Creating a Writer’s Resume by Moira Allen

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com (http://www.writing-world.com) and the author of more than 300 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer and The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals.

  

Do you know what a writer’s resume looks like? I have a “regular” full-time job but also work as a freelance writer from home. Recently I saw two ads for writing jobs, requiring a resume along with clips and a query letter. Should I include only my writing credits and education? Or should I include my whole employment history even though many of those jobs had nothing to do with writing?

Here’s a dilemma freelance writers often face: How do you go about getting a “day job” in the writing or publishing business? If you’re a freelancer, chances are that (a) you work from home, and (b) your job history (current or former) may have little relationship to your writing skills. You know that you have the skills to handle a regular writing or editorial position, but how do you convince an employer?

Don’t despair: There is an alternative. Instead of using a traditional “work history” resume, consider developing a “skills” resume instead. This type of resume is a perfectly acceptable alternative to the chronological resume, and enables you to focus on the skills and experience that are directly relevant to the job for which you’re applying.

Putting Your Credentials First

A skills resume differs from a job-history resume in that it lists your skills and qualifications in a separate section, rather than as a subset of your work history. The basic framework for such a resume might look something like this:

Section 1: Name, address, telephone, fax, e-mail, URL

If you’re using a print resume, center these in a larger, attractive (but not too fancy) font, as follows:

Ima Great Writer

123 Quill Pen Rd. • Hometown, CA 94000

(555) 123-4567 • (555) 123-4568 (fax) • e-mail

Great Writings Page • http://www.greatwritings.com

 

Section 2: Objectives

Optional. If you choose to list your objectives, use no more than two lines here.

Section 3: Qualifications

This is the critical part of your resume. You may want to give this section a more definitive title, such as Writing and Editing Experience. Here, you’ll want to list each type of skill that is relevant to the job you’re applying for. For example, if the job listing asks for demonstrated writing and editing skills, plus familiarity with Internet publishing and HTML, your “qualifications” section might look something like this:

Writing: Professional writer for XX years, with experience in magazine, newspaper, and business writing. Author of XXX articles in XX national publications; co-author of two books; author of three book chapters. Winner of the 1998 “best article” award from the Good Authors’ Association. (See attached publications list for details.)

Editing: Editor of two electronic newsletters, various corporate and business materials (including reports, white papers, and brochures) and one organizational newsletter. Experienced in copyediting, content editing, and proofreading.

Business and Corporate Writing: Developer, writer, editor and designer of a wide range of business materials, including brochures, newsletters, and annual reports. Clients include…

Internet, HTML, and Desktop Publishing: Webmaster for the Great Writings Page (http://www.greatwritings.com). Familiar with HTML, VTML, and java. Familiar with several desktop publishing programs for both electronic and print publishing, including [list programs you’ve used].

Anything else that might seem relevant…

Section 4: Work History

Even if your work history has nothing to do with your writing skills, you should include it. A history of employment indicates to a potential employer that you are, in fact, employable. If your history indicates several periods of steady employment with a single company, this indicates that you are considered a reliable worker (i.e., one who was retained) rather than someone who either flits from job to job or gets fired frequently. If you’ve been promoted within your company (past or present), list this as well, as this is another good indication of your ability to function well as an employee.

Unlike the job-history listings in a regular chronological resume, however, you’ll want to keep these sections short. List your job title, dates, the name of the company and its location, and a contact name and number if you wish. Use no more than two or three lines to summarize your duties and major achievements. Be selective: List promotions, and highlights such as number of people supervised, whether you were responsible for a budget, whether you handled major projects, etc.

If you have been self-employed as a freelance writer for a period of time, list this as your most recent “job.” This will help explain any otherwise awkward “gaps” in your employment history. For example:

Freelance Writer – June 1997 to present

City, state

Brief description of your primary writing activities, including the names of any major clients or publications for which you have provided material or services. Don’t bother to recap the skills you’ve already listed above.

Previous Job Title – April 1990 to June 1997

Company Name

City, state; contact name and phone number if desired.

Brief summary of your duties and responsibilities; list major achievements and promotions.

Job Before That – January 1985 to March 1990

Company Name (etc.)

Needless to say, if you can find any duties in your work history that relate to writing or the job you’re trying to obtain, list them — even if it’s something as obscure as “contributed to the company newsletter.” Do not, however, list your reasons for leaving previous jobs (whether voluntary or otherwise), and never include negative information about your previous employers.

Section 5: Education

Every resume should include your educational history, starting with the most recent degrees and working backwards. If you have a college education, omit information about high school. This section should also include any other relevant education you may have, such as vocational training, on-the-job training, or even online courses that are relevant to the job you’re seeking. (Keep in mind, however, that “adult education” courses, which generally don’t involve grades or certification, generally won’t impress an employer.)

Many writing and editorial jobs ask for a degree in writing (e.g., journalism, English, etc.). Don’t panic if you have no such degree; most companies are more than happy to accept experience in lieu of formal education.

Section 6: Awards and Memberships

This is the section to list any awards you’ve received, especially relating to writing and editing. (Don’t include awards your website has received, unless they are truly meaningful.) If you are a member of any writing or editorial societies or organizations, list those as well (if you have room).

Section 7: Personal Information

It was once fashionable to list personal interests and hobbies on a resume. Now, however, that is considered inappropriate. If you have specific “hobby” skills that somehow relate to the job in question, try to find a way to list those under “skills” instead. (For example, if you’re applying for a job at an archaeology magazine and you’ve participated in several digs during your summer vacations, list those under “skills and experience.”).

