Careers in Writing

In the fall of 2006, students who signed up with CES received four weekly email messages about Careers In Writing. The content of those messages is now available below:

Career Options for Writers
How to Connect with Professionals Working in Writing
Marketing Your Liberal Arts Degree
Showcase Your Writing Talents: (Resumes, Cover Letters, Portfolios, Writing Samples, and Interviewing)


When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen.  -- Samuel Lover

What is a career in writing?
A former Puget Sound student worked as an intern with a small publishing house specializing in romance novels.  She was able to attend literary events with the publisher and got to read manuscripts of soon-to-be-published and hopeful-to-be-published novels.

Have you ever seen the “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” books for children?  Did you know that people are hired to script out all of the goings-on happening in the background so the cartoonists know what to draw?

A technical writer from Microsoft recently visited campus and shared with CES staff members more about the field of technical writing.  Microsoft hires technologically savvy writers to translate the jargon-filled text of software development and adapt it to much easier to read text for a user’s manual.

Writing is involved in nearly every career… but focusing your career on writing brings up a number of different options.  Consider these industries when thinking about a career in writing.

Media:  copy editor, columnist, journalist, bureau editor
Entertainment:  screenwriter, novelist, poet, ghost-writer, playwright, jingle writer, greeting card writer, publicist
Public Service/Government:  speechwriter, press secretary, grant writer, attorney
Health:  technical writer, medical writer
Education:  English or creative writing teacher, reading specialist, instructional designer
Business:  public relations specialist, human resource professional
Publishing:  editor, copy writer, editorial assistant, translator, dictionary editor

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, available on-line through the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, offers information on hundreds of careers, including many of the careers listed above.  Use the site’s search feature to research a variety of careers and learn about job growth, typical duties associated with a position, necessary training, salary information, related occupations, professional associations, and more.

Vault Career Library is another online resource providing information on a variety of career fields including insider information on employers and industries.  Download career resource guides such as Vault Career Guide to Book Publishing and Vault Career Guide to Journalism & Information Media.  Read career profiles of writers, publicists, attorneys, editors along with industry profiles of media/entertainment, advertising, non-profit, and politics/government.

O*Net is a resource developed by the U.S. Department of Labor offering occupational information.  The great part about this website is that you can search by skill set and find careers that use those skills.  This particular site is dedicated to key attributes and characteristics of workers and occupations.

Stop by CES to take a look at our Career Resource Library!  One resource available to students interested in careers in writing is called Writers & Others Who Have a Way with Words.  This book provides an overview of the writing business and then specifically addresses writing careers within magazine writing, technical writing, advertising, public relations, freelancing, and more.

Road Trip Nation was started by a group of college graduates, shortly after graduation.  These graduates took a trip across the country talking with career professionals about their career paths, interests, goals, and dreams.  The grads hoped to find their calling as they learned about career options but the experience grew into something much bigger.  Visit the Road Trip Nation website to read interviews with writers. 

A search for writing brings up interview/profiles with Gene Bourg (food critic), Devorah Major (poet laureate), Ben Younger (Writer/Director, Boiler Room, Prime), Jennifer Rudolph-Walsh (Literary Agent, William Morris Agency), Ann Powers (Rock Journalist and Sr. Curator, Experience Music Project), and more…


For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I'm surprised where the journey takes me.  --Jack Dann

Informational Interviewing:  One of the best ways to learn about a career is to talk with individuals currently working in that field.  An informational interview may be conducted in person or via phone and centers on your gaining new knowledge on a field of choice.  Whether you are still exploring and wanting to learn basic information about a particular field, or if you are already decided and looking for tips on searching for a informational interview is a fantastic resource.  Keep in mind that informational interviews should be undertaken with utmost care and professionalism...and always send a thank you note afterwards!

One student used an informational interview to learn more about which skills are important for a career and to investigate the key issues affecting the industry.  This meeting helped her realize that she was pursuing the right career because as she learned about the job responsibilities and tasks, she found herself energized.  The interview also helped her learn that the position was a good match for her skills and interests.  It also helped her prepare for interviews because she gained knowledge about important issues facing the industry.

Another student used informational interviewing to learn about a field in general.  This student asked the professional what he liked and disliked about his career choice, what types of entry-level positions were available (and what were the responsibilities associated with those positions), and how he could find an internship.
Here are some good resources on informational interviewing:
Informational Interviewing: A Powerful Tool for College Students
Informational Interviewing Tutorial 
Informational Interviewing Do's and Don'ts
Questions to Ask at the Informational Interview 
Top 10 things NOT to do during an informational interview

Remember to be clear and concise about who you are, what your purpose is, and how you discovered their name.  A typical contact might sound like this:  "Hello, this is Chris College.  I received your name from the Puget Sound Alumni Sharing Knowledge Network.  I am interested in social services and I note you have extensive experience in the field.  Would you have 20 or 30 minutes to meet with me sometime so that I might learn more about how you got started, trends in the field, and specific information on your organization?"

