I saw this question asked on Quora recently and thought I would answer more in depth here.
The best thing you can possibly have to get hired as a copywriter, of course, is connections. I think it holds true in most industries, but there's really no substitute for knowing people who can get you interviews.
Writers, like most people, hate hearing that. We don't want to network. We want to hole ourselves away and make up stories about people who are way more interesting than we are.
You also, you know, need to be a good writer. That's pretty much a non-starter.
So, assuming you're a hard worker and a really good writer who has no connections, you essentially need three things to get hired as a copywriter:
1) A Tasteful Cover Letter
Note: tasteful does not mean boring.
There are different schools of thought here on how to write a cover letter that sets you apart. I'm of the mindset that your cover letter should be fun and vibrant, but a little reserved. Personality and humor are super important, but it's easy to go overboard. We see it all the time at Nebo. Injecting fun facts about yourself is good to a point, but employers aren't really interested in how quirky you are. Think in terms of finding a fun and creative way to show off your qualifications.
Here's the letter that got me a copywriting interview at Nebo. It's not a masterpiece by any means but I think it demonstrates what I'm talking about. It's fun and has a little bit of an edge, but at the end of the day, it's really about why I think I'd make a good copywriter -- not about how goofy and zany I am.
My name is Evan Porter and I'm writing in response to your ad for an entry-level copywriter. Simply put, I think I'm your guy.
I know I've got the chops. I spent some time writing for The Onion News Network -- which ended up opening its inaugural episode with one of my sketches. I recently signed with a literary manager for a screenplay of mine that placed in an international screenwriting contest. And I used to turn my fourth grade journal assignments into sweeping fantasy epics that would put even the best writers in the class to SHAME.
In me, you'd be getting a true team player: Someone who doesn't shy away from critical feedback, but embraces it as a necessary part of the creative process. You'd be getting a voracious learner and self- starter; someone who makes up for a lack of marketing experience with a natural curiosity and hunger. You'd be getting a talented and very eager worker.
So, that's me. I hope you like me. I truly believe I could bring a lot to the table at Nebo, and I would love to hear more about how I can contribute.
It's not ever going to be one size fits all. What one agency will think is hilarious and on point, another will think is trite or try-hard. You just have to come up with something you're proud of, something you think represents you well, and keep trying.
For the love of God, though, don't send in your resume with no cover letter at all.
2) A Diverse Portfolio
At my agency, we see people all the time coming out of advertising school (think Creative Circus or the Portfolio Center) with these slick looking showcases full of print ads. You know, something like a stark photo of a bottle of whiskey and a tagline that says "For those that come alive after midnight." And that's cool. But it doesn't really tell me much about you as a writer.
Can you write a blog post? If a client needs you to write a 2000 word article on mufflers, can you do it? Can you take a page full of someone else's half-baked ideas and turn them into something not only readable, but good? Can you write long form and short form? Funny and academic? B2B and B2C?
If you don't want to pigeonhole yourself as "just" a print ad writer, or "just" a blog writer, fill your portfolio with a variety of samples. If you can prove that you can excel in a variety of different forms, you'll make yourself really valuable.
Bonuses are huge. What else can you bring to the table besides an ability to write?
If you're a writer with some PR experience, awesome. If you can do a little Photoshop, great. If you're Analytics or AdWords certified, even better. Writing should be a copywriter's core competency, and you should spend most of your time trying to be awesome at it, but think of these other little add-ons as a way to distinguish yourself from the other great writers out there.
Because it's one thing to say you're curious and willing to learn, it's another to have already proven it on your own time.
Ultimately, it can be hard to stand out in such a competitive field. There are a lot of people out there that fancy themselves great writers, and they all want to get paid for it. I think I'm pretty good at what I do, but I also have to recognize that there was a good deal of luck and fortuitous timing involved when I was hired. Right time, right place, etc.
But you have to have all your ducks in a row so you can take advantage when the opportunity arises.