People believe there is a secret to finding writing and editing work. They are always asking me how to find a job as a proofreader, a copy editor or any of a number of publishing jobs. The truth is that finding a job in this industry is very similar to finding work in any industry. You have to be prepared. You have to be assertive. You have to spend time, effort and even money on your job search. There is no quick fix for a job search.
The number of people who do not know the basics of conducting a job search consistently surprises me. I suppose that is one explanation for why so many people give up. Therefore, I am providing this guide to looking for work in the publishing industry. If any of the steps seem particularly obvious to you, please understand that some people just do not know these things or for some reason believe that these things do not apply to the publishing industry.
Note: There is very little difference between the process of looking for full time employment and the process of looking for freelance work. While freelance writing is somewhat of a special case, freelance editing and proofreading use much the same process as regular employment. The main difference is that you specify to publishers that you are looking for freelance assignments.
Step One: Become Qualified
Many people who want to work in the publishing industry don’t have the qualifications. If you want to be a proofreader, for example, it takes more than just a belief that you are “good with grammar”.
Research the field you intend to work in:
- Buy the appropriate books.
- Subscribe to any industry magazines you can find.
- Visit and join professional groups within the industry.
- Take the appropriate classes.
- Get a degree if you can.
- Try to find one or more mentors in the field.
Unless you are actively working to make yourself the best possible candidate for the job, you are going to have trouble landing the job you want. If you are not qualified for the job you want, consider seeking a job for which you are qualified, but limit your applications to the industry you hope to grow into. Medium and large publishers employ a variety of support personnel from secretaries to clerks to interns and sales people. Once you are working in the industry in any capacity, it is easier to build your career from the inside than the outside.
Step Two: Demonstrate Your Qualifications
If you are qualified to look for a job in your field, you must be able to prove it. This means you must create a resume and a portfolio. There are entire books about writing resumes, so I won’t detail the process here, but be sure your resume reflects the experience that qualifies you for the job you are looking for.
While many people choose to use a resume service, I believe it is better to learn how to write your own resume. The reason is that you will want the option of customizing your resume to individual job opportunities. If a company is looking for a writer who knows FrameMaker, you will want to make sure that you feature that skill on your resume. If the next company cares about HTML skills and does not ask for FrameMaker skills, you will want to make changes again. When you know what skills an employer is looking for, you need to make sure your resume reflects those skills as much as your qualifications will allow.
A writer or editor’s portfolio is a collection of their work samples. Again, the samples should reflect the job you are looking for. If you are applying for an editor job, you should have samples of the publications you have edited in the past and be ready to demonstrate how your work is reflected by those samples. A technical writer would collect technical documents they have worked on. A proofreader would bring in samples of the text they have proofed.
Step Three: Research Employers
This is the step that most people try to skip over, and that is why most job searches fail. It is possible to find a job through newspaper or web site advertisements. Feel free to use them as part of your search.
Unfortunately, advertised jobs have the most competition for them. The people who are willing to pick up the phone and cold-call employers are more likely to find a job. Before you call, however, you should know the employer’s background as much as possible.
Make a list of publishers in your job search area. While cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles have the greatest number of publishers, every urban area has publishers and related companies:
- Book publishers
- Magazine publishers
- Newspaper publishers
- Technical publishers
- Online publishers
- Advertising companies
- Public relations firms
I live in a medium-sized city with about 500,000 residents. A quick search of the phone book under the publisher headings turned up approximately 100 different publishers. I live within 90 miles of another, larger city with 250 listed publishers. Not every publisher will interest me in a job search, but it would be easy to create a list of thirty or more publishers I would like to know more about. I could consult many more sources in my search than just the phone book. Writer’s Market, especially the online edition, is easy to search through and provides all sorts of details about publishers. Internet searches are another possibility. You can also contact your local chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau for information.
