SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 24 July 2020Soft Skills: Why They are Harder Than You Think and How You Can Acquire Them
Name: Elle Harikleia
Location: New York
Industry: Economist/ Freelance Writer
1. Give us a screenshot (summary) of what your average day entails. What are your key tasks?
My average day looks a little bit different every day! One of the greatest things about being a freelance writer is that I can maintain my own schedule. That can also be one of the trickiest things because some days it takes a lot of discipline to get those words on the page! Everyday starts with a workout and lots of coffee because I find that's essential to power through the day! Most days, I'll start by going through my email and responding to any clients or companies that have reached out to talk about partnerships. I'm at my sharpest actually writing around midday, so I try to save any major production for around that time. I'm also most productive when I'm out of my house so that usually means I'll grab a coffee and find a local place to settle in and get a few pieces done. I always prioritize my clients' writing requests over doing my own writing like updating my blog or brainstorming on new pieces. Most of the time that's done later in the evening when I can just focus on new ideas at home.
2. How did you get into this line of work? What keeps you coming back to this job?
I got into this line of work by simply deciding that I needed an outlet to explore some of my other passions. My education and professional background is as a banker and an economist, but I found that as my work changed over the past few years, I missed writing as much as I used to. I challenged myself in 2015 to "pick up the pen" as I called it, and just start writing for myself about things I was passionate about. That led to me seeking out web forums and other companies that might need writing services. Once I was able to build up a bit of a portfolio in different genres, the word of mouth picked up and I could start writing a little more regularly for some of my favorite clients. The creativity and ability to express myself and truly create something that didn't exist before I put it on the page is really inspiring to me. There are so many voices out there in our crazy web world now, and it's a great challenge to have a unique point of view and add some value.
3. What are the different career paths someone can take if they want to enter this field? If you were entering this career today, is there anything you would do differently?
Freelance writing is certainly not for everyone! I would say that most people could start by doing this type of work in communications, marketing or public relations at any company before thinking of going out on their own. The number of connections you make and the things you learn about writing for different industries and styles is invaluable. If I were doing it again, I would definitely try to gain that initial experience working for a company that either focuses on this service or in a communications officer position in a company in nearly any industry!
4. For those who are interested in a position similar to yours, what are necessary skillsets (hard skills / soft skills) would you advise them to learn? What kinds of experience, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
Quality is key with the writing profession. Your clients don't want to spend a lot of time tweaking your writing style to meet their culture and reach their audience. They also don't want to put in a lot of work in copy edit, or to pick the right topics that you should have considered on the outset. Because of that, I think great technical skill, understanding different industries, audiences, and approaches are important. It's also key to have a good grasp of traditional writing guidelines (think, the elements of style!) and grammar. I also always think a good writer has to be a good reader, so be sure you're taking in a lot of content to keep up your inspiration and adapting your style. As far as soft skills, it's critical to know how to market yourself and execute great customer service. You'll have a lot of balls in the air, some which pan out and some that don't. It's important to treat everyone you come across with respect and timeliness because they could be a future client one day! I would encourage those pursuing this field to be ok with initially taking unpaid work, and building a portfolio of writing that you are proud to share with clients. Even as your skill set progresses, you may be willing to take unpaid work for a brand, company, or goal you believe in. This is also helpful if you're hoping to reach a new audience or industry.
5. What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
The best part of my job is getting to meet so many new people, and also having just as much time to console my inner introvert and sit in front of my computer for hours on end! The worst aspects of the job can be the inconsistencies in your schedule . You often have no control over deadlines, which also means that it can be feast or famine sometimes when you're working freelance! Writer's block is also a real thing and sometimes a deadline doesn't care if those words just won't come! When that happens, I take a breather and walk around the city or call a friend to catch up. Giving my mind a break usually gets things going again!
6. What advice do you have for a student or new job seeker to qualify for this position? Do you have any industry insights to share (good or bad) as a result of your experience?
I would say to think creatively about what writing you've done in the past and where you truly feel like you have value to add. One of the ways I started getting my name out there and writing for various clients was actually helping people polish up their resumes and writing their business plans. This drew mainly on my previous banking an financial background, so I was connecting a technical skill I already had demonstrated expertise on and added that layer of creative writing. Thinking about ways you can leverage your past experiences to connect to this type of work is helpful. I would also suggest that people start looking very local to gain experience. Community newspapers, small businesses, and other friends and family are great places to start. Writing is a kind of polarizing thing and people either tend to love it or hate it. Guaranteed there's a small business in your neighborhood who dreads writing their marketing material or submitting an article on their success to the local paper. Reach out and be that person who has a solution and skill to offer!
7. Tell us something fun about yourself that not many people know?
I'm a pretty good baker. When the holidays roll around you can usually find me in front of my oven, with cookies cooling all over my tiny little New York apartment. It looks a little bit like Mrs. Claus' kitchen come December!
8. If you could have only one type of food for the rest of your life - what would it be? Why?
Funny enough despite the above I'm not a sweets girl! I bake for other people, and would easily commit to eating only truffle fries every day of my life if they were magically calorie free.
Elle Harikleia is an economist with over 15 years of international banking and financial experience. She side hustles as a lifestyle and career blogger, passionate about helping women find their way in our crazy working world. Elle is a neutrals-obsessed New Yorker and can usually be found eating her way through the big apple with her husband and frenchie.
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