs to go for
As a solo writer, the best places to look for a first job are digital and direct marketing agencies. They have much more of a need for pure copy than above-the-line agencies. Why? Because there’s a lot more writing to do when your bread and butter is email, microsites and mailpacks than if it’s billboards and press ads with 6-word headlines.
That’s not to say you won’t get to do the glamorous stuff later, if that’s what you want. But those kinds of agencies generally don’t take single creatives, and you’d need much more of a conceptual portfolio to stand a chance – which if you’re like I was, you won’t yet have had the time to develop. And in the meantime, you’ve got food to pay for.
Some digital agencies won’t take singles either, so your best chance is probably direct – but do try digital if that’s where you want to be. Poke is one notable example – they only hire singles. No teams allowed. The industry is slowly heading that way, so this will all get easier year on year. It’s already easier to get in as a solo than it was for me four years ago.
Where to look
Everyone knows you’re supposed to sign yourself up to a creative recruitment agency, right? Well, I disagree. They can be incredibly dismissive of people looking for their first job – it’s just too much effort, it seems. I know one first-timer who was told he wouldn’t get in unless his dad was already head of a department somewhere. And another who was told ‘Why not try putting your CV on coloured paper?’. It sounds ridiculous, but when you’re starting out, this kind of nonsense can really knock your confidence.
Thankfully, it’s getting easier by the day to find jobs by yourself. The three resources I’ve always found the most useful are:
Yes, really. I got my second job on Facebook – someone posted it on the wall of an advertising group. Join lots of these groups and check them often. There are loads for people new to the industry, people looking at grad schemes, people looking for freelance, copywriters, etc. ‘Ad Job Wall’ is a good one.
Again, really. Follow as many advertising people as you can find, and read what they put up. Search for the words ‘copywriter’, ‘wanted’, ‘#jobs’ and so on as often as you can. It’s pretty much a given now that agencies tweet their vacancies, and it gives you a chance to respond to the opening within a day and be at the top of the interview list.
3. Brand Republic’s jobs listings.
It’s free to browse them and submit your CV/portfolio (best to have them together in a PDF for this, because it only lets you attach one file) with a covering message. A lot of them are put up by recruiters, but companies also post their own. There’s also an alert you can sign up to, to get new jobs in your field sent to you by email.
It really isn’t as hard or as scary as it first sounds to get a job as a Copywriter. If you’ve got the ability and the determination, you will make it. When you go to interviews, try to remember that the power’s not all on their side. You’ve got a skill that they need and want, and good Copywriters are rare – don’t feel like you have to beg for the job. Hold your own, and you’ll be fine. Good luck.