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Tag: professional

How to be a freelance writer

by MDY

Last week I interviewed two pretty well-known figures in the Australian start-up community as part of an article I’m working on. One is a few years older than me, the other about a year younger, and both have accomplished far more in a few short years – resettling in San Francisco, rebooting a corporate career – than most people aim for in a standard lifetime.

I started out my career as a freelance writer. When I was seventeen, it was a source of precious liquidity at a time when my contemporaries were mostly waiting tables or reloading cash registers. As I fumbled through university, it offered me the credentials for marginally bigger things: temp work, internships, even experience to base my essays on. Eventually it became a highly lucrative venture which translated into a full-time career.

When you’re a freelancer, you’re a business owner. The business is you: your skills, knowledge, and work ethic. Managing that business and making it profitable can take you to some pretty interesting places, and open up some otherwise-unimagined doors. While I’m nowhere near the league of the two women I interviewed, I’m proud of what I accomplished in those years as a bootstrapping opportunistic pen-for-hire.

To those of you who want to write professionally, I ask: what’s stopping you? Get an ABN or your country’s equivalent. Go online and fight the nameless and faceless for commissions offered by the nameless and faceless (but hopefully not penniless). Offer free trials to get that crucial first gig. Learn how to negotiate a pay-rate and how to bid against the entire Internet. Send your portfolio to every magazine that’s still selling and still solvent. Learn to ask the right questions, and practise your listening face. Enjoy the quasi-legitimacy of “freelance journalist” that lets you call up highly accomplished individuals and ask them about their life stories just…because.

Freelancing will not get you rich, but it’ll get you started. The lessons you learn from it – everything from time management to tax compliance – will serve you well, whether it be in corporate or creative or your world-domineering enterprise. And the people you meet and the places you go have more value than anything you can tape to your CV. You may lose sleep, perhaps all of it. You may fail.

You may also change your life.


Five ways to meet and beat deadlines

by MDY

Why are they called deadlines? Because if you don’t get to them in time, something dies. That something may or may not be you. It may be your career, your reputation, your burgeoning relationship of sweet romantic passion. It may also be you. Whatever. Whether in business, leisure, or your gooey sham of a love life, deadlines are not negotiable. They don’t go away if you don’t look at them. And if you miss one, no amount of DRABC is going to help you. Here are five ways to walk the line:

1. Know thy enemy. Deadlines are like ninjas – you often don’t recognise them until it’s too late. Boss asking if you think you can have that report done by Friday? Careers advisor mulling over the due date for job applications? Hungry for a hard-boiled egg? Someone always wants something and they want it now. Or at least by a fixed date and time, in a fixed place. That’s the essence of a deadline. So you better get your typing/intervieweeing/tama-cracking on, and fast.

2. Pay attention. What are you thinking about if a ninja is attacking you? Not your favourite TV show, or the Higgs Boson, or what’s for dinner tonight. If you don’t give your deadlines the same existential focus, the ninjas will get you.

3. No luxuries. Most people spend their time on things like hobbies, social lives, “quiet time”, and so on. Don’t be most people. Get that urgent thing done now and let nothing stand in your way. You know who has lots of quiet time? The ones the ninjas got.

4. Triage. But what if you have multiple urgent things? Let’s say you’re applying for a summer internship at a prestigious law firm. Applications close in 5 weeks. Lots of time, correct? Correct – if all you’re doing is writing a cover letter. But you also have to

  • Research the firm;
  • Update (or write) your CV;
  • Withstand a barrage of existential questions like “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Explain the implications of our recent merger” and “if you were a ninja, what factors make you suitable for this firm?” (Hint: not good grades and a refereed CV);
  • Procure a copy of your academic transcript from your university;
  • Doctor the aforementioned transcript’s results; and
  • Repeat for the ten other firms whose applications close on the same day.

