Becoming a copywriter is one of the most popular career paths for arts and humanities graduates.
While holding an essay-based degree is often a necessary entry requirement for many copywriting jobs, the demands of the role call for specific writing skills that are not taught in formal education.
Here are 5 key skills that hiring managers look for when employing copywriters, along with some tips on how they can be honed and demonstrated in a job application or CV.
1. Writing quickly and managing simultaneous projects
One of the biggest challenges that any professional writer faces when entering the world of work is producing high-quality content at the speed required to meet competing deadlines.
Many copywriters are required to write in excess of 5,000 words each day over a number of different projects.
Projects need to be worked on simultaneously, meaning that a copywriter needs to be adept at jumping from task-to-task without slowing down.
While experienced copywriters develop systems for producing articles quickly while maintaining their quality throughout, such systemisation is born out of practice.
The more writing projects that you take on, and the harder you push yourself with deadlines, the faster you will become.
So while at university, and immediately after graduation, try to take on some freelance writing work.
This can both build your portfolio, teach you how to manage multiple deadlines, and allow you to get a reference that tells employers that you can work with the efficiency required to thrive in a full-time copywriting role.
2. Adapting your writing to meet “house styles”
The largest employers of copywriters are marketing and PR agencies who serve multiple clients.
Each client will have an individual “house-style”, and all the copy that you create will have to be congruent with that “house-style”.
This means that each project you work on will require you to adapt the tone of your writing. As more digital platforms emerge, you will also need to adapt your writing style to suit these various platforms — an Instagram post requires a different writing style to a brochure.
One of the best ways to practice adapting your writing style is to try and write for magazines and other online publications that you enjoy reading.
Most publications accept contributed articles from readers, and a large part of getting accepted is matching the style of the publication in question.
All you need to do to write for these outlets is to email the editor and pitch an outline of an article that you think their other readers would enjoy.
Although most of these publications do not pay contributing writers, adding that you have written for various publications on your CV will demonstrate an ability to adapt your writing style.
It’ll also show you have an understanding of how to pitch articles (this is a key skill for any PR or content marketing role) and shows that you are willing to use your initiative to further your writing career.
3. Turning briefs into content
Most copywriting projects start with a brief, given to you either by a client or from higher-ups in your company.
The ability to follow a brief, and to understand the goals that each piece of writing you create is trying to achieve, is as important as the writing itself.
Many copywriting jobs have you produce a piece of writing from a “sample brief” as part of the application process, so it is well worth getting a few of these projects under your belt before you start applying for full-time roles.
Freelance writing jobs, which you can take on an ad-hoc basis, almost always see you working towards a preset brief
Accepting as broad a range as possible of this type of work will prepare you well for any type of brief that may come your way in your career.
The brief for sales pages, for example, is vastly different to ones for purely informational blog posts, and the more variation you have with your writing experience, the better prepared you will be for a full-time role.
4. An understanding of on-page SEO
Given that almost all copywriting roles require you to create some website content, copywriters are expected to have a basic understanding of on-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to the aspects of the content written on a page that affects its search engine visibility.
The amount of SEO understanding that a copywriter needs can be learned from reading books.
The book “How to Get to the Top of Google” by Tim Kitchen is an excellent place to start.
In an interview for a copywriting job, some SEO related questions that you may be asked include:
“What are the role of keywords in SEO”
“How are SEO friendly articles structured”
“What role does copywriting play in a larger SEO strategy”
An understanding of HTML, and its importance in SEO, may also be required for more digitally focussed copywriting roles.
5. The ability to take feedback
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of a career in copywriting is the subjectivity involved in people’s evaluation of all the work you produce.
You can write an article that perfectly follows a brief and reads well to you and your colleagues, but the client still might not accept it for reasons that you believe to be trivial.
In these instances you will have to rewrite, or at least tweak, your initial article to meet your client’s demands.
Negative feedback can be hard to take for inexperienced copywriters, and can often lead to a decline in motivation and output.
Resilience to negative feedback comes from experience and having innate confidence in your writing abilities.
You may well be asked, in a copywriting interview, to talk about a time where you took negative feedback on board and adjusted your style accordingly.
Be sure to have a handful of good examples of times where this has happened to draw upon.
Remember: copywriting opportunities are everywhere
As we have seen, many of the skills that employers of copywriters are looking for can only come through experience.
The freelance copywriting scene is thriving, with opportunities for ad-hoc work plentiful.
Most of the skills listed here can only be learned through experience, so it’s undoubtedly worth checking out what freelance copywriting work is available while you pursue the job hunt.