Pulling it All Together…

Here’s what your resume might look like when you’re finished:

Ima Great Writer

123 Quill Pen Rd. • Hometown, CA 94000

(555) 123-4567 • (555) 123-4568 (fax) • e-mail

Great Writings Page • http://www.greatwritings.com

 

Objectives: An editorial position that will enable me to contribute to the creative development of a publication and expansion of its circulation.

Writing and Editorial Background

Writing: Professional writer for XX years, with experience in magazine, newspaper, and business writing. Author of XXX articles in XX national publications; co-author of two books; author of three book chapters. Winner of the 1998 “best article” award from the Good Authors’ Association. (See attached publications list for details.)

Editing: Editor of two electronic newsletters, various corporate and business materials (including reports, white papers, and brochures) and one organizational newsletter. Experienced in copyediting, content editing, and proofreading.

Business and Corporate Writing: Developer, writer, editor and designer of a wide range of business materials, including brochures, newsletters, and annual reports. Clients include…

Internet, HTML, and Desktop Publishing: Webmaster for the Great Writings Page (http://www.greatwritings.com). Familiar with HTML, VTML, and java. Familiar with several desktop publishing programs for both electronic and print publishing, including [list programs you’ve used].

Speaker: Invited speaker to several writing conferences, including…

Employment History

Freelance Writer – June 1997 to present

City, state

Brief description of your primary writing activities, including the names of any major clients or publications for which you have provided material or services. Don’t bother to recap the skills you’ve already listed above.

Previous Job Title – April 1990 to June 1997

Company Name

City, state; contact name and phone number if desired.

Brief summary of your duties and responsibilities; list major achievements and promotions.

Previous Job Title – January 1985 to March 1990

Company Name

Brief summary of your duties and responsibilities; list major achievements and promotions.

Education

M.A., University of Somewhere, 1989 – Journalism

B.A., University of Somewhere Else, 1985 – English

Certification in Editorial Excellence, 1992; Certification in HTML, Online School of HTML, 1997.

Awards and Memberships

Cat Writers’ Association, “Best Article,” 1998

Speakers’ Bureau Certificate of Excellence, 1997

Member, Authors’ Guild

Member, Mystery Writers’ Association of America

Member, Mytown Writers’ Consortium; Vice-President

1997-1998

  

Extra Materials

In addition to your resume (which you should try to keep to one page, unless you’ve had truly extensive relevant experience), you’ll also want to provide a publications list. This should also be kept to a single page. Give it the same header (name, address, etc) as your resume, and use it to list your most significant publications or those that are most relevant to the position. Double-space the list, which should include the title of each article or story, the publication in which it appeared, and the date of publication. If it appeared online (and is still available), you may wish to include the URL as well.

You may also be asked for clips. Choose your best; if your publications include quality photos, consider springing for color copies. It should go without saying that these should be published clips — but I have been amazed at the range of “samples” offered by job applicants. One individual who was applying to a job I was about to vacate offered the first three pages of two unfinished short stories as “samples” of her writing ability (need I say that she wasn’t hired?).

If you haven’t assembled a portfolio of your best work, this is a good time to do so. Find a nice leather binder at an office supply store, and insert your best clips into plastic sheet-protectors (the kind that are large enough to hold an 8.5×11 page without the need to actually hole-punch your clips themselves). Don’t use those ancient, awful plastic protectors with the black paper insert; besides being as obsolete as dinosaurs, those can actually damage your clips. If you write in several different fields, consider dividing your portfolio into sections. Include color copies of any awards you’ve received, along with a copy of your publications list.

Preparing in Advance

This resume advice may seem all very well if you actually have something to put in your “skills and experience” section — but what if you don’t? The short answer is that you’re not likely to get the job of your dreams. The long answer is: If you know you’d like to be able to apply for a job in the writing, editing, or publishing business in the future, start preparing now.
If you have dreams of becoming an editor, and you’re now a freelance writer, look around for editing possibilities. Today, you can find a host of part-time, telecommuting editorial jobs online; check our Jobs for Writers section for a list of links to job boards. For many of these jobs, all you need is skill and a modem.

Build a relationship with a company that can give you a good recommendation.

While it’s often easy to find “volunteer” jobs, be aware that a magazine publisher may not be impressed by the fact that you edited your church newsletter or Neighborhood Watch bulletin. A history of “paid” positions, even part-time contract jobs, will serve far better (and put food on your table at the same time). Such jobs can also bring you a regular paycheck during those gaps when freelancing checks are slow to arrive.

A good “skills” resume may be all you need to get your foot in the door. After that, it’s up to you. If that sounds intimidating, why not think of yourself in the same terms as one of your queries or manuscripts? With the proper presentation — the right envelope, a professional approach, and appropriate credentials — you’ll be well on your way to the job of your dreams.

Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen

 

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6 Responses

  1. Wow! This is a keeper. Thank you so much for the information.

    I have a writing resume and a separate work resume. I’ve never seen the two combined. Also, my writing resume is in dire need of updating.

    Blessings,
    Susan 🙂

  2. Great reference, Sharon! I’m sending this one out to my writing group.

    Thanks so much for posting this.

    Angie

  3. Well, I never! I have a general resume but not a “writer’s resume.”

    Good reference.

    Thanks, Sharon.

  4. Susan, I hadn’t thought of combining both resumes either until I found this article. I’m so glad the author of the article provided permission to reprint it so that I could pass along the information. 🙂

  5. Angie, I’m so glad you found the article helpful. Have a wonderful evening, my dear.

  6. Patti, my sweet angel. I’m delighted that I was able to pass along this article. Consider yourself hugged (big ol’ bear hug) by moi. 🙂

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