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Dear Kelsey,

We did it.

We finally hired someone.

I think I speak of all of us at the office when I say “YAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY!!!!!”  Yes, I’d venture a guess that even our Editorial department would sanction this many exclamation points. (It’s only a guess, mind you.)

Even though I’ve been working in publishing for OVER A YEAR now (as of…last Wednesday. Whatever. It still counts!), I still feel like I should have been on the other side of the interview desk through most of this process. So, naturally, I couldn’t really help myself from taking preemptive competition-scoping notes in case I’m ever shopping around for the entry-level position I just vacated. (I didn’t say it made sense. I just said I did it.) 

I threw together a quick list after our second round of interviews, and have been mentally (and occasionally physically) updating it as the process progressed. Now that we’ve finally (FINALLY, HALLELUJAH!) finalized the decision, I wanted to share the much-reduced-and-much-generalized version of it. Reduced because, at the time, I felt like budding publishing hopefuls desperately needed tips like “don’t be a moron” and “don’t make me miss my 20-minute interview day lunch break.” But now at last my faith in our candidates and new hires has been greatly restored : )

(…although, if you’re considering either option: Don’t.)

I’m also ever-so-slightly long-winded. I know. I know. Who would have guessed? But since nobody really wants 8 pages of my snarky interview notes, I’ve cut it down to 5 generally-good-to-know tips. It was a Herculean effort, no doubt, but I got there.

…Also maybe I’ll do a follow-up post sometime AND NOBODY CAN STOP ME.

  1. Know what you want and why you want it. You should have a clear understanding of the field you’re applying to, even if you don’t have a lot of experience. We don’t expect you to walk in knowing everything (and we don’t really want someone who thinks they do), but we do expect you to know what you’re interested in.  “Editorial,” by far the most common answer I received, covers a lot of ground. Do you want to work on the micro level, checking grammar and running heads? Do you want to work on the manuscript as a whole, making sure everything that should be there actually is? Do you want to work in Marketing? Rights? Design? Each department has a different approach to “working with books,” and even if the job you’re applying for does not match your ideal exactly, you should be able to speak to what you want out of the position.
  2. Know what will be expected of you (and what won’t). I had a candidate describe what he thought editors did as “sitting behind their desk all day reading books.” If that didn’t make you snort with disbelief, please please please do some more research. There are many many blogs about publishing. There are programs to help educate you. People are willing and eager to give informational interviews.*Read a book on the subject—hell, just read the goddamn job description.

    If you’re selling yourself for a position we don’t have, we will wish you the best of luck and hire somebody who fits what we’re looking for. If you’re applying for a job in production and all you’re asking about is foreign rights, we will wish you the best of luck and hire somebody who is interested in what we need them to do. It is OK to ask questions about other departments and about “interdepartmental congeniality” (yes, a direct quote), but make sure your interviewer knows that you know what you’re applying for.

  3.  Be Excited and Responsive. Maybe this particular position isn’t your dream job or the area you absolutely want to end up, but I can guarantee that it is for many of the other candidates you’re up against. I don’t mean to suggest that you need to be bouncing-in-your-seat excited either—probably that would be creepy—but we definitely want to hire somebody that wants to work with us.Also, respond as soon as you can to emails or phone calls. Just do it. It’s completely likely that we were later than we said we would be in calling you back (I don’t think any of our hiring managers made every “we will contact you by…” deadline) but the more it’s dragged on, the more we want it settled. The longer you wait to reply, the longer we’re sitting at our desks worrying that you don’t really want the job, that you’re weighing the pros and cons and you will ultimately just suffer through your time here. And we definitely don’t want that.
  4. At the same time, be Realistic. Starry-eyed idealism is not professional (though it is flattering). Publishing is work. There’s not a lot of money in this industry and everybody is doing, essentially, a job and a half. If you go on and on about the smell of the pages or the delicate symbiosis between author and editor, we’re probably going to move on. Not because we don’t feel the same, exactly—we all have our book-sniffing moments—but because working in publishing not a utopia and we don’t want to deal with your disillusionment. (Or, if we do, we at least want to know that you’ll keep doing your job at the same time. Not because we’re soulless, but because we’re busy). Authors can be amazing, but they can also be a royal pain in the arse. Knowing that the job isn’t going to be perfect but knowing why you still want it will absolutely make you stand out.
  5. Ultimately, it’s not about your answers. It’s about you. I think this career advice is about as cliché as “don’t judge a book by its cover”—and as routinely ignored. But it’s true (and not in a lovey-dovey “be yourself” kind of way). Try to present yourself as somebody we could enjoy (or at least tolerate) working with. Of course you’ll be nervous, but we are, too. We’re deciding who we can depend on and work in close quarters with for indefinite and substantial amount of time. If you’re uncomfortable to be around, or misleading-to-dishonest with your information, if you trash your previous coworkers or flirt aggressively during an interview, we won’t want you around. Maybe we’d get to know you and find out it’s just nerves, or your quirky sense of humor which—for all we know—may grow on us. But we don’t really want to take that chance.
    A quick illustrative story: A handful of candidates applied for more than one of our open positions, and I always tried to ask them which one they were more interested in. Obviously the right answer was mine. Obviously.  But my favorite candidate told me point-blank that she would prefer the other position over the one I was interviewing for, and I still loved her. Because she was honest, and realistic, and friendly, and nice.

    And you know what? She got the job.

    (Did I mention the “YAAAAAYYYY!!!!”?)

BONUS “That’s right: I snuck in a 6th point because I can TIP Some answers are like a rite of passage. “I want to work in publishing because I like books,” for example, or “I want to work in ‘Editorial.'” I know these feel like the real answer, but it’s also completely uninformative to your interviewer. We know you like books because you’re applying for a job in publishing. And It’s not like saying “I like books” is going to hurt you in this industry, but it squanders an opportunity to stand out. Almost every single candidate said these in some variation or another and after a while (…like the second time I heard it) it was the interview-answer equivalent of radio static.

*And, if you’re suffering a lack of interviewees, my email address is over on the left 😉


Maggie Faber