So you need to master the art of triage: identifying a priority order for all your deadlines, and all the tasks required to complete each one. In the above example, it might be that you place those 11 firms in order of “Least Evil to Work For” then work down the list. Or you might handle all cover letters first to maximise the miracle of Copy-Paste. If you’ve tracked your deadlines well, you’ll know what has to come first.

5. Learn to write (and think) fast. Self-explanatory, really, and it helps almost every sort of deadline. See this post for some pointers.

In brief: Just don’t die.

Tips for a Healthier CV: Get Trim and Sexy

by MDY

I actually love reviewing CVs. They help me learn more about the people I know, and more often than not I emerge from my editing-cave with a new degree for the person and their accomplishments. And blood on my fingers. Sometimes plasma. There’s a reason why I lock the cave.

That’s because most of these CVs also require immediate surgery. Superficial surgery usually, not the sort where you have to play jigsaw with the patient’s internal organs. But surgery nevertheless, and rather bloody surgery too. So to avoid having to send your little collection of achievements off to my operating theatre (or at least minimise the amount of slashing and burning sutures and cauterisation involved), I’ve put together some tips to help you…perform some DIY surgery?

Let’s think about what a CV needs to do. Most basic thing: give the reader a reasonable impression of who you are, at least from a professional standpoint. A healthy CV will also reflect well on your character and demonstrate to any potential employers that you can get the job done. I think of a CV as similar to a self-portrait, albeit one with a smarmy grin and tendency to scream “KEEP LOOKING AT ME BECAUSE I MIGHT DO SOMETHING AMAZING”. And a top hat. But yours might not have one. It’s a matter of taste, really.

Now the best way to give the reader an impression of who you are is to list everything you’ve done. Except that’s not an impression, it’s a diary. Which leads me to

IMPORTANT THING #1: Only include what matters.

Rule of thumb here is to include only things which

  1. Relate (preferably directly) to the job at hand, or
  2. Describe you as a unique human being.

Try to think strategically, not rigidly. Your experience as a bartender may seem to have nothing in common with applying for a sales role, for example – but many of the underlying skills in both jobs (being able to establish rapport with strangers, identify often-unclear customer requirements, clean up vomit) are very similar. Your CV should make it clear how each position listed is relevant to how you go about the job you’re applying for: instead of just describing what you did in the role, describe what skills you used and what you learnt. Instead of

Retail assistant: Manned counter. Cleaned up the shop. Got bitched at.


Front-line retail salesperson: Earned a reputation amongst customers for friendly and informative service . Managed store logistics before and after-hours. Learnt to handle complaints with tact.

The second example says what the first does, but in a more constructive way. It highlights your achievements in the role (being known for good service) while also suggesting you have good organisational skills and can take flak without crying. All useful attributes in any role. However, the first example’s brevity and dry humour could endear you at more new-age organisations. All depends on your target, right?

And please, please don’t list your myriad schooling and extra-curricular achievements unless they’re blatantly relevant. Nobody cares that you were Basketball Vice-Captain ’08 or Secretary of the French Society – except perhaps if you’re applying to the NBA or one of the grandes écoles. The only thing from your schooling days which you might want to include is your final grade, and only if it’s impressive. Asterisks need not apply.

IMPORTANT THING #2: Get personal

Inject a bit of yourself into your CV. Talk a bit (but not too much) about things like:

  1. Hobbies (eg sports, crotchet, saving the universe)
  2. Interests (history, pole dancers, quantum physics)
  3. Unusual facts about yourself (owns a vintage Aston Martin, has no eyebrows, writes a blog)

One of my friends puts in his CV that his interests include singing, squash and Haruki Murakami. Mine mentions that I used to be a national percussion champion and currently work as a part-time character assassin. Keep the focus on your professional competencies, of course – but don’t forget that employers want to know who you are as a person too. Preferably one whose personal attribute mesh well with their corporate culture. That’s why they stalk your Facebook.

To summarise: make yourself sound good, both as a worker and a person. Keep your CV trim – don’t let it get morbidly obese.

Stay tuned for more healthy CV tips on Friday! Keep read/writing,