November 4, 2021

CommunicationProfessional Development

Want a Job as a Writer? Your Op-eds Can Launch a Communications Career

By: Erin Dunne

The path to “making it” as a writer seems to go something like this: write and place several op-eds, develop a reputation as a commentator on key issues or topics and turn that burgeoning influence into bylines in larger publications and, if you’re lucky, a full-time job writing or editing. To be sure, if this is the path you have your heart set on there are plenty of opportunities and plenty of programs to help you get there, including AF’s Writing Fellows Program.

But if you want to write for a career, the path outlined above is a relatively narrow one and just one of many options. And if you already have some experience writing op-eds or, perhaps, completing the Writing Fellows Program, you are well on your way to having the skills you need to land a job in communications or public relations.

Although the relationship between PR professionals and journalists  may appear at odds with each other, many of the skills that allow good writers to identify angles and quickly produce a story or op-ed translate exceptionally well to advising clients worried about their public image or keeping a potential crisis under control.

Here’s how to turn your experience in journalism or op-ed writing into a communications job:

1. Get to know the industry. Communications jobs can cover a broad range of responsibilities including; work with political campaigns, supporting government relations, developing digital campaigns, managing crisis responses, or more traditional functions such as developing strategic communications plans and managing media relations. When browsing job boards or LinkedIn, consider reaching out to someone – in your network or not – who is already in a position that interests you. This can help you figure out what positions best match your skills and align with your interests.

2. Emphasize your skills. In your application materials and during an interview, tailor your examples of experience  to the skills needed for the position. For example, if you know that part of the job description includes pitching media, be ready with a story about how you built a relationship with an editor to place your own op-ed or have a few talking points prepared to discuss how even if you haven’t drafted a pitch yourself you have received many pitches and understand what is likely to grab the attention of a reporter or editor.

3. Demonstrate an ability to learn quickly. Most communications jobs – particularly those at agencies – are as fast paced as a newsroom. Hiring managers are interested in candidates that have experience in a fast-paced environment and can quickly learn about a new topic. Even if you have never held a full-time journalism job, talking about how you have quickly written an op-ed responding to breaking news can help demonstrate that you would thrive in a high-stakes environment.

4. Be prepared to talk about writing. From proposals to press releases and communications playbooks to digital ad copy, the bread and butter of most communications positions is writing well. The more things that you’ve written, the more examples you will be able to give across topics, issues and formats. In an interview, be prepared to walk the interviewer through your writing process and highlight a couple of things that you have written that you think best demonstrate your skill. Ideally, you should be able to provide these examples as writing samples too! 

Although many job descriptions for communications positions list a preference for candidates with a communications or journalism degree, those credentials are far less important than demonstrating in your application  that you have the skills necessary to succeed. Focus on these skills and how you can apply the experience that you do have to the position. And with a little persistence and elbow grease you will be on your way to building your career in communications!