Readers sometimes write to me asking for advice on writing, social media or their job search. When I think that advice might be helpful to a broader audience, I like to share it here (with the inquirer’s permission).
Here’s a note that hit my inbox last week:
I just wanted to say how excited I was to come across your site. Based on what I’ve read, I think we have a fair amount in common. I’m graduating a few days with a degree in journalism/communications/public relations and last semester I spent four months studying in Tanzania (although that was a shaky experience). Traveling is one of my passions and I cannot get enough.
I was wondering if you had any tips to share with someone like me. My ideal job would be to do outsourced media (social networking, blogs, photography, etc.) for non-profits, especially those with an international effort. Right now I’m working with a marketing company, but I know it’s not where I want to be. As a new writer I do not feel that I have as many skills as I would like to start pursuing my dream. Any advice?
I loved receiving this note not only because Christine is a kindred spirit, but because I’m fascinated by how people set themselves up for their dream careers — whether it’s their first career or a second (or third) one later in life. Here’s my response to Christine:
Start doing what you want to do, even if you’re not getting paid for it. The only way you’ll be able to land a job in a new field is if you have experience and skills that make you marketable. Of course, there’s the Catch-22: You can’t land a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without landing a job. Except — you can get experience without the job, if you’re creative about how to get that experience.
You say you want to work in social networking, blogging and photography. What are you doing now to build those portfolios? Start taking photos and posting them on a blog. Volunteer for a non-profit organization that needs someone with your skill set. Or heck, now that bloggers and social media players are in such high demand, I bet you could get a part-time, paying gig helping a small business on those fronts, even if you don’t have much experience. Since you’re interested in the international world, look to those types of non-profits first.
Find ways to showcase your expertise. Even if you’re just gaining that expertise. Fake it till you make it — and I mean that. That’s how we all get started, by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, by taking the plunge and just doing it. That’s how I got started with my social media business, working my butt off to do a good job for my first client, leaning heavily on the skills I did have and learning the rest along the way.
Blogs are an awesome way to showcase your expertise, even if you’re honest that this is a learning process for you (ahem, that’s what The Traveling Writer is all about — finding my way through the publishing maze). So is Twitter. And the cool thing, especially on Twitter, is that if you present yourself professionally and provide solid information and links on an interesting topic, people will regard you as an expert.
I followed one particular journalist for months, enjoying the links and insight he provided about digital journalism, and when I finally met him in person, I was shocked to see he was a 21-year-old journalism student. He didn’t even work a full-time journalism job yet! But he relayed his expertise well enough that I assumed he was an expert. But rather than feel silly about it, I realized that’s the beauty of Twitter: no matter how young or inexperienced, if you have good ideas and present them professionally, they’ll take you a long way. Jump-start your career, even.
Practice, practice, practice. You don’t specifically mention your writing skills, but I get the impression that you think those need work, too. Practice is the only thing that will get you where you need to be. If you need a reason to practice, start writing for publications that will take your work. I’m not usually an advocate of writing for free or for the pittance that some publications pay these days, but here are my two exceptions: when it serves as promotion, helping you to reach an audience for your book or another service, and when you need that experience to land a job that offers a real paycheck.
For travel writing, Matador Network is a good place to start. You might also check with your local paper — the smaller the publication, the more likely they’ll work with you even if you don’t have experience. Patch, a network of local news websites, often hires young freelancers. Figure out the type of writing you want to do — or better yet, the type that will make you a better writer — and find ways to practice.
Readers, what other suggestions do you have for Christine?