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By Jessica Weber on Friday, June 9
My summer after grad school was typical, I’m sure — endlessly dredging up job opportunities with decreasing interest and increasing anxiety.
My search totaled two cases of strep throat, one car accident, three offers (one taken back shortly after I was deemed “overqualified,” one I am convinced is still tied up in HR awaiting “a few more signatures,” and my current job), two missed trains and the breaking of a high heel while running after said train in New York City, in what was one of the most miserably cliché moments of my life.
After earning a B.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Composition and Rhetoric, the job I ended up with is “Examination Report Review Analyst II,” which may be the Least Sexy Writing-Related Job Title Ever.
When I tell friends I work for a federal agency, their response is often, “Oh…what happened? I thought you liked writing.”
And no one is more surprised than me when I tell them I love it.
My informal job title should be more familiar to many of you: Writing Center Director.
Since 2013, I have developed the first workplace writing center recognized by the International Writing Centers Association. Essentially, I provide a professional development resource to highly skilled analysts and bank examiners who need to improve their communication skills.
My day-to-day looks a lot like the mixture you’d find at a traditional academic writing center — tutoring, writing resource development, marketing and designing and teaching workshops. It is exactly what I have always loved to do, just in a surprising environment.
Here is some of the advice I’ve shared with others interested in similar opportunities.
1. Know yourself, but be flexible
I’ve known what I’ve wanted to be since grade school — never something as cut and dry as bestselling novelist or middle school teacher, but I did know that I wanted to do something involving writing and making other people’s lives easier or more pleasant, somehow.
I have always been more likely to focus on the tasks involved in a job than on the title. Cobbling together a formerly nonexistent job with skills I enjoyed and felt confident in made a lot of sense to me, though it’s tough to know exactly where to seek out these opportunities.
2. There ARE opportunities out there — we just need the language for it
After Josh Bernoff featured my writing center in the Harvard Business Review, I have heard from corporations and agencies all over the world that are desperate for something like a writing center now that they know they exist.
It’s no surprise that working in this field involves a lot of marketing yourself and your skillsets, but it may involve networking in surprising places to make a good match.
People need what you’re offering — it’s a matter of knowing how to appeal to them.
3. Meet people where they are
My initial job interview consisted of me asking more questions than I was asked: what problems they wanted fixed, what issues they’d experienced in the past, what the desired outcome was.
I was able to pitch the writing center model because I determined that some of their issues stemmed from a previously unsustainable editing model.
Even then, it took months for people to trust me with their work and to become comfortable with using our services; by emphasizing that services were not remedial and that everyone can benefit from writing instruction, we became more approachable.
4. Learn to love corporate work environments
There are definitely some benefits to working in a corporate environment.
Job security, for starters. I don’t have to search for freelance assignments and negotiate rates, or worry about whether a minimum class enrollment will be reached.
As someone who finds happiness in structure and predictability, I don’t mind office life. Plus: free pens! Dental insurance! And when work gets slow, I get to make up projects to meet whatever needs I’ve identified.
There’s something to be said about being the only expert in a department of very different people (e.g., bank examiners). There can be a lot of freedom and creativity if you find yourself working under more hands-off management.
5. Anticipate the disadvantages to working in a corporate environment
I absolutely felt out of place at first. I had no mentors from my own field that I could go to for guidance or to vent my frustrations. It became vital for me to seek out support from former colleagues at times.
I have had to very cautiously introduce more creative or unconventional ideas. But I have managed to push through some of those limits with success.
6. Prove your worth
Being an outsider in your work environment also means facing skeptics.
From day one, I started keeping a log of every writing consultation completed. By my six-month review, I had data to prove that my service was not only being used, but that we had improved writing quality and were saving reviewers time. This ongoing data collection has supported requests for more resources, opportunities, and staff. Keep careful lists of your accomplishments in any role that you take on—and if you can find a way to quantify it, even better!
Seeking out less traditional opportunities may involve more research, trial and error, self-marketing, and time than applying to preexisting job openings.
But it can be a rewarding, challenging and secure position once you find (or make!) it. Workplace writing centers hold a great deal of promise as the Next Big Thing for the professional world — and in the meantime, I’ll be doing all I can to continue paving the way there.