Looking at the job market from a high level, it’s really tough out there. Last I heard, unemployment in California was somewhere around 10%. It’s not every day that one can say that something was decimated without exaggerating. As my brother astutely pointed out, that figure only takes into account recorded unemployment, meaning people who applied for unemployment benefits. The actual figure is probably higher, which is a scary thought. Finding any job is pretty hard right now.

A writing job is particularly hard to find, because the market is flooded with wannabe writers who think that writing is a cushy job that anyone can do. Technically, anyone can write, but not everyone can write well. Even though polished writing should stand out from the crowd, it still takes a hiring manager to physically sort through résumés and countless writing samples to determine who’s good and who’s garbage. There’s a real danger then for your talent to be overlooked because your résumé was 101 out of the 100 that the hiring manager was willing to look at. So when you multiply these inherent terrible odds with the artificial terrible odds of a slow economy, you’re looking at a horrible situation as a writer trying to find work.

When you crawl Craigslist, you’ll find job postings more predatory than usual. There are still the ubiquitous ads for writing partners, ghostwriters and transcribers. Typically, they promise payment after the project gets picked up and makes millions of dollars. I discourage every writer worth his or her weight in words from taking such writing jobs. Now, however, even the bona fide writing jobs that pay – like copywriters, content writers and technical writers – are becoming miserly. One writing position in Orange County that required years of copywriting experience in addition to Search Engine Optimization knowledge only offered a meager $8 an hour. In parentheses, the company explained “due to the economy.” I can appreciate that it’s an employer’s job market right now, but $8 an hour is ridiculous. Personally, I think it’s a dumb move on the company’s part. No professional writer with that skill set will work for that little pay. A person can make more money hourly at In-N-Out or Starbucks.

If you’re a fresh-faced writer just out of college or you’re looking to change careers to become a writer, you’re probably screwed. My best advice is to hang on to whatever day job you have while freelancing to build up your portfolio. Note the stress on the “free.” If you can find paying freelance work that doesn’t require published clips then more power to you. My point is that don’t be surprised/ashamed/disheartened if you have to work for a byline. In the meantime, try to pick up as many skills as possible to complement your writing. Search Engine Optimization is all the rage right now and many companies are just beginning to dabble in online rankings, so getting trained in SEO is a wonderful way to make you more attractive and valuable as an employee.

On the other hand, if you’re an experienced writer looking for a job, the very best advice I can give you is to modify your résumé constantly on the job boards you use. Imagine all of the people who use a site like Monster.com. If and when these people find jobs, how many of them actually go back online and take their résumé off? Maybe a few, but certainly not most. So what happens is that Monster has a bunch of old useless résumés sitting in their database. When a potential employer searches for something like “copywriter” he or she doesn’t want to waste time looking at six-month-old résumés of people who may or may not still be looking for work. Instead, the employer will most likely just consider “fresh” résumés. In order to keep your résumé fresh, you should modify it on a daily basis on sites like Monster or Careerbuilder.com. You don’t even have to actually change anything. As soon as you save or re-upload your résumé, the site will update the “Modify Date” of your document pushing you closer to the top of the list. When it comes to trying to attract anything, visibility is key.

This little pearl of wisdom comes from my friend Efren who is friends with a hiring manager, so I have to assume this information is solid. Since I’ve been following this advice, my résumé has been getting more views than I’m used to just letting it sit there so something must be working. Also, I’ve recently been contacted by a company out in Redlands and I’m currently going through some phone interviews. I don’t want to pull a Cisco Fatty here so I’m not going to say much else except that I’m excited.

Wish me luck.