Taking Your Career to the Next Level: HR Panel Recap

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On Tuesday, October 16, a crowd of 100 YPG members packed into the AAP’s offices on Fifth Avenue for a panel discussion on career moves in publishing. Three human resources representatives from Big Six companies were on hand to share their thoughts on everything from résumé writing to negotiating a higher salary, and they offered the following tips for young industry employees looking to take their next career steps:

Be sure that a move is right for you.

Those thinking about jumping to a different department should consider doing it sooner rather than later: in general, transferring is easier for junior employees. If you’re a more experienced employee, it’s by no means impossible for you to switch departments, but panelists stressed that you should be prepared to make sacrifices to make that happen—by accepting a position lower down on the career ladder, taking a pay cut, and/or moving to a different company altogether. “If you’ve been in the business for several years but working in that other department is really your dream,” one panelist said, “you have to weigh the pros and cons of that move yourself and decide whether it’s worth it.”

Build your network early.

As one HR rep put it, “In publishing, it’s all about the referral.” Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a large referral network of people both within and outside of your current company, and to begin building it long before you’re ready to make a move. Informational interviews are a terrific way to learn more about a position or department, and requesting them can be as easy as writing a sincere and polite email—most publishing people love talking about their jobs.

You can also utilize social media networking tools such as LinkedIn to help build your network. LinkedIn provides the opportunity to connect with people you admire in the industry as well as recruiters at companies you’re interested in. It also serves as a great resource for keeping in touch with former classmates, coworkers, and supervisors, rather than trying to reconnect when you’re ready to make that next career move. However, be cautious: if you’re going to use social media for professional networking, make sure that you’re being professional on those networks.

Some companies have gone so far as to establish a formal mentor program to help junior employees get their feet in the door in different departments. If your company doesn’t offer such a program, that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the guidance of a senior employee—you just have to be proactive in seeking a mentor out on your own. When asked how one would go about doing that, one of the panelists responded, “Flattery can go a long way here!”

Make your application stand out.

Applying through an online recruiting system “can often feel like you’re submitting things into a hopeless black hole,” the reps joked, but they reassured everyone that those applications do indeed reach a real, human recruiter at the other end. However, with some positions yielding hundreds of résumés for a single opening, recruiters are conducting more and more “keyword searches” to whittle down their application piles—scanning résumés and cover letters for buzzwords to identify “good-fit” candidates whose applications will be reviewed more closely. Panelists acknowledged that it is possible for a few qualified candidates to be overlooked this way. The good news is that savvy applicants can often find clues as to what those buzzwords might be in the job description a company has posted online and can tailor their résumés and cover letters accordingly.

Once your application receives a thorough read, several things will help it stand out above the others. A cover letter of one page or less is a must, and an exceptional cover letter shows that you’ve done your homework by detailing how your past experiences have prepared you for the position you’re seeking. Making specific references to the imprint and its recent titles is also highly recommended, but it must be done with care: “You can really tell when someone is just plugging in the name of the publishing house,” a rep said, “especially when you read about how the person is so excited to apply to Penguin and the opening is at Random House.”

Effective résumés are specific to the job to which you’re applying, and focus more on spotlighting relevant past experiences than listing every responsibility of every position in your work history. When possible, bullet points should go beyond summarizing the duties of a position to describe the quantitative impact you’ve had in that position; stating that your Goodreads campaign reached 5,000 new readers is more memorable (and more impressive) than simply mentioning that you ran a Goodreads campaign. One panelist also recommended that employees who have been in the industry for at least a year move their educational backgrounds to the bottom of their résumés to keep the emphasis on work experience (and leave out high school information altogether—it’s definitely not relevant anymore).

Ace the interview.

The first rule of successful interviewing is to be prepared; the interview is perhaps your best chance to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and are familiar with the position, department, and company to which you are applying. And no matter how knowledgeable you feel, panelists emphasized the wisdom of practicing your responses to common interview questions beforehand. Practicing will ensure that you remain as confident as possible when you’re in the real interview situation, which can be nerve-wracking for even the most seasoned job-seeker.

Another reason to be confident: it turns out that interviewers don’t design their questions to intimidate candidates—at least, the three interviewers on the panel don’t. “Interviewers are there to have a conversation with you, not to intimidate you,” one panelist explained. “We find that we learn more in an interview about a candidate the more comfortable that candidate is.”

Plan your own promotion.

While the HR reps stressed that “there is never a bad time to have a conversation about advancement with your manager,” they also made a strong case for initiating that dialogue earlier rather than later; promotions come faster to those who lay the groundwork for them beforehand. “You need to plant the seed in your manager’s head,” one panelist said, “or nothing will grow.” If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of asking for a promotion outright, your first step can be simply asking for more responsibility in your current role. Once you’ve proved that you can succeed with more on your plate, you’ll feel more justified in asking your manager to sit down with you and collaborate on a plan for your advancement. Together, the two of you can establish an objective set of criteria for your future work performance that, once met, will indicate you are ready to move up.

Unfortunately, if your manager agrees that you’ve earned a promotion, that’s not a guarantee that it will happen right away. Some companies restrict promotions to certain times of the year (e.g., after performance reviews), and budgetary considerations will be a large factor in determining whether or not people besides your manager (such as the department head and business manager) can sign off on the decision. But, with a combination of high-quality work and smart self-advocacy, you can ensure you’ll be at the top of the list when the opportunity does arise.

Know how to open up a dialogue about salary.

Like promotion prospects, the topic of salary increases can be a difficult one to broach with your manager. If you feel strongly that you deserve more than you’re making, though, it’s perfectly acceptable to request an explanation for the reasoning behind your current salary figure and whether there is room for that to change. In most cases, a lot of thought has already gone into that dollar amount, and your manager’s hands may be tied by budgetary constraints. But asking respectfully about it doesn’t hurt, and panelists reported that sometimes this tactic does yield a modest salary bump.

The panelists weren’t as enthusiastic about the tactic of seeking a competing offer from another company to negotiate a salary increase. One rep said, “If you’re bargaining with a counteroffer, you need to be prepared to walk out the door if your company doesn’t match it; you can never be fully sure of how valuable your team and your company finds you.” And even if the HR department does match your counteroffer, they probably won’t be thrilled about it; HR reps don’t think a counteroffer sends the right message as “it tends to be a Band-Aid for something else the employee isn’t satisfied with in his or her job.”

Make HR your ally.

Throughout the session, the HR panelists mentioned multiple ways in which their department can be a valuable resource for job-seekers. Many HR departments are willing to help you schedule informational interviews with others at your company if you’re exploring an internal transfer. It’s also advisable to discuss your desire for a switch in a confidential conversation with an HR rep; the rep should be able to provide you with more inside information on your department of interest and to give you advice that will boost your chances of transferring successfully. Candidates applying to a position externally can request help from that company’s HR team as well; for instance, they may be able to send along background information about the company in preparation for an interview.

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One Response to “ Taking Your Career to the Next Level: HR Panel Recap ”

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    [...] 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 [...]