You may wonder if people will take time away from their busy schedules to talk with you.  They will for several reasons:  you have been referred to them by someone they know; meeting with you and others helps keep them informed, up-to-date and well-connected; experts love to share their expertise; and people like to help others because they find it rewarding.

Shadowing:  Shadowing a professional involves following that person and observing their typical job activities.  This interaction can provide you with a great deal of information in a short amount of time.  Shadowing opportunities are arranged with each professional and you then follow the professional for an afternoon, day, or week...depending on the willingness and availability of the professional.

Internship:  An internship is defined as a short-term work experience in which you receive training and gain experience in a specific field or career area.  An internship can be paid or unpaid and can vary in time commitment.  Internships provide you with hands-on experience in a particular field.  Additional benefits of holding an internship are developing a network of professionals associated with your field of interest, and “auditioning” organizations as potential employers for the future.

Internships may be pursued for academic credit here at the University of Puget Sound.  For more information on credit for internships, please take a look at the CES internship page.
Professional Associations:  A professional association is a network of professionals working within a focused career area.  Professional associations serve as resources for individuals working within that field and may include general information on an industry, employment resources, network and mentoring opportunities and more.  There are even student chapters of some professional associations.  So, take a look at some of the professional associations associated with writing and see what type of information you can discover on their websites...the possibilities are endless!

Association of Food Journalists
Society for Technical Communication, Puget Sound Chapter
Travel Journalists Guild
Outdoor Writers Association of America
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
American Medical Writers Association
American Screenwriters Association
Public Relations Society of America
American Literary Translators Association

Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network:  Exclusively for University of Puget Sound students and alumni, ASK Online connects you to more than 1800 Puget Sound alumni interested in sharing their experience with you!  Search by major, career area, employer, and more.
Stop by CES to take a look at the directory of National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States.  There is a professional association for every career and this book lists them all!  Each of the professional associations listed in this week’s Careers in Writing newsletter were discovered in the book, and there are more to find!

Writing Careers for the 21st Century:  This article discusses emergent careers in the field of writing including blogging and on-line auction listing.  Writing for the web involves a different kind of writing style.  Read this article to learn more about this upcoming field and to see if it holds any interest for you.  (To get to the second page of the article, try clicking on the number rather than “next” to help you avoid pop-up ads.)


Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing.  - Bonnie Friedman

What Skills Do Employers Seek?  The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) solicits feedback from employers each year about the skills that they seek in new hires. According the NACE's 2006 Job Outlook survey, the Top 10 qualities/skills employers seek are:

Communication skills (verbal and written)
Teamwork skills (works well with others)
Strong work ethic
Analytical skills
Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)
Computer skills

The majority these are skills developed here at Puget Sound both within and outside of the classroom. Writing skills are highly sought by employers across all fields.

What Can I do with an English Major?  An article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer discussed a recently published book entitled I'm an English Major -- Now What? (available for check out from the CES Career Resource Library) and works to dispel three myths about English degrees. The article quotes a human resources manager, "if you can write, you can do a lot of different things."  So true!

Transferable Skills:  Many times students struggle with showcasing the skills developed in their education.  Keep in mind that you acquire talents in the classroom through writing papers, participating in team projects, presenting research findings to a class, leading and participating in clubs, and more.  You also develop leadership and interpersonal skills through your involvement in student organizations and part-time jobs.  The skills that you develop in one location and can apply to many different job situations are called transferable skills.  Katharine Hansen discusses some specific transferable skills in her article in  After you read the article, spend a few moments thinking about one of your activities, jobs, or classroom experiences and the skills you developed from that involvement.  Use this worksheet from to get started.

The elasticity of a liberal arts student is endless.  Not only do you develop skills within your field of interest, but you have an all-around understanding of the world and where you fit in.  You have naturally developed many critical thinking and analytical skills that employers actively seek; and perhaps this has not occurred to you but it will greatly benefit you!  Some other skills an Indiana university article mentioned include adaptability to change, problem-solving, and critical thinking which all point to a well-rounded individual with many competencies sought by employers.  Because of all of these combined factors, your confidence in yourself and your degree shines immensely.

Ten Ways to Market Your Liberal Arts Degree:  "There's lots of material out there about why it's a great idea to major in liberal arts, as well as information on how to choose a career that maximizes your liberal-arts degree.  But there's not much written about how to actually market your degree to employers."  Read the rest of this article by Katharine Hansen.

10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College is available in the CES Career Resource Library. This book discusses important skills (transferable skills) and provides general overview information about skill development and how to market those skills.  A helpful section on goal-setting is also included within each chapter.

