Acing the Interview: Tips for Young Publishing Job Seekers

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This article was contributed by YPG member Brigid Black. If you are a YPG member and would like to contribute articles on publishing-related topics for our site, please contact Stephanie Bowen at sbowen@randomhouse.com.

You’re sweating. You’re shaking. You can’t believe it. You have a job interview!

Interviews can be nerve-wracking experiences, especially in a field as competitive as publishing. Merely getting offered one is an achievement in itself. When I first started applying for jobs, I had very little experience in publishing, beyond being the daughter of an editor and a lifelong lover of books. But I’d always believed publishing was a good fit, and after months of job search stagnation, I suddenly landed three interviews, one after another. The interviewing process was a rollercoaster ride of excitement, anxiety, and downright terror filled with endless possibilities for messing up: forgetting a resume, stumbling on an awkward question, not doing enough research, etc.

How can young publishing job seekers avoid these and other interview woes? The following tips can help you ace that interview and successfully step into publishing.

1. Before the interview, prepare yourself physically and mentally. Aim to get eight hours of sleep the night before and make sure to eat breakfast and stay hydrated. Allow ample time for your commute to the interview. Dress appropriately—business attire or business casual, but more than smart casual. Lastly, don’t forget to bring enough resumes and references in case the interviewer requests extra copies.

2. Thoroughly research the company, imprint, and department for which you’re interviewing. Which types of books does the imprint publish? Which titles or authors of theirs have you have read or heard about? This is where you need to demonstrate your genuine interest in the position. Kelly Murphy, a Group Digital Assistant at Penguin, advised, “Learn what the company is known for, research the focus of the imprint, and even see if you can get a feel for the work environment so you know how to frame your interview responses,” she says. Heather Alexander, Assistant Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers added, “Know the market. Being able to talk intelligently about the recent books relevant to the job shows you’re truly interested in that particular area of publishing, and that you’re willing to do your homework.”

3. Know what to expect in a publishing interview. Familiarize yourself with industry vocabulary so that you can have an intelligent dialogue with your interviewer. Don’t know where to begin? Start with industry-friendly websites like BookJobs, GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly, Digital Book World, The Publishing Point, MediaBistro, BookSquare, Shelf Awareness, Publishers Lunch, or the Association of American Publishers. Even peripheral familiarity with these sites will assist you in getting up-to-date with current publishing issues, events, and trends. You may also want to follow certain publishing blogs (try Book Maven, Book Lady’s Blog, My Friend Amy, Bermuda Onion, Book Slut, Bookshelves of Doom, The YaYaYas, Rap Sheet, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, or many others) and join social media forums such as GoodReads. Book reviewing or blogging about relevant publishing topics in particular shows that you’re already actively engaged within the industry. Also remember to emphasize your strengths accordingly: writing and editing skills for editorial jobs, prior sales experience for sales jobs, etc. The goal is to demonstrate that you’re prepared and ready for the field you’re attempting to break into.

4. Come with questions—a lot of them. When your interviewer asks if you have any questions, the worst possible response would be no (or staring blankly into space). Have at least 3-5 on hand. Think of this part of the interview as a useful opportunity to learn about the unadvertised aspects of the job. Ask specifics: how the position relates to the department as a whole, what the office is like on a typical workday, the upcoming goals for the department, career opportunities and progression, etc. It is always better to have too many questions rather than too few.

5. Be yourself. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of yourself when you’re attempting to win over an interviewer. To avoid this, think of the interview not as a moment to impress at all costs, but rather a time to demonstrate who you really are. In a sea of equally qualified candidates, you must highlight your own unique traits and accomplishments in order to stand out. What initially drew you to publishing? Which college courses, internships or previous experience have helped prepare you for a future career in publishing? Why should you (and only you) be picked for the position? Be as honest and thorough as possible.

6. After the interview, follow up promptly and politely. Email thank-you notes to each person who interviewed you—or, better yet, send hand-written personalized thank you cards (it’s old-fashioned, certainly, but appreciated nevertheless). This reiterates your interest in the position, displays strong follow-through as a professional, and it’s your final chance to express that you are the right person for the job. It also guarantees closure for you, whether you get the job or not. Callie Plaxco, an International Sales Assistant and former intern at W.W. Norton, experienced this while interviewing for a number of other positions before landing her current job. “My first was for a children books’ Sales Assistant. I had two interviews, one with HR and the other with the hiring manager,” she said. “It was quite frustrating because after my second interview, I never actually heard back from them. Rather, I had to email HR to find out that I was rejected.” Plaxco describes these emails as tricky to write. “What an awkward place to be in. Basically asking somebody if you got the job without actually asking that.” Awkwardness aside, your assertiveness can make a difference, either prompting the company to move the hiring process along or allowing you to move on with your job search.

7. If you don’t get the job, be grateful for the opportunity and move on. Thank your interviewer and use the interview as a positive learning experience. In addition, maintain the attitude that you will find your fit sooner or later. “Often an interviewer can simply sense when the job fit isn’t perfect, regardless of how enthusiastic you seem about a position that probably isn’t right for you,” says Murphy. Most importantly, keep your head up. Plaxco admits to feeling a bit hopeless when she wasn’t getting job offers. But she didn’t quit, and her persistence paid off when she was hired at the publishing house she had once interned at. “I think what I’d say to somebody else is to just keep trying and don’t feel defeated,” she says. Your persistence will pay off, too.

8. If you received an offer for the position—congratulations! Welcome to publishing! Next, share your own tips and experiences with other job seekers in the stressful situation that you just went through. Your success can benefit others too, so pay it forward and help a friend or peer to ace that interview. You’ll be glad you did.

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