After you create a list of publishers to research, you need to find out more about them. As mentioned, Writer’s Market has many listings and good details but their guide is far from exhaustive, especially for publishers outside of the major cities. Web sites are another valuable tool. Most companies have some sort of site these days. Some publisher’s sites will be extensive and full of valuable information. They may even include a jobs page. Other sites will be rudimentary and frustrating to navigate. You cannot know how useful a site will be until you investigate it.
Finally, you should contact the employer directly. Because this step is only for research, and not to ask for a job, you should make your request simple. E-mail or phone the company and ask them to send any brochures they have about their company and their services. Do not feel you need to elaborate on why you want the information. Simply make the request.
The key areas you will want to research are:
- Services offered / types of publications
- Potential contacts
- Company size
- Areas of specialty
- Employment potential
Step Four: Call Employers
At this stage, you are actively seeking employment, but you are also looking to develop contacts and form relationships. This is why you must use the phone rather than e-mail or regular mail. Mail is a passive tool; the phone is an assertive tool. Sometimes, you may want to visit a potential employer in person, but that is a slower method because of travel time. In addition, it is disheartening to get dressed up to visit a potential employer only to find out that the person is out-of-town or uninterested in talking to you.
Publishing companies vary widely. Many small publishers are one, two or three person operations. The person who picks up the phone might be the person who can give you a job or steer you toward an opportunity somewhere else. At a larger company, there may be dozens or hundreds of employees. This is where your preliminary research can come in handy. Often, your preliminary research will identify the person you want to contact.
One concern many people have is their ability to “get past the secretary” and talk to the person who makes decisions. While this may be true at some large publishers, secretaries and receptionists are less common than they used to be and call screening is not as common a practice as most people fear. You may be surprised at how often the person who can hire you picks up the phone. Be polite and friendly, but not overbearing. Let them know you are looking for work. If they say they do not have any opportunities, ask them for advice or connections. Some people will respond and be helpful and some will not. Do not worry about the unfriendly people. People who are unfriendly on the phone are generally not good employers. Remember that this is a weeding-out process for you as well. You do not just want a job; you want to find the company that is best for you.
Step Five: Master the Interview
Job interviews are grueling; there is no way to get around it. You have to get dressed up, which generally means looking at yourself in the mirror and wondering if this is as good as you get. You have to answer probing and sometimes stupid questions and find a way, however difficult, to present yourself as the ideal candidate. In some cases you have to face one person, and in other cases you find yourself sitting across a table from five or more people. The key is to be yourself, but to be your best self. Do not lie or exaggerate your skills, because unless you are a terrific liar, they will see right through you anyway. Be positive about your abilities, but feel free to admit when an area is something you are not your best in. An honest no will get you a better job than a dishonest yes. A few things to remember:
- Get a look at the place you are visiting in advance, if you can.
- Find out in advance how the people at the company dress, and dress slightly better. Always be clean and well groomed. Do not use cologne or perfume; just be clean.
- Bring your portfolio with you and be ready to explain it in a positive way.
- Demonstrate your knowledge of their company. Be ready to explain why you want to work for them.
- Remember the names of your interviewers and get a business card from them if possible. You will need it for the next step.
- Ask when the interviewers plan to make a decision.
Step Six: Follow Up
Do not skip this step. Every step in this process is important, but this one is how you close the deal. As part of your job search, invest in a box of thank you cards. As soon as you get out of your interview, write a note on one of your thank you cards thanking them for the interview and restating your interest in the job. Drop it in the mail that day. Do not let yourself forget.
Call the employer within three working days of your interview. Thank them for the interview again and ask them how the job search is progressing. If you have not heard from the company by the date they said they intend to hire someone, call again and ask if they have made a decision. Many employers do not bother to call and inform people that they didn’t get a job, and it is better to know as soon as possible if that is the case so that you can move on.
Step Seven: Go Back to the Beginning
Until you get a job, you continually need to renew your job search. After your initial research, try to contact at least five potential employers each week. If you are running out of possible employers, you need to expand your search either by considering employers you passed on before or by expanding your geographic search to include new locations and markets.