Train Your Brain is full of articles on the value of a liberal arts education.  You can peruse writings on topics with titles ranging from "High Tech CEO's say the value of liberal arts is increasing" to "The Right Education for Changing Times."


Writing is the most disciplined form of thinking. - Donald Murray

Once you start thinking about applying for positions you will need to consider how you will represent yourself to your potential employer.  There are a few "tools" that you will want to have ready for your application process.

Resume:  A resume is a snapshot of your experience.  It's a one page summary of your involvement that provides a link between the skills you have and the position available.  In essence, a resume is a marketing tool designed to intrigue want them to learn about the skills and experiences you have and then invite you in to an interview so they can hear more about your background.  Take a look at the following websites to learn more about the types of resumes and to gain some tips on developing your own.

CES Resume and Cover Letter Guide

Jobweb's Guide to Resumes and Interviews

Cover Letter:  A cover letter will always accompany a resume when you are applying for a job or interview. It serves as a bridge between your resume and potential jobs.  You may write a letter in response to a specific job opening or to inquire if an organization anticipates openings for a certain type of position.  Cover letters serve as your introduction to a potential employer.

Cover Letters, A Recruiter's Perspective

Writing Samples:  Given that you are thinking about a career in writing, many employers will ask for writing samples as part of your application process.  A cover letter and resume will provide some insight into your writing abilities, and employers will want to be able to see a more in-depth version of your writing to assess your skills.  Writing samples may be papers from class; make sure that you have corrected any errors and incorporated feedback from your professor.  Don't send in samples that are too long, typically 3-5 pages is okay but you want to make sure and follow any guidelines outlined in the job application.  Place your name on each page of the writing sample (or at least on the first page of each sample if you are sending in more than one).  Of course, think about the field to which you are applying.  Whenever possible, when a writing sample is requested, try and submit a strong sample that is related to the career field.  First and foremost, make sure the samples showcase your solid writing skills.

Portfolio:  A portfolio affords you the opportunity to showcase your creative abilities.  Portfolios are important tools when looking for creative positions, as they demonstrate to employers your ability to conceptualize an idea and then bring it to fruition.  Portfolios may be created in binders, on CD-ROM, in file folders, on-line, etc.  You will want to consider your audience when creating your portfolio.  Always display your best work.  For additional information on portfolio development, please take a look at the following resources.

Building a Technical Writing Portfolio

Your Job Skills Portfolio

Building an Online Portfolio

Interviewing:  Once you have used your resume and cover letter to secure an interview, it's time to meet with your potential employer.  Interviews are designed for both a candidate and employer to learn a bit more about each other.  Most interviews will involve the employer learning more about a candidate by asking questions about why a candidate is interested in the position, what skills the candidate has to bring to the position, and more.  At the same time, the candidate will be learning more about the employer by inquiring into the working environment and gaining more specific information about the employer (information that is not readily accessible on the Internet or in books).  Here are a couple of resources on interviewing:

CES Guide to Interviewing

Jobweb's Guide to Resume Writing and Interviews

Given that you have expressed an interest in careers in writing, you are probably all familiar with Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.  This week I invite you to peruse The Elements of Resume Style: Essential Rules and Eye-Opening Advice for Writing Resumes and Cover Letters that Work by Scott Bennett.  Bennet breaks down resume and cover letter writing to the basic elements ("even the simplest items send messages to the reader"), selling skills, and marketing yourself.  This book is available for check out from the CES Career Resource Library.

Now that you have been thinking about career areas of interest, marketing your skills, and applying for positions…it is time to seek out some of those positions.  For the Cool Website of the Week this week, there are actually a several.  Take a look at some of the job-related websites included below.  Also, try conducting your own google search with "careers in writing, websites" and see what you find!

The Write Stuff:  A resource for technical communication services with corporate headquarters in Bellevue.

Journalism Jobs:  Jobs in categories ranging from newspapers to trade publications to technology news and more.

Sun Oasis:  A website with job postings and also basic information on some careers in writing.

The Write Jobs:  Job board for writing professionals with additional links to other resources for writers.

Riley Guide Resources for Writers:  This website provides additional links to a myriad career and job sites for writers.

Career and Employment Services does its best to advertise websites that will hold the most interest and relevance for Puget Sound students. However, it is up to you to determine if these websites meet your needs. Please be savvy consumers of the information and resources provided on-line.

There are always more where these came from! Don't forget about the importance of networking addressed in an earlier Careers in Writing Issue and keep in mind that CES Staff members can always help you in your search.

Need More Help?  Career and Employment Services has a team of career counselors to help you investigate resources relating to your job and career search process. Appointments can be made by calling 879.3161 and asking to schedule a meeting with a career counselor.