Learning how to properly interview someone can be a difficult task. It requires attention to detail, the use and application of relevant questions, and a sense of purpose that guides the interview. At the same time, the interviewer must not control the flow of the interview, but rather direct and gently guide the discussion on to important points.
The following career guide is meant to help guide applicants during the hiring process. Ultius also provides professional resume writing services to help candidates prepare for the job search.
The interview assignment
In-depth understanding of particular areas of work can be hard to come by unless a person has actually lived through years of experiences related to that industry. However, asking questions and truly listening to those who have spent that time is a great way to get an idea of what lies ahead. A lot of people just starting out think that all you need is an education and a smile.
But, after hearing the experiences of two professionals in different fields, it becomes clear that success depends more on experience and knowing your field rather than earning a two or four-year degree, and also working really hard at a lower rate until you’ve “paid your dues” so that you can move up in position and pay grade.
Rebecca Larson: The freelance writer
Rebecca Larson is a freelance editor and writer. She has 12 years of industry experience and a Bachelor’s degree in English from UC Berkeley. I sat down with her recently to find out more about her career and to see what insight I could gain from her experiences.
“I actually got my start in professional writing in my early twenties,” says Rebecca. “My mom got me the job. It was a boutique technical editing firm. I sent in a couple creative writing stories, was pleasant in a face-to-face interview, and they hired me on the spot without any experience or college education.”
Rebecca explains that she’s always had a knack for explaining things well and that she liked the freedom of working on her own and setting her own schedule—that’s one of the best parts about this kind of job.
Using interview techniques to win the job
Rebecca says that while anyone can write or edit, a lot of companies want to see that the people they hire are capable of doing the job. A lot of places won’t hire writers if they don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree or a minimum level of experience in the writing/editing field. Rebecca prefers to hire people who have skills to manage their freelance time wisely and experience since those are the people who can churn out good writing quickly.
But it’s not all rainbows, according to Ms. Larson, one of the problems with being a writer or editor is that everybody comes to you for the answer. If something is confusing or needs to be clarified, it’s your job to make it that way.
“Sometimes a job will come in where the instructions for that job just don’t make sense—it’s my job to make unclear writing clear, so I deal with a lot of confusing orders that I have to double check and clarify before I can understand what the true objective is.”
Rebecca’s daily routine is to check her emails for new assignments, do those assignments, double check them for accuracy and clarity, and email her clients the finished documents. When I asked how important an internship was, I was surprised to find that internships aren’t as important as I thought. The key is to be good and to have a sample that shows it:
“The only thing people care about is if you can do the work, and that is easily demonstrated through your writing sample.”
Previous experience important in the interview
Previous experience is important, but you can get that at a lot of places. There isn’t any one job or internship that will make or break you.
“Just put yourself out there, say yes to every offer you get whether it’s paid or not, and eventually you’ll be good enough to get paid.”
Writing and editing are about building on experiences, and I suppose that’s actually what any career is actually. That’s how you get good, just keep doing it, building on what you’ve learned. Rebecca says that speed and competence are the two most important skills. Her professional mantra is: “get it done quickly and do it right the first time.”
In the next three to five years, Rebecca doesn’t see much changing in this industry. There will always need to be someone to write what others are trying to say. As information goes global, a need for technical writers and editors who understand the information technology field will expand—so the ideal future candidate will be multi-lingual and also have the ability to understand tech schematics or various computer languages.
While an advanced degree is not necessary to do well in this field, there are some technical writing positions that require a deep understanding of technology or science, alongside a strong background in English. NASA, biotech industries, and other highly specialized fields need writers too, and those writers have to understand what they’re talking about.
Writing/editing salaries vary wildly. You can make below minimum wage with no benefits (usually on an independent contractor, flat-rate-per-job basis), or you can make upwards of 90,000 a year (senior technical writer for software corporations)—and if you manage to find a decent amount of success, you can actually make millions of dollars as a creative writer. Rebecca recommended that I check out glassdoor.com to get a better understanding of the salary options for different writing and editing jobs.
Jessica Smith: The event coordinator
Jessica Smith specializes in events coordination and events staffing. She finished high school and began working immediately. She didn’t attend college. She actually fell into her line of work. A public relations events firm was looking for an office assistant and she applied for and got the job. While she was working there, she kept taking on more and more responsibility until she was running the PR events. All her other work has come through connections she’s made from that first job.
“I have always been pretty good at handling PR and getting people to do what I want. These two things make me a natural for this industry.”
The PR industry isn’t glamorous though. Jessica explains that you have to look good, have excellent people skills, be fast and efficient, and be willing to work long hours for low pay—at least, that’s how it’s been for the fashion week and awards season events. You also must have excellent organizational skills so you can plan and staff an entire event and then run it so everything goes smoothly and all the VIPs and celebrities are happy. Being able to create effective marketing strategies also is a plus in this field. It’s a tough, fast-paced job.
Explaining lack of degree during the interview process
Jessica explains that she didn’t base her hiring standards on whether or not a candidate had a degree. It was more about the skills and experience they had. Advanced degrees don’t enter into it at all. Ensuring a candidate had excellent communication skills was an important part of the hiring process.
“Not being professional, not being able to communicate, these would be horrible qualities and they’re easy to spot right off the bat.”
Jessica explains that the best part of this career is the frequent traveling to exciting places to put on events. There are also lots of celebrities if you’re into that kind of thing. It makes it easy to make connections, and attend swanky parties after work. But there are also annoying aspects; a lot of celebrities and fashion people are prima donnas. And when you’re hiring volunteer workers to staff your events, you’re dealing with a lot of inexperienced, willful, and ignorant people. It’s rough to sort through them all, and it’s even tougher to manage them once they’re all hired.
Increasing job hiring chance with internships
Working an internship or finding a summer job while in college are helpful because they orient you to the area and how things work. Also, if you intern with a big name, you can use them as a mark of prestige and (if you do well) as a future reference. The same goes for working shows as a volunteer. It looks good on a resume and allows you to network and expand your professional contacts. The ideal candidate for this type of position would be able to provide the client anything they needed or asked for, no matter how difficult, without hesitation or causing problems.
The primary tasks are calling colleagues for leads on volunteers and vendor connections to get events fully set up; also, posting ads on job boards. Then comes the sort through of the resumes and interviews. Event season is very hectic. Running shows is sort of like trying to make a bunch of spastic kindergarteners stay in one place and act professionally.
The good side to there being event “seasons” is that there are long stretches of free time between them. However, the financial drawback to this is difficult, and supplemental income sources are a very good idea when working in this area. Jessica explains that if she had gone to college, she probably would have trained to be a lawyer or to work in public policy. But for now, she doesn’t see her prospects changing much over time:
“The high level of uncertainty and ‘putting out fires’ coupled with all the people who want to ‘make it’ in the entertainment and fashion industries makes this a job that will be around for a while. But due to the low wages, this is not an industry I want to stay in.”
While it’s important to have an education in the field one is working in (academic or learned while on the job), that is only the beginning. Next, a person has got to spend a lot of time mastering a thing and building up contacts and references. If a person is good, quick, and has people that can vouch for them, then they are assured to do well. But all of that comes with a lot of very hard work.