“Crap,” you say as you read the description of that really sweet, sexy job post. “I don’t have enough writing samples.”
And if you don’t find any writing samples, you’re certainly not going to make it to a phone screen. No one wants to hire someone for a writing job if they can’t prove that they have an online writing portfolio. With more and more competition in the job market, it’s no wonder employers require written samples from prospective employees.
However, that doesn’t mean your writing portfolio has to be empty aside from your last college essay. Here’s seven realistic ways to build a writing portfolio that’ll help you land your dream writing career.
A blog is one of the best things you can add to your online writing portfolio. With a blog, you’ll be able to choose what you write about and showcase your best written work.
The price of creating a blog is one-hundred percent free. All you need to do is make a website on WordPress, Wix, or whatever drag-and-drop program the cool kids use nowadays. You can choose the topic of your blog, meaning you’ll have one-hundred percent creative control over what type of writing samples you’re producing for your writing portfolio.
Another benefit of starting a blog is that you’ll be able to see the analytics of your posts. This will help you improve your writing and give you insight on what topics are the most marketable. Then when you go for the big interview, you’ll be able to talk about what niches are best to write about and have data to back it up.
Pros of Starting a Blog:
- Even long after you create your writing samples, you can choose to consistently maintain your blog
- You can instantly link your blog to every writing portfolio, resume, and job search website
- If your blog gains enough traffic, you can establish notoriety and open up new doors
- You can set your own writing schedule
- You’re essentially creating a writing portfolio that’ll always demonstrate your best skill
- You can learn other skills such as search-engine optimization, Google analytics, graphic design, and web design
Cons of Starting a Blog:
- The initial set-up of a blog can be time-consuming for people who are less tech savvy
- Blogs are usually centered around a single topic, which can limit your freedom when creating your writing samples
- You’ll have to moderate the website and regularly maintain its look
- It can be difficult to generic traffic to your writing if you’re unfamiliar with search-engine tactics
- You’ll have to post at least once a month so people don’t think your blog is outdated
How to start a blog
Starting a blog will take a little work before you can begin sharing your writing. To build a blog, first you should identify where you want your website to be hosted. It’s also recommended that you pay a small fee to purchase a custom domain because it looks better than joeblog.shameless-company-promo-website-here.com; however, this isn’t required.
Make a plan on how you want you want to present your web pages to your audience. What do you want your about page to say? How do you want to organize your posts? After that, you’ll have to do some experimenting with creating your website before you set the blog live.
Once you’ve set up your blog, you can start creating posts for your writing portfolio. Write 5-6 posts before you launch your blog and schedule them out on a timeline that suits your needs. Soon enough, your posts will accumulate and you’ll have a big enough online writing portfolio that you can brag about on every resume and profile.
If you don’t have time to start a blog, another great option for building your writing portfolio is to guest post. Guest posting is when you write an article for someone else’s website, blog, or social media account. Your writing will be used to promote their website, but more importantly, you’re also simultaneously promoting yourself. Think about it: someone else has already done all the work to build an audience. All you have to do is contribute your writing to have your name introduced to thousands of readers.
Guest posting is a great way to build your writing portfolio because it helps you establish credibility. You can link back to these posts on a resume to demonstrate that you can successfully produce content. Another great part about guest posting is there’s also the possibility to be paid, and posting for a little extra cash is always a plus!
Pros of Guest Posting
- Your writing will be delivered to an already-established audience
- You’ll be able to prove to employers you can hold a writing commitment
- Your work can be noticed by people who might want to make a connection with you
- You might get payed for your writing
- You can meet other like-minded people who have the same interests as you
Cons of Guest Posting
- You might have to follow some guidelines of the website you’re posting on, meaning you may not have full control over the sample
- Your post will have to go through an approval process
- Not all guest post gigs are paid
- Not all websites are created equal, meaning you’ll want to be selective as to who you guest post for
How to guest post
How you can get started guest posting is to first choose a niche; then, do a Google search. For example, if you love food, then google search “food write for us.” Check out the websites and find the ones that match your specialty and style. You can also search for websites you currently follow and see if they allow guest posts, too.
Make sure you choose credible websites instead of jumping on every opportunity. Remember, where you post will be attached to your writing portfolio, so be purposeful in where you post. Sometimes an unpaid gig is more credible than paid one from a no-name company.
Finally, check the submission guidelines of your chosen websites. Submit to the ones that speak the most to you, and hopefully you’ll receive a response in the near future. Soon enough you’ll have writing samples that you can display as part of your writing portfolio.
Volunteer for a non-profit organization
Another way you can you build your writing portfolio is to do work for a non-profit organization. Maybe your local church could use some articles on their website, or perhaps you’d like to help promote your favorite charity. Either way, doing some writing for non-profit organizations can help build your credibility. They also most likely aren’t going to say to free writing in exchange for a testimonial.
