5 Copywriter Portfolio Tips: Interview with Peter Hajinian

Last week, I had another informational interview, this time with copywriter Peter Hajinian, who also happens to be the associate creative director at Morsekode. I’ve never talked to someone who works as a writer in an agency, but if Peter is anything to go by, I wish I could pester these people more often! I told Peter later that that was the most I’d ever laughed during an interview.

Of course, this also meant our conversation was all over the place, but I think it’s more fun that way. Still, we discussed a lot about ad agency hiring, and Peter especially stressed the importance of having a strong portfolio to bring with you to interviews. He gave me several tidbits about portfolios, which I wanted to share with you all here:

Tell a Story

We’ve probably all heard “tell a story!” about 100 times. It doesn’t matter if it’s a poem or a jazz chart—storytelling is key. And while Peter talked about it, he put a different spin on this old adage. Basically, Peter was talking about how in interviews, people will often talk flippantly about their work, as though they didn’t really have any ideas about where it ended up and that they were just following orders. However, what’s better is to talk about the process of writing your piece and why exactly you did what you did. This shows you’re fully invested in the pieces you create.

Have Variety

This is crucial for people trying to be copywriters in an ad agency. A diverse portfolio means that you have written for several different audiences as well as a range of channels. So, if you have several blog posts and tweets in your portfolio, make sure you sprinkle in billboard ads and brochures as well.

But what if I don’t have a job writing billboards?

I’m glad you asked. While I had always heard schoolwork portfolios didn’t have merit, Peter assured me that sometimes they do. If you have some ideas for a billboard ad for that nonprofit you like so much, write one! Write several, actually. Creating these pretend ads is a good way to practice your skills and give your potential employer an idea of how you think.

Be Selective

This may sound contrary to the bullet above. Selectivity doesn’t mean you cut apart your portfolio though. Rather, if you’re following the tip of writing some copy for a place you don’t work for, make sure it’s not one of the clients or direct competitors of the agency you’re interviewing with. As Peter put it, your interviewers know more about the industry than you do and won’t be able to turn off their inner editors. But if you want to write a video script for Twizzlers to show to a company that focuses only on peanut butter candy, go for it!

Write Consistently

This tip surprised me, but Peter explained it further. While you may be writing for several different companies and in several different mediums, a consistent voice in the pieces that connect is crucial. It proves you can get into one persona, stay there, then move on when you have to. This is tricky and requires a lot of editing and practice.

Include a “Director’s Cut”

A common complaint of writers is the heavy hand of the copyeditor. I’ve been on both sides of the issue, and it’s a difficult one to resolve. Sometimes an editor is too invasive, and other times, the writer just doesn’t get the voice of the piece correct. Either way, sometimes work gets published under your name that you aren’t exactly proud of. Typically, we then tuck these pieces away, hoping no one will discover them.

Don’t do that.

While it’s natural to get your work cut up, don’t shy away from it. It’s still material that (mostly) came from you, and that’s a good thing to include in your portfolio. If you really can’t stand the final version of the piece, slip the “director’s cut” next to it. In other words, keep the copy that you are happy with and have it available if any questions about that piece come up. This way the interviewer can compare and contrast both pieces as well as see that you’re able to take criticism and adjustment to your copy without bitterness.

Chatting with Peter reminded me to take another look at what I’ve written and how to expand that further into stronger pieces. Plus, it was also just a really great way to spend the morning. Thanks for your time, Peter!

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