Copywriting is one of the most sought after career paths for arts and humanities graduates.
Having an essay-based degree is clearly an advantage, and it is often a minimum requirement for many copywriting roles. Still, academic writing and copywriting are very different skills and non-vocational degrees will not provide you with all the specific skills that employers of copywriters are looking for.
This article discusses 5 crucial skills that hiring managers need to see when employing copywriters, along with some tips on how you can improve these skills and how to best demonstrate them to a hiring manager.
1. The ability to write quickly and manage multiple projects side by side
Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to at your first copywriting job is to learn how to write content quickly and with consistent quality. If you can’t get this down, then chances are you will struggle to meet deadlines.
A lot of copywriters have to write over 5,000 words a day, while managing their time against concurrent projects. As the projects are running concurrently, a good copywriter must excel at multitasking and have the ability to jump from one task to another without skipping a beat.
Good copywriters are adept at developing systems for churning out content at a quick rate. It takes a lot of practice to work out how to do this, however.
It’s similar to training to become an athlete. The more practice you get, and the harder you push yourself, the faster and more consistent you will become.
It’s therefore a good idea to take on some freelance writing work whenever you can, either whilst you’re at university or after graduating.
Not only does this help build your portfolio, but gives you experience in managing multiple deadlines. You can also ask your employer for a reference that can be used to demonstrate to future hiring managers that you have the drive, experience and efficiency to excel at a full-time copywriting role.
A tip for finding freelance writing work is to contact start-ups in your area and offer to write articles. Often, they won’t have the time to do it in house.
If you’re struggling to get started, offer to do the first one for free to build up a portfolio. This is also a great opportunity to gain a reference, so don’t be shy to ask for one once you have completed a few pieces of work.
2. The ability to adapt your writing to meet “house styles”
One of the largest employers of copywriters are PR and content agencies who usually have multiple clients. Each separate client will have a “house style”, outlining their target audience and the style in which they want you to write in. All the copy you write will have to be consistent with this “house style”
What this means to a copywriter is that you will have to adapt the tone and style of your writing for each project you work on. You also need to adapt your style depending on which platform you are writing for. An instagram post will have a dramatically different style than a newspaper advert or a brochure.
A great way to practice adapting your writing style is to write submissions for different magazines and online publications.
A lot of publications accept submitted articles from their audience, and one of the main ways of being accepted is perfectly matching the style and tone of your selected publication.
Chances are, you won’t be paid for this. However, adding that you have written for various publications on your CV shows that you can adapt your writing style, possess the drive and initiative to gain experience, and that you know how to research and pitch articles.
3. The ability to turn briefs into content
As a copywriter, every new project will start with a brief. The brief will either come from the client or from a more senior person in your company.
Having the discipline to follow a brief, understand the goals and sticking with them, is as equally important as the writing itself.
A lot of hiring managers would have you write a piece from a sample brief as a part of your application. It’s worth getting experience in following a brief before applying for full-time roles.
You will also be working towards a brief when working freelance. Getting some freelance work under your belt should therefore give you an advantage over other applicants for a full-time copywriting role.
4. The ability to understand on-page SEO
Most copywriting roles require you to write website content. Therefore it’s crucial to have an understanding of on-page search engine optimisation (SEO).
On-page SEO refers to the aspects of content on a webpage that impacts how visible it is to search engines.
It’s easy to get a good understanding of SEO through either online guides (there are a lot you can find on Google and Youtube), or from books.
As it’s a crucial aspect of the role, here are some common SEO related questions that copywriters may be asked:
You may also need to learn some basic HTML, as it is important for digital copywriting roles.
5. The ability to take feedback
One of the toughest things about being a copywriter is the evaluation of the work you produce. Lots of people will likely read what you write, and it all comes down to opinions and subjectivity.
It’s not uncommon to write an article that follows a brief and reads well, but the client still rejects it for reasons you don’t agree with or see to be trivial.
It’s likely then you’ll need to revise or even rewrite sections of your article to ensure the client is happy.
Negative feedback can knock your confidence, motivation and output. Having the resilience to negative feedback comes from experience and having confidence in your ability to write good content and follow briefs.
As it’s such a common aspect of the work, you may be asked in an interview about a time you took negative feedback on board and how you dealt with it. Think of some concrete examples of when this has happened.
Remember: the key to getting a copywriting role is experience, and it’s never been easier to find freelance work.
A lot of skills that good copywriters need can only come through experience. The good news is that it’s never been easier to find freelance writing opportunities. Therefore it’s imperative that you get out there and practice as much as possible if you’re thinking of getting into the demanding, fast-paced and ultimately extremely rewarding world of copywriting.