This story was originally published on our sister site, The Content Strategist.
Last year, I came across an unassuming job posting for a brand journalist. The position called for working remotely and would focus on growing traffic “through remarkable content.” All I had to do was upload a résumé and include a sample of “authoritatively styled” writing on the winning subject of “how to create a sales team.”
Why not? I thought. I can do just about anything remotely.
Okay, well the subject matter was a little esoteric, I admit. It wasn’t exactly going to require the evocative writing worthy of literary prizes. But as a single mom, I am typically in desperate need of funds. In truth, with two daughters applying to college in months, I often indulge in fantasies of robbing banks, trying to piece together a positive outcome. Being a brand journalist would be just fine.
I delivered the 300-word piece on the topic alongside a snappy cover letter. As a veteran freelancer with an assortment of clips dating back before the dawning of e-books, I often feel I can dupe the best of them into believing I’m the one for the job. Sometimes this can be a problem.
Several days later, I received an email from a woman in the marketing division.“I’d like to speak with you. Are you available to chat?”
By week’s end, I was on the phone reeling off creative pitches for original quizzes dissecting sales personality types. Then other employees got on the phone with me in droves, one after another.
“We like what we’re hearing,” they said. “We’re glad we found you.”
Over six weeks, their names would change, as would their locations. Some were across the bay in the San Francisco headquarters, others were in Connecticut and South Carolina, and when they spoke, I imagined them dangling their toes into their pools, eyeing plasma screens, nursing babies, and shuffling money like candy.
They ask me questions like: Do you love to write? Can you find experts?
After several weeks a young woman called. “Sorry for the delay,” she began. “We’d like to offer you a job as a brand journalist.”
“You’ll start on Thursday night covering the unveiling of our social media command center in San Francisco.”
Of course. I’d love to.
“Be sure to jump on our Friday scrum from eleven to twelve,” she said. “We use Google Hangouts.”
My head was spinning. Would I be able to jump on the scrum? I hoped so. As a person nearing a half-century in years, I definitely needed YouTube assistance. But despite my fears, the event went off without a hitch. On the fated evening, donning a new Eileen Fisher ensemble, I interviewed several corporate executives before catching the ferry home.
The next day, relieved to have accomplished my first assignment, I hopped on the scrum, only to be told by my boss: “Look, I know we told you we wanted to be the next Forbes.com, but our head of content just wants material super fast. He’d like to get you started writing e-books, and we need one e-book a week from you.”
“Okay,” I said. “Exactly how long is an e-book?”
“Twelve to fourteen pages,” she said. “Or it could be less. And you don’t even need to put that many words on the pages.” Then she paused. “Even though I said a week, we really need something in a couple days.” I got the feeling someone was threatening to hold her free-snack privileges hostage.
“Well, I need time to find experts,” I said. “People need to get back to me, and then I have to transcribe the interviews.”
“Can’t you just look at our last ten blog posts on whatever subject and rewrite them into an e-book?” she suggested. “That should only take a couple hours.”
“I thought I was hired to write original material,” I said, wondering why I’d been scrutinized by six executives for such a dubious role.
“If you must, then okay,” she conceded. “But we just want people to click on the link. It’s all about capturing email addresses.”
Then I went on Amazon and began emailing “sales” authors who had written books with five-star ratings. I spoke with professors from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, entrepreneurs featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, and female executives who looked as though they still had their hair set weekly under pink Lady Schick drying machines.
But my crowning achievement was securing a veritable guru who wrote The Sales Biblefor the hungry sales rep crowd. This man had a reputation for being very hard to track down. And although he favored using four-letter words in conversation openers, he proved to be very personable. Sensing my vulnerable position in the universe, he promised: “You can tell your superiors that from now on, I’ll be sharing my exclusive sales tips with you each week.”
This triumphant news received a cavalcade of praise from my content superiors. “AWESOME,” they wrote to me in all caps. “You go, girl!”
With my head held high over 4th of July weekend, I cranked out my first e-book, detailing advice about hiring talent for your small business, including a list of visual tips for executives who no longer wanted to read.
Two months into the job, I took a week at the beach, but I was barely slowing down. When you’re tossing off weekly e-books, you can’t afford to stop transcribing and just stroll in the sand, let alone take in the sea lions. On a Friday morning at the beach, I called my boss before our weekly scrum. Then it happened.
“I’m sorry to tell you, Jenny,” she began, “This Friday is your last day. It was a decision made very high up at the company having to do with budgets and had nothing to do with you.”
“Oh,” I said, sinking into my bed. “But wait… most of my e-books haven’t even been posted, and I thought I was doing awesome?”
“It wasn’t my decision,” she said.
I returned from vacation feeble and unemployed, telling myself cheesy aphorisms to soothe my writer’s ego: Everything happens for a reason, you know that. You’re an artist and you were never meant for corporate work. If I stayed there too long I might turn into one of those people.
At times like these, I find myself indulging in daydreams about unexplored careers, which suddenly seem tremendously appealing, like becoming a radiologist and taking X-rays all day before retiring to my glorious outdoor/indoor sustainable living space.
But then nightfall comes, and I find myself answering another ad on Craigslist. A Silicon Valley startup seeks “a remote writer who is knowledgeable about SaaS.” I Google the term: software as a service.
Because let’s face it. It’s either that or I go back to fantasies about robbing banks. So I nodded my head and responded to the posting, telling the employer how much I’d love the SaaS job.
And that’s why I have an upcoming Skype interview with another tech guru. I can do just about anything remotely, I remind myself, pausing in front of the mirror, before going off to rinse the gray out of my hair. I mean, it is an on-camera interview, after all, and these days, I can’t afford to look a day over 49.