This piece was written by an external contributor. Follow Lucy Skoulding‘s stellar advice and a would-be journalist will be able to build a strong writing portfolio in no time at all.
Getting a job in writing, whether that be journalism, publishing, or social media, is often very competitive because it is desirable. This means that you can never start building a writing portfolio too early on. University is a great time to start, especially as this often also leads to meeting like-minded people and making friends.
You will need to demonstrate your written skills and commitment to the industry by showcasing your work. Building this portfolio does not have to be boring, however. There are creative and unique ways to get writing experience, and some of them even pay.
Get involved in your student newspaper
Joining your uni newspaper or magazine is a great way to get writing and journalism experience. Opportunities may include writing articles for different sections, editing and sub-editing, managing social media, and organising journalism events. You might also get the chance to attend relevant workshops and careers events, and make industry contacts.
How: every university publication is different. Some require you to apply for writing roles while others welcome everyone to contribute. Editor and other exec roles usually involve doing an application or election. Get in contact with someone at the publication to find out what you need to do. Contributing to my student newspaper helped me realise my passion for journalism and introduced me to lifelong friends.
There are loads of competitions for young journalists, but they are difficult to find if you don’t know about them. Competitions are a fantastic way to improve your writing and build more material to add to your portfolio. Winning an award would be fantastic recognition, but just entering has worthwhile benefits too.
How: Highlights include the SPA Awards for Student Journalism, the Anthony Howard Political Prize and the NCTJ Awards for Excellence, but there are so many more. Check out this list on Journo Resources, search for opportunities online, and follow journalism career accounts on social media. Keep a note of closing dates and make sure you give yourself enough time to produce a strong entry.
Say yes to freelance writing opportunities
I wish I had known more about freelance opportunities while I was at university. It is important for young journalists to realise the value of their work and be paid for it. There are quite a lot of websites which will pay you to write articles for them, either on an hourly basis, or on a fixed fee per word or article. With some experience behind you, you can begin pitching ideas to big publications and if you get the chance to write for them they will pay you too.
How: finding these opportunities can be tricky. I would recommend writing directly for websites or companies which advertise for writers, rather than signing up to freelancing pools because these can be difficult to use at best and scams at worst. Some fantastic examples of websites which pay freelance writers are Travioor, The Culture Trip, and, of course, Debut!
Get a part-time job which involves writing
Examples of your writing abilities do not have to come exclusively from journalism ventures. If a part-time job involves significant writing responsibilities then make the most of it and big it up on your applications.
How: Maybe you manage the company’s social media, produce advertisements, or write instruction manuals? All of these prove you can write coherently and engagingly. If your job has the potential to involve writing, volunteer to do it whenever you can.
Do some writing or journalism work experience
Just like the portfolio itself, work experience is pretty crucial in pursuing a journalism career because it shows desire to learn more about the industry. This could be at a newspaper or magazine, a charity, or a social media company.
How: Work experience can be obtained by applying for advertised opportunities, reaching out to companies and sending speculative applications, or finding opportunities through people you know. Mediargh is good place to start.
Once you are on your placement, make an impression and offer to do as much writing as possible. When I did this, I was offered freelance writing work when after finishing the placement.
Complete a free writing course
Another way to strengthen your portfolio is to do a free course. There are a huge range of subjects out there, from writing fiction and journalism, to copywriting and screen writing.
How: there are online courses delivered by trustworthy organisations which sometimes allow you to get a certificate at the end. They are often referred to as MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course), and are delivered by individual universities or by companies such as Futurelearn.
Build a social media presence
Social media is a way to both build and showcase a writing portfolio. Conveying that you can put out engaging posts and successfully increase your followers shows potential employers your social media and writing abilities. By sharing your writing regularly on your accounts, employers and potential contacts can read it.
How: if you are a natural social-media guru, then proving your writing abilities on it will be easy. If you haven’t used it much before, there’s plenty of advice online for how to build a strong online presence. One tip is to have separate personal and professional accounts. Remember that prospective employers will usually look you up online, and if they see something they do not like, you could lose the opportunity.
Start a blog
A great way to showcase written ability as well as your excellent ideas and self-starter attitude is to start a blog. Blogs enable you to write about whatever you like and whatever interests you. You can design it in your own way, and even feature guest contributions.
How: as well as writing content, you will need to set up a website, using Wix or WordPress, for example. Remember that you need permission to use images and you must credit them, or take your own photos to avoid running into problems.
Join a writing society
Student newspapers are not the only way to build writing experience on campus. Many universities have other writing societies, such as creative writing or poetry. If there is nothing that suits your tastes, why not set a society up?
How: to join a society, visit their stand at the societies fair or get in contact with a current member. If you want to set a society up, approach your Students’ Union to find out the rules and regulations, then start building interest in what you are launching.
Write a book
Writing a book might seem daunting or something that only older people do, but why should this be the case? All you really need is an idea and some dedication. Start by carrying a note book with you or use your phone to jot down any ideas you have and ensure you read plenty of books to pick up on writing styles and expand your vocabulary.
How: if you’re serious, you need to be disciplined and set aside regular time to work on your book. For support, you could ask a friend or family member to read and review what you’re writing. You must then decide whether you want to be your own publisher or go through an agency.
Set up your own publication
Just like writing a book, setting up your own publication is an impressive way to build your writing experience. You can contribute regular content and show that you can lead others in doing the same.
How: You could choose to set up a university publication, like a magazine or newspaper, to which other students can contribute, or you may prefer to start something which is independent of your university. This might be a print or an online publication. I have friends who set up a poetry publication through university, and friends who established their own online ventures on topics which interest them.
The most attractive trait of a journalist is their passion. Employers look for evidence of creativity, dedication, and skill, and the best way to convey this is by building an impressive portfolio of work.
By trying out some of the suggestions above, you can improve your writing skills, build contacts, and find out if a writing career is for you. Be sure to collate your work somewhere, for example using an online portfolio, so you only need to send one link to prospective employers.