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Five things you need to know before your newspaper or magazine publishing interview

Whether you’re interviewing for an editorial position at a local newspaper or a glossy magazine, there are five ways you can prepare to make sure you impress your interviewers.

There are quite a few similarities between publishing interviews and interviews in other sectors; however, there are a few different traits and skills publishing employers look out for in candidates. We’ve come up with a list of the five things you need to know before your publishing interview to give you an idea of what to expect and how you can prepare.

Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is expected of every publishing candidate and it’s not just about knowing the product you’ll be working on and who its target audience is. In fact, there are a lot of elements an employer may expect you to be aware of. These may include:

  • audience and circulation – who is the target demographic? How are they targeted? How many people buy the product?
  • topic – what is the publication about and what do you know about it?
  • competitors – which other publishers have products in the same market? How does your publisher set itself apart?
  • the state of that particular area of publishing – if the publisher deals with printed products, how is it adapting to the shift to digital?

Some magazine publishers openly state their target audience and circulation numbers on their websites. For newspapers, circulation numbers might be more difficult to find, but an online search should reveal some figures from third parties. You may also have to think a little more analytically to work out a local paper’s intended audience.

If the publisher you’re interviewing with produces products on a certain topic, such as a cycling magazine, it’s essential that you have a strong understanding of that area. Research the topic and find out about the current trends. What’s the next big thing? What’s the latest news?

Finding out about the competition will demonstrate your overall industry awareness and show that you have an idea of what that market is doing. Carrying out some general searches for the products available on the topic your publisher deals with will usually reveal plenty of competitors. Being able to talk about your publisher’s unique selling point (USP) will also be a bonus.

Know the editor

Social media allows us to find out a bit about individuals before we’ve even met them. This can be very useful as it can help to ease pre-interview nerves and give you some clues on how to build up rapport. For journalistic publications this can be especially useful as it will demonstrate a bit of ingenuity and some basic research skills on your part.

And don’t just stop at the editors. Find public profiles for the publishers, editorial assistants, marketing directors and so on. Try to find the editorial teams on Twitter and LinkedIn. Most journalists and editors have a public profile for readers to engage with, so don’t be intimidated by following them (online of course).

Twitter and LinkedIn also allow you to network, which could lead to employment further down the line, so check out our article on finding a graduate job using Twitter and our article on building an all star LinkedIn profile.

Bring some stories to talk about

Good stories are at the heart of magazines and newspapers and it’s the editorial team who dream them up. In your publishing career you’ll sit in weekly or monthly editorial meetings where story ideas will be bounced around, discussed, criticised and defended.

Some publishing interviewers may ask you for your own story ideas during the interview. They’re not looking for the next big scoop, but they do want to see that you’ve developed three or four ideas that consider the publication’s topic and target audience. Don’t be afraid of being penalised for a bad idea. Hundreds of possible stories are thrown around among the editorial team in a week and only a few of those make it to publication. What’s important to editors is that ideas are constantly being thought up.

If you’re interviewing for a newspaper, arrive the day before the interview and have a walk around the location it’s based in. Note down interesting things you see and try to come up with a few ideas. For a magazine, read through the publications and search online to see if there are any topics that haven’t been covered or if there are any different angles that could be exploited on an existing story.

You’ll also be asked about your own writing so bring a portfolio of work in to discuss with your interviewer. In some cases you may have to talk a bit about the work, in which case you’re going to need to articulate points such as:

  • What was the aim of the piece?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • How have you tailored the writing to them?

Make the most of any work experience

Whether your work experience is in publishing or not, it’s all valuable to the employer as long as you talk about relevant experiences and the transferable skills you learned.

The key skills a publishing employer is looking for are:

  • communication
  • teamwork
  • strong writing skills
  • the ability to work to deadlines
  • enthusiasm.

If you’ve had a part-time job or an internship at a publishers, think about all the tasks you carried out and the responsibilities you held. Don’t just focus on the big jobs such as writing features or interviewing contributors because employers will want candidates who can carry out all manner of tasks. Other useful experiences include:

  • transcribing interviews
  • proofreading and copy-editing
  • idea generation
  • social media experience
  • using a content management system (CMS)
  • liaising with different departments such as design or sales teams.

If your work experience isn’t related to publishing, think about the tasks you’ve carried out in a different role or through other pursuits that demonstrate those sought-after skills. For example, you could demonstrate your communication skills by talking about a time you had to relay complex information to a customer. Alternatively, you may have experience in writing for a blog. Whatever the experience, talk about the skill you used, how you applied it and how it’s relevant to the job.

Expect a writing or proofreading exercise

It’s likely that at some stage of the interview you’ll be asked to take part in a written exercise. These tasks are there to gauge your writing skills or level of English, but you won’t be expected to pen a feature in 15 minutes. Depending on the nature of the role you could be asked to proofread a short piece of text or write a NIB (news in brief) from a press release.

There are a few simple steps you can take to carry out this task well.

  1. Come prepared – wear a watch so you can keep an eye on the time should you be set a time limit. Make sure you bring a pen and a notepad too. Not only are these useful for the task, but any newspaper or magazine employer will expect you to have these basic tools on you.
  2. Listen to the instructions closely – you may be able to rewrite the passage you’ve been given to a higher standard, but if the task was to fix the punctuation you won’t have displayed the skill the employer is looking for.
  3. Don’t rush – don’t try to speed through the task as quickly as possible. Publishing requires accuracy and hastily written copy tends to contain mistakes. So take all the time you’re given and carry out the task to the best of your ability.
  4. Be enthusiastic – don’t say you found it boring or tedious. Throughout your career in publishing you’ll have to do a lot of copy-editing, so if you’re set a task to spot some spelling or grammatical mistakes, show a bit of enthusiasm to demonstrate that you can cope with it in the future.
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