Monday, 6 July 2015

Success! How I Secured My First Job in Publishing as an Editorial Assistant

My hunt for my first job in publishing officially started when I finished university in May, and after trawling through publishers’ websites, sending out triple-checked covering letters and CVs, and interviewing at a few pretty big academic publishing houses, I’ve recently accepted my first publishing job at Palgrave Macmillan as an Editorial Assistant. I feel like my hard work has finally paid off and I cannot wait to take the first step in my publishing career in a couple of weeks’ time.

But just in case you’re wondering how I reached this point (and how you can too), here are some of the most important things I did which helped me land my first publishing job:

Researched the industry
Technically, the process began for me during my first year at university three years ago when I was already considering the possibility of a career in publishing. Knowing very little about the publishing industry at the time, I decided my first step would be to start doing some research. The first, and by far the most useful, book I came across was How to Get a Job in Publishing by Alison Baverstock, Susannah Bowen and Steve Carey. This book provided me with the introduction to the industry I really needed. It discusses all the different types of publishing (trade, professional, education, academic, journal and magazine) as well as the different job roles within publishing (editorial, sales, marketing, production and rights), helping you to find out which areas of the industry might best suit your skills and interests. It also has some great advice on how to find internships, write flawless covering letters and CVs, and impress in interviews, as well as lots of useful tips from professionals inside the industry. So this book really is a great place to start if you’re eager for a career in publishing – it definitely helped me land my first job in the industry!

Completed internships
After reading the book mentioned above, I realised that completing an internship or gaining work experience was a must if I wanted to have any chance of finding a job in this notoriously competitive industry. I was lucky enough to complete two editorial internships at a small academic publishing house during my summers away from university, and these placements really were invaluable. Although unpaid, interning gave me a thorough insight into the editorial side of academic publishing and helped me catch the eye of prospective employers when I started applying for jobs after university. They were also a great way of proving my unwavering commitment to the industry.

There are a few things to think about, however, before you start applying for internships or work experience. First, these placements are often unpaid, so they might not be an option for everyone. Second, as tempting as it is, don’t just apply for every single opportunity you come across. You should think about which type of publishing you want to go into and which department you want to work in. Yes, any experience is good experience, but it will be much more valuable in the future if it’s an area you actually want to work in! You might want to look for marketing internships at non-fiction trade publishers, for example. So once you’ve considered what areas you’re interested in, try and find a handful of small publishing houses within these areas (don’t just go for the big names), see what internship/work experience opportunities they offer, and tailor your covering letter and CV for every role you apply for. This method brought me some great results and gave me lots of relevant industry experience.

Created standout covering letters and CVs
Once I’d completed a couple of internships and finished university, I was ready to start applying for full-time jobs in publishing – this meant creating the perfect covering letter and CV for each role I applied for.

With my covering letter, I didn’t want it to look like I was just sending out the same standard letter to each publishing house. So instead, in every letter I sent out, I not only highlighted my relevant publishing experience, but also emphasised my knowledge of, and interest in, the particular publishing house I was applying to. In my covering letter for the position at Palgrave Macmillan, for instance, I mentioned a title of theirs which I’d read at university and I also congratulated them on the success of their new Palgrave Pivot book format. So your covering letter should demonstrate both your suitability for the role and your interest in the publishing house. Is there a title of theirs you recently enjoyed reading? What excites you about this particular publishing house? Have they won any awards recently? Make the publisher feel like you really want to work there. Just think, if you were reading the hundreds of covering letters that came in for one vacancy, what would impress you?

Alternatively with my CV, I made sure to draw attention to my relevant editorial internships and include detailed descriptions of what these placements involved. I also referred back to the job description for each role I applied for to see what specific skills they were asking for and then added examples of where I’d previously demonstrated these skills to my CV.

So make your covering letters and CVs stand out by tailoring them for every role you apply for. Although it is time consuming, making an effort like this will really increase your chances of being invited to an interview. It’s definitely worth it!

Prepared thoroughly for interviews
Averill Chase, a now retired publishing professional, gives the following advice to publishing interviewees: “sell yourself – no-one else will”. I loved coming across this quote. It made me think, how well could I actually talk about me? Could I explain how suitable I was for an editorial assistant position persuasively and effectively? The starting point for my interview preparation was, therefore, to focus on ME. This meant making sure I could talk positively about myself and could discuss in detail all my skills and experience relevant for the position. I practised this simply by talking to myself out loud!

Once I was confident that I could sell myself well, I spent the rest of my time doing more research on the publishing house. I made sure that I’d read a few of their titles, that I could demonstrate a familiarity with the list I’d be working on, and that I was aware of their new and innovative projects. I also researched the company’s values and memorised their mission statement so I could make brief references to these during my interview.

Next I prepared a list of questions ready to ask the interviewer. These included one about the job role, one about the interviewer’s own publishing career, and one about the publishing house itself. Some questions I asked were:
  • What will be my biggest challenge in this position?
  • What’s your own experience of working at this publishing house in terms of career progression and company culture?
  • Are there any areas of your list which you’re currently trying to develop?
My final bit of interview prep involved guessing questions that might come up and having answers ready for them. You can read more about this in my previous blog post: 5 questions likely to come up in a publishing interview.

Started writing this blog!
Finally, I think setting up this blog whilst job hunting actually helped me secure my first publishing position. During my second interview at Palgrave Macmillan, I was asked whether there were any projects I was working on outside of university, giving me the perfect opportunity to talk about my blog. The interviewer seemed really impressed when I explained how I was writing about my pursuit of a publishing career whilst trying to help other people with similar aspirations to me. So this blog might have just set me apart from the other candidates I was up against! If you’re thinking about setting up a blog related to publishing, reviewing books is a great way to show that you’re keeping up with the latest and most popular books gracing the shelves.

So they were some of the most important steps I took which helped me land my first job in publishing. Maybe theyll do the same for you!

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