Writing for a non-profit organization is a great way to help out the community. Not only are you helping a local cause, you’re also establishing yourself as an individual who takes initiative and volunteers. Volunteer work is always a plus on a resume because it shows that you want your writing to be put to good use.
Pros of Volunteering
- You’re helping out the community
- It looks great to volunteer on a resume
- You’ll be able to have real writing samples that are put to a good cause
- You can learn more about your local community and how your writing impacts lives
- You can get a letter of recommendation from the people you work with
Cons of Volunteering
- You will most likely not be paid for these samples
- You’ll have to adhere to the standards of the organization you write for, allowing for less freedom
- You’ll have to decide what you want to agree upon in terms of time commitment and quantity
How to volunteer to write for an organization
To get started writing for a nonprofit, go to their website and find a point of contact. Write down their information and what their organization stands for. See if they have a blog already, or if they need you to help volunteer to make one.
Make sure the organizations you choose to work with are part of causes you care about. If you choose to write for a cause you’re passionate about, you’ll most likely put more effort and care into your work. Soon enough, your writing samples will accumulate and you’ll have an excellent talking point for your resume.
If you’re in college or willing to take on a lesser-paying gig, there’s plenty of businesses that look for interns. Internships are a great way to build a writing portfolio because you’ll have resources available throughout the entire program. One benefit of a writing internship is employers know interns are fresh and still learning, meaning that you’ll be able to find a mentor to help you produce quality writing samples.
Internships such as working on a blog, writing social media content, writing for a journal, or writing webpage copy are all great places to start building a writing portfolio. Take a look at what’s in your field and see if you can apply for something today.
Now, you might be muttering the age-old phrase, “I need experience to get experience,” but the truth is recruiters don’t look for perfection from internship applicants; they look for potential. Try to conjure up 3-5 good writing samples and then leverage those to get more from an intern gig.
Pros of Internships:
- Can find mentorship on the best writing practices
- Others will deliver you feedback, helping you cultivate your writing
- Potential for employment in the field you’re writing in after the program
- Can learn other skills related to writing such as format, search-engine optimization, and best practices
- Can be paid if you land the right gig
Cons of Internships:
- It might be competitive or difficult to enroll in the best programs
- The type of writing samples you need might not be the same as the jobs in your area
- Internships may be micro-managed, allowing for less freedom on what type of work you produce
- Not all internships are paid, and your writing will likely be used to promote the business you work for even without compensation
- Not all writing internships are equal, and some are more valuable than others
How to find an internship
There’s no one-stop shop on how you can find an internship to help you build your portfolio, but here’s some ideas:
- Browse job boards such as LinkedIN, Indeed, and Glassdoor. These online job boards have built-in search engines dedicated to helping job seekers find work in their field. All you have to do is search phrases such as “Writing Internship,” “Journalism Internship,” “Editing Internship,” “Content Writing Internship,” etc. to get started on finding what’s available in your area.
- Go to career fairs. There’s plenty of career fairs to help you find the writing internship of your dreams. If you currently attend college, ask your career center what dates the fairs are and identify the companies that offer writing internships. If you’re out of school, you can do a quick search on Facebook or Google to find nearby career events.
- Look at the Job Boards on company websites that offer writing-heavy components. If you’re looking for a writing internship to build your writing portfolio, then you can search for internships directly from a company. Companies will post internships that they’re offering, and directly applying on their website can help boost your application’s visibility.
- Keep in touch with your network. Many people find their internship not from applying online but from networking. Ask people you know if they’re looking for a writer, and tell them you’re eager to build your online writing portfolio with a great company.
Join the School or Local Newspaper
Another great way to build a writing portfolio is to write articles for your school or local newspaper. This is a great way to get published and have your work noticed by the publication’s audience.
When you work on a newspaper, you’ll get to brainstorm new topics and get a sense of what’s going on in your local community. You’ll also have the chance to meet like-minded people while learning about journalism. Over time, the articles you contribute can be turned into a writing portfolio.
Pros of joining the newspaper:
- You’ll get to make connections
- You will have the chance to meet other writers who can help you clean up your prose
- Your work will be published for all to see, meaning you can already begin to establish a reputation as you make your writing portfolio
- You’ll learn the proper writing formats for journalism
Cons of joining the newspaper:
- You might not always get to write about what you want if certain topics/news must be covered
- You can’t set your own word count, and will have to follow the publication’s standards
- You’ll have to meet the deadlines of the publication you work for
- Editors might change or edit your work
How to join the newspaper
There’s several ways you can join the community newspaper; yet it’s important to note that some newspapers require credentials such as a journalism degree or previous work experience. However, you shouldn’t let that deter you from seeking out opportunities to build your portfolio. Here’s a few suggestions:
- Reach out to someone who works on the paper. Tell them you’d like to build your online writing portfolio and that you’re looking for a new opportunity. The worst answer they can give you is “no thank you,” but it’s better to try than not.
