So you want to be a writer and create content for a consumer niche in your field… writing blog articles with a reputable company. Great – should be easy right? I mean, you’re looking for an unpaid internship just to get your foot in the door; you’re willing to work for free for goodness sake.
I almost called this post “choosy beggars” or something like that, because a lot of young writers get frustrated when nobody wants to take them on – but they’re only reaching out to big established brands. They don’t want to work for free for just some nobody, they want it on their resume so that it will look impressive and they can transition into a real job in the same field.
An internship feels like the right way to do this.
And it IS… for you.
But for many companies: just getting a free employee is more work than they need. It’s still an investment for them, they’ll need someone to manage and train you, and it’s also a risk for them, especially if you don’t already have some great experience and testimonials.
I’m not saying writing internships like this don’t exist, but they are probably extremely competitive. If they’re actively open for candidates, they’re probably receiving thousands of resumes. Are you the best of the best? Can you prove it?
What to do instead…
This is just my opinion, so it may not be good advice – but those who are willing to hear it may find some value so here goes: you’re trying to get an internship to pad your resume but you need a great resume to get the internship. All I’m going to suggest is, maybe that super nice internship with a super famous brand isn’t your first option.
What else is there?
Here’s the offer I almost made to the girl on Reddit who was looking to write for the video game industry. Well, I just started a new blog. We’re not actively seeking writers but we wouldn’t turn any away. They’d get some light training, we’d help with the SEO research, and they’d be pretty free to experiment, practice their craft, learn the ropes and prove their value.
You might be thinking, yuck – what good is that; working for free for some unknown blog that gets zero traffic? The thing is, there are tens of thousands of blogs that get no traffic. And lots of small ones that do get some traffic but not a lot. Any of these might be very willing to take on an unpaid internship because there’s low-stakes and little risk.
What you’d get: the ability to prove you can actually do this (unless… you can’t, and need to be taught first). But you probably can do this, with a little bit of help. The advantage of starting with a new blog (if it doesn’t look terrible and the owners kind of know what they’re doing) is to help grow it fast.
That way not only do you get to list it on you resume (“internship for TechnoBuzzleWorld where I wrote 20 articles that boosted traffic by 156% and drove half a million views”).
That name is made up but you get the picture: it doesn’t really matter what the name of the blog is or whether it’s well known. That’s not the impressive part anyway. It’s the numbers, the facts, the proof. You’ll probably also get a very nice recommendation or review from a small business owner.
Does it get you a foot into the door of the right industry?
Maybe not directly. But what if, during this internship, you were also allowed to link back to stuff; your own work and your competitors? You could write nice articles about the companies you do want to work for; and start your own blog as well. I’d suggest working for a high domain authority site with a strong backlink profile (if you want an online writing internship, you should know what this means).
Recently I saw a friend who has a tech product put out a call for paid writers. I commented, “I don’t need a job, but I’d be interested in writing guest posts for the backlinks.” It’s not exactly an unpaid internship but it’s not that far off either… I’m still willing to “work for free” when it suits me, because backlinks from reputable blogs are valuable, and it gives me a chance to create ties in my industry with peers.
Most authors still don’t get this even thought I keep repeating it, but people looking for a writing internship or unpaid freelance writing gig to build up their experience and resume well, maybe I’ll get through to them.
What’s a reasonable workload?
For an unpaid internship I wouldn’t expect much, but would propose something like 3 to 5 long-form articles a week. The more content you make, the more results you could claim as traffic begins to improve. Since I’m personally building fresh blogs on expired domains, I’m hoping these will start ranking and snowball quickly, so you’d have a chance to help us get there.
But for most mid-tier blogs in your space, they probably aren’t doing any SEO at all. Even million-dollar businesses desperately need to up their blogging game and have no idea what they’re doing wrong.
Don’t ask for favors… provide value.
The point here, which is pretty much the whole point of this blog, is not to ask for handouts or favors. Don’t apply to internships and hope somebody “picks” you. Be proactive. Find the blogs you want to write for and submit guest posts (many blogs already take them). Keep doing it until you get some accepted. Build a working relationship with a handful of reputable blogs. After they’ve published an article or two, ask if they’d be interested in something more – like 10 articles a month in exchange for a testimonial or recommendation (or even just to be able to list them on your resume).
Though; even without permission it’s fine to say you wrote articles for “x, y and z.”
How much you can charge as a writer depends on how much value you can provide: we’re currently launching a new content marketing service where we’ll write 10 articles for $2500 a month – that’s $250/article. We can make that offer because first we’d research their competitors and write exactly the 10 posts most likely to get the most traffic based on consumer search trends.
But even then, to really make the sale, we’d have to *prove* results – which means we’ll probably do a bunch of free case studies first (offering to write them 10 free articles in exchange for the traffic metrics and data so we can use it as a case study, and get a testimonial to use on the sales page).
- work for free to establish value / internship
- sell the same thing as a service / job
How to get a freelance writing job you can do from anywhere?
This is the dream, right? And lots of businesses are actively hiring. But business owners rarely know what “good writing” is… so they won’t be that interested in your portfolio or previous work. All they can see is the numbers. How much have you written, who have you written for, what have you done? Did you boost traffic, or engagement, or comments?
What’s your experience and credibility? Why should people trust you?
Hiring is tough and business owners don’t like to take risks, but you can make it as easy for them as possible by asking for little and giving a lot. What I’d advise – mostly for people who are trying to get an internship but cannot – this often means they need more experience first, and that they should set their sights a little lower; or broaden their vision.
There are lots of opportunities that most writers will turn their nose up at because they have something very specific in mind already. But the big businesses who are already making money and getting tons of traffic will be the hardest to break into because they have the most to lose.
I’m not specifically pitching that you write for my new blogs but if you did… the first person I’d hire when the blogs do start to become profitable would be a full-time writer or editor to maintain/govern our posts or writing team and update stuff. If I had a young writer helping out with the content already and doing good work, they’re the first person I’d ask.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful with your time: you also need to know your value. You should use every opportunity to build your own backlist profile, for your own benefit. Write 5 articles, then 10, see if this is something you like doing, see if you’re getting results – or at least learning which is more valuable than anything.
As soon as you have enough content or experience or knowledge to move on to something better… do it. But don’t just spend months applying for internships when you could have spent that time actively working in the industry and developing your body of work and skillset.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.