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Three tips for launching a writing career

The question

I plan to move into the next journey of my career as an editor and writer. I have a BA in English and a 20-year sales and marketing career in media and in health care. Naturally my résumé predominantly promotes my sales and marketing expertise. Fortunately, in each position, I have exercised my writing and editing skills at my own initiative and by request for my apparent expertise. In fact, I have a variety of pieces for a decent portfolio.

I would like to know how to draw out my editing and writing skills while presenting the sales and marketing experience as secondary (although they were primary). I don't want to deceive a potential employer but my job titles do not lend themselves directly to an editing or writing position. Perhaps it's not the traditional résumé template I require.

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Your guidance is greatly appreciated.

The answer

Having strong written communication skills is a benefit in most professions and these skills are easily transferable to many different areas. The most important thing is to highlight your writing and editing skills, using your previous experience to back it up.

Firstly, target your résumé toward a writing role, using your sales background to get you there. Create a skills and accomplishments inventory to highlight how you have exercised a writing and editing role for your career, just in a different format.

For example, take common skills such as writing, editing, publication management and research. Under each skill, list two or three accomplishments. They may have been used in a sales and marketing role, but the core skills are emphasized. This skills and accomplishments section should be at the top of your résumé, followed by career history and education.

In addition, create a profile for the top of your résumé that shows you are a writing and editing professional, using your experience in sales and marketing to illustrate this. You may have had experience in writing business plans, interviewing executives, or organizing special events. Draw out your writing and editing skills from these and other activities you have participated in over your career.

Secondly, create a dynamite portfolio. You need to illustrate to a potential employer that you are a strong writer, rather than just telling them you are. Having six or eight pieces, presented in a professional way, will not only say you are a good writer, but show you are organized (another important characteristic of a writer).

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A few tips with portfolios:

1. Select pieces of your writing that will appeal to the job you are interviewing for. If the role you are interviewing for asks for newsletters, proposals and business plans, include these kinds of samples.

2. Present your work in a professional portfolio. Take with you an artist's folio (available at art supplies stores) or something that can protect your work as you present it to the hiring panel.

3. As you talk about your work, pull out samples from your portfolio. Do not wait until the end of the interview to share your work; do it as you talk about your accomplishments.

By focusing in on the skills that make you an excellent writer and editor, and using your sales and marketing experience to highlight these skills, you should have no trouble showcasing your talents in a résumé and in an interview. And if the interview strays over to your sales role, bring it back to your skills as a strong writer and editor.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for Cam McRae Consulting in Calgary.

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