INTERNET INSIDERS like to say that no one reads on the Web and that the Net is no place for English majors. As a veteran of two dotcom startups, I beg to differ. The Net is starved for good content and for people who know how to present it. If you think you might like to be one of those people, here are eleven things you need to know:
1. Job Categories
Net publishing jobs are broken down into content (all things editorial); web design/graphics; technology (back end work like programming and server maintenance); community (interactive chats, message boards and egroups), business development (wooing vcs, or venture capitalists, and other investors) and marketing/advertising, which is an explosive new field unto itself and covers the gamut of banner advertising, email marketing, data mining, co-branding partnerships, etc.
In a young Internet company, the lines between these divisions often blur and you should know a little about and be interested in all of the above, no matter what you were hired for. Why? Youll do a better job and command a higher salary.
2. Experience Not Required; Entrepreneurial Spirit Is
For now, the Net is still new enough that it can afford people without online experience. It cannot, however, afford plodders. In a place where your competitors can publish 24 hours a day/7 days a week and businesses implode daily, speed and enthusiasm go a long way. Rather than interview promising candidates, I sent them a writing/editing test with a deadline. The slowpokes who dallied in returning it to me, or horror of horrors used snail mail, dropped down several notches. The best writer got the job, of course, but only if she took the deadline, and the exercise, to heart.
Also, much as I love writing snobs, I didnt always want people with the best writing or journalism credentials; I also looked for people with TV, radio or desktop publishing background who knew something about presenting information and competing for eyeballs.
3. Be Pithy
Edit your cover letter meticulously and send in your tightest writing samples. Wordiness is death on the Net. We kept our articles to 750 words, broken into small chunks like the one you are reading now. Long, expository prose does not belong on a commercial website. Salon.com and Slate are exceptions to this rule, but they are rare.
A picture perfect resume and cover letter are crucial. Id throw out anything that had the smallest typos or errors. The Web is full of shoddy work, and I didnt want anyone thinking that a Net publishing job was second rate. Since Internet startups generally dont have big budgets for proofreaders and copyeditors, my writers had to be on target naturally.
In the information age, information design matters. On resumes and my writing test, I took note of formatting and fonts. Courier 12 and uneven spacing didnt cut it.
6. Get Email
If an applicant listed no email address, Id put them near the bottom of the pile.
7. Drill Deep Into a Potential Employers Site
During the interview, I always asked for a critique of my website. I wanted it to be substantial. I wanted it to cover content, hyperlinks, design, and user-friendliness. I wanted it to be brutal. I wanted them to have looked at my competitors and ferreted out our weaknesses. If you are thinking, But Im a writer! then you dont belong on the Net.
8. Use the Net
I wanted prospective employees to be able to tell me why and how they used the Internet, what sites they liked and why. Did they just go online for email? To check stock quotes? Do they know how to use message boards and chat rooms? Search engines? The Internet needs content people who can marry an article with a live chat with an interactive calendar with another website.
9. Think About Advertising
On the Web, the line between advertising and editorial is blurred far more than in print (check out powered by labels and other signs of corporate sponsorship embedded in various websites) and I always wanted to know where a writer will draw the line.
10. Expect to Be Paid
Freelancers are generally poorly paid on the Net (youd be lucky to make $50 on 700-word article) but full-timers are usually well rewarded. Internet salaries, even for writers and editors, tend to be much higher than those in the print media. Get online and research the salaries for the position you are applying for. This will help you negotiate.
11. Expect to Be Downsized
Youe heard that the Internet explosion is over, for now. The NASDAQ index (a benchmark that tracks technology stocks) plummeted at the end of 2000 and brought many a dotcom dream to a close. If job security is one of your primary concerns, you might consider sticking to print media.
One small caveat: Given the pace of change in the Internet world, some of this information could be obsolete in a matter of months.
Joyce Lombardi was senior editor of Sage Online and director of content at Mom.com.