Ask the Recruiters: HR Panel Recap, Part II
At the conclusion of last month’s HR event on next career steps for young industry employees (read Part I of the recap here), the three panelists fielded specific questions from curious audience members. Responses to a selection of those questions posed are below.
Q: If an application asks me to list professional references, how recent should these be? Is there a point when a reference becomes too old to be effective? And what should I do if I don’t want to list my current manager?
A: There’s no definite timeline for when a professional reference becomes too old to list. The more important thing to consider is: what’s your relationship with that person like now? If you worked with someone ten years ago but you’ve kept in good touch since then, that person could still be a great reference for you. On the other hand, if you worked with someone two years ago but you haven’t been in contact in that time, they actually might not be as strong a reference as you’d like. You should also try to use the most relevant references possible. For instance, if you’re applying for an assistant editor position, you might want to highlight references from an editorial internship or your college writing center rather than your supervisor from that summer when you worked as a lifeguard.
Q: If I’m applying to a job at another publishing company, what’s the best strategy for listing my salary requirements for the position, especially given that salaries can vary widely from house to house and my expectations might miss the mark as a result?
A: It’s admittedly hard to find reliable information about salaries at other companies, even online. If the position will represent a positive title change for you, a good rule of thumb is to list an expected salary that is $5,000-$10,000 above whatever you’re making currently. If you’re looking to make a lateral move, it’s not a bad idea to just put $0 in that field—if they want to hire you, their HR department will make you an offer based on your qualifications and what you know, and it will be your decision to accept the offer or not. The biggest thing to avoid is listing a salary requirement significantly above what is standard for the position—it shows that you don’t know the industry very well.
Q: How do you communicate your willingness to take a pay cut for a dream job without sending the wrong message about the value of your work?
A: If you’re asked to list your current salary in an application, you should include it and be honest about it. Be aware that once you’ve done so, most HR departments won’t want to offer you less than what you’re currently making. However, if it’s really your dream job, you can indicate your willingness to take a pay cut for it on the application—use your cover letter to stress that the position is where your true interests lie, and in the “salary requirements” section, put down the sum that you’re prepared to take. If you show enough passion, they’ll be able to understand why taking a pay cut would be worth it for you.
Q: Is it helpful to include an “other experience” section on my résumé that lists my involvement in activities outside of work?
A: Every HR person or hiring manager probably has a different opinion about this. One way to look at it is, when you have a section like that, you’re taking up valuable real estate on your résumé; you could be using that space to talk more about why you’re qualified for the job. If you do have outside experience directly related to the position that you don’t have from your work history—for example, you volunteer for a book charity or you’ve taken a publishing class—then listing that is a better idea. But in general, hearing about your miscellaneous hobbies isn’t helpful for the hiring committee. They don’t need to know about everything you do, just that you’d be good at the job.
Q: If I’m a “boomerang” publishing person (I left the industry but now I’d like to get back in), how do I address that gap in my application?
A: You have to explain in your cover letter why what you’ve done during your “break” is relevant. Describe why you left, what you’ve learned, and how that will help you in publishing moving forward. It’s always worth mentioning that interim professional experience. If you want, you can also create two different sections on your résumé—one for publishing experience and one for “other work experience.” That way, potential employers will be focusing on your publishing work history first, and if they notice the dates afterward it probably won’t matter too much.
Q: In terms of hiring, are digital jobs in publishing growing? Does this mean other job areas in the industry are shrinking?
A: Yes, digital is growing right now, and because of that it’s good to stay up to date with how your company and the industry are responding to the change. Keep in mind that every job will likely have a digital aspect at some point in the future. Right now, the digital change has been good for entry-level people—their comfort with it gives them a chance to take on more roles and be change agents at their companies.
Also, even though digital jobs are the hot focus right now, the industry changes so much that there’s always going to be a search for that next trend. Becoming too specialized might not help you; it’s never a bad idea to be a generalist in publishing.
Q: How important and/or necessary are publishing Master’s programs and summer courses for moving up within the industry?
A: Opinions really differ on the value of these programs. Hiring managers who are alumni might be biased in their favor, and if there’s another alumnus from the same program applying for a job, that could have an impact. But from an HR standpoint, we want to see first and foremost that you’ve had the work experience. The majority of what you learn in publishing comes through on-the-job tasks. A publishing course or degree can be a way to show you have experience, but those are expensive, and you have to decide for yourself how much you’ll be able to apply what you’ve learned in a work environment.