- Check online job postings. Newspapers in your area might be looking for guest columnists or to bring someone on for a bit more variety.
- If you’re in school, talk to the faculty member that runs the paper. Let them know your career aspirations and how you think the newspaper will help you build a credible writing portfolio. Most school newspapers are looking for people that are passionate about writing and want to set goals for themselves.
Publish Posts on LinkedIN Pulse
If you’re looking for writing jobs, you probably have a LinkedIN; and if you don’t, you should probably make one right now. This is where you’re probably going to spend the majority of your time looking for work when your portfolio is said and done anyways.
LinkedIN has a great feature where members are able to publish posts. Not only does publishing a post allows you to become an authority on a topic, you’ll be able to share your work on a network full of entrepreneurs. Who knows, a recruiter might read your writing and ask you to come work for their company!
Pros of Publishing on LinkedIN Pulse:
- Your posts will instantly be shared with everyone in your network
- You can reach other recruiters and professionals in the field you’re hoping to write in
- Everything you write will automatically be attached to your account, meaning you’ll be able to use it as part of your resume
- It takes less time to post on LinkedIN than it does to set up a blog or look for a job that’ll get you the writing samples you need
- LinkedIN has great search-engine rankings, meaning your posts will be likely able to be found
The Cons of Publishing on LinkedIN Pulse:
- LinkedIN might not be around forever, and we’ll never know what social media platform will be hot next
- LinkedIN is more geared towards finding prospects and widening your network than using it for a writing portfolio
- There’s many distractions on LinkedIN, from promoted content to other articles. This means your posts will compete for attention
- You’ll have less control over the design and who LinkedIN shows your content to outside your network
How to Join LinkedIN Pulse
To join LinkedIN pulse, first you have to login to LinkedIN. If you have an account, you can just use that; if you don’t, you’ll have to make one.
When you click on the home page, you’ll be able to select “Start a post.” Here’s a tutorial from LinkedIN that gives you the latest on publishing within their platform.
Write your own e-book
If you need writing samples, what better way to do this than to write an e-book? Writing an e-book can help you publish full-length content on your specialty. You’ll be able to take your best excerpts from your book and turn them into a writing portfolio.
When you write a book, it proves that you can take on a long-term commitment. People tend to view authors as experts on the topic they write about. You can also control what genre you write in and how long your work will be based on the publishing route you’re taking.
The good news is you don’t need to be traditionally published to get your writing out there. You can publish your book through self-publishing routes such as Amazon publisher or offer your book as a free promotional PDF. If you write a book, you’ll have complete control over the way you capitalize your work.
Pros of writing an e-book:
- You can write about the topic you want to specialize in
- You can make a little money off the purchases if you choose to monetize it
- You’ll have plenty of excerpts for writing samples
- It can establish your authority of the field you want to join
- There’s potential for you to become traditionally published if you choose to pursue hard-bound publication
Cons of writing an e-book:
- Compared to other methods, it can be time-consuming
- It’s a long-term commitment
- Unless you hire a professional editor, you’ll most likely have to learn have to properly format it yourself before putting it out on the internet
- You must be disciplined to see the project through to the end because the rewards come after you publish
How to write an e-book
While there’s more steps to writing a book than I can list, here’s a few general guidelines:
- Decide what you want to write about. Do you want to be a lifestyle writer? Or perhaps you want to be a content writer. Choose your topic of the book.
- Make a list of sub-topics to be your chapters. Decide how you’re going to organize your book before you write it. This will ensure you have a clear direction.
- Write the chapters. Carve out time from your life to consistently work on the e-book project. Depending on your desired length, the time it takes for you to finish may vary.
- Edit, edit, edit. Edit the book until it’s perfect
- Choose a distribution platform, and publish
Now that you know how to produce quality writing samples, here’s some don’ts:
- Don’t take on scammy writing gigs. Jobs that pay per word or per page most likely won’t pay you anywhere close to what you should be compensated. These people are also taking advantage of cheap labor in exchange for promoting their own businesses.
- Don’t make a bunch of mock-ups. Your writing portfolio is your reputation, which is why you need to make sure the writing samples you use are legitimate. Don’t create mock-ups of what you can do; only use writing samples that demonstrate your real talent.
- Don’t use outdated work. If you wrote on a topic you researched three years ago, it might be time to access the validity of that writing sample. Have things changed since then? If the content in that piece isn’t something that would still be relevant, it might be time to pitch it.
- Don’t make up writing gigs. Lying on your resume is always a bad idea. Only use real experiences that you can back up.
Now go out there and gather up the best writing samples you can. Good luck on building your writing portfolio, and happy writing!