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I found my first copywriter job on Craigslist

After law school I took a job in government working on intellectual property. After some deliberate choices and unpredictable situations, I ended up as a policy analyst for the Ministry of Transportation. Up until this point I’d been coasting through life from a career perspective, if one can coast through teaching and law and policy (one can).

And it was here, sitting in my cubicle staring down the hall at a poster with a kitten struggling on a ledge, the words “Hang in there” in Comic Sans splashed underneath its paws, when I realised I had to write for a living. 

So I popped onto Craigslist (I am old) and under jobs typed “copywriter”. The very first listing was for the Vancouver Film School. I applied. And they offered me the job, partly because I had a weird resume but mostly because I was the only person who applied who could show them any writing. 

This was not the job of my dreams

I met some fantastic people at VFS with whom I’m still friends today, and the job was undeniably the springboard that brought me to London. But let me tell you - when I thought about becoming a copywriter it was not to write bus ads for a 3D modelling course. I was reading Creative Review and Adweek and had dreams of working on a Big Idea for a Major Client. It paid 40% less than my government role.

But I took the job because more than anything else, I wanted to be paid for words. And more than anything else I’ve told you here, it’s that desire you’ll need to see you through.

See you through writing for (initially) no audience and contacting potential mentors and doing research and checking LinkedIn every day, literally every single day, so much so that you grow to almost love it, its stupid interface and pathological approach to notifications. 

And while everything you’ve read so far has been based solely on my opinion and personal experience, this next thing is like, super that. It’s what I think is true, but could not be right or true or good for you. 

Take the first paid writing gig you’re offered

The first time someone offers you money for your words and not exposure or beer or shares in their yet to be created company, take it. Say yes and do the job and do it really well. And the reason for this is simple - you want to experience what it feels like to be paid to write. Now, if they’re offering you the equivalent of exposure, which is to say “fuck all”, then you can tell them to get in the sea. Or, more professionally, make a counter-offer. 

Is being paid for words different than being paid for anything else? Practically, no. But psychologically—and if you’re not on board yet that most of this is a mental battle, a trial of wills, then you never will be— psychologically, it’s going to do wonders. Because no matter what you thought before, once someone pays you for words, once you get money for writing, you my friend are a paid writer.

Where you will find a job

Remember step 4? It could be there. Otherwise, hit up all the usual places, including LinkedIn, Glassdoor, If You Could, Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere there are people and companies. 

Sian Meades-Williams puts out a weekly newsletter with freelance writing jobs. It’s great.

Another good tactic is to go to the website of companies you like and click on “careers”. Often there will be positions listed there you won’t see on job sites.

I got my first job in London through a recruiter. And my second job. They were fantastic. Recruiters can be a real mixed bag, so use them at your discretion. A number of good companies refuse to work with them.

And that’s it

Thanks for reading this far. I hope you’ll find it of some use. And since you have made it all this way, here’s that offer of feedback. If you want me to read your writing or resume and give you my reckons, drop me a note at mr.thomwong@gmail.com. Just make sure I can see it online. 

Take care.