Publishing Interview Top Tips.

It’s interesting how you feel as though you cannot blog about something until you’ve properly experienced it. I interviewed successfully for two publishing jobs in summer, at a magazine publisher and a scientific journals publisher, so I’ve decided that I might be able to give some advice to those of you interviewing for publishing roles.

My top interview tips:

1. Your appearance matters.

This isn’t to say you should go in with a full face of makeup and stilettos; they’re not after beauty queens, but you need to look clean and put together. Styling your hair so it’s off your face and not easy to play with is key, as this suggests nerves. Keep your outfit simple; I like to wear something brightly coloured – either my dress or blouse usually – partnered with plain trousers/skirt and blazer/cardigan all in the same colour. I do this so that I stand out and they remember me, but it’s still not distracting. I prefer to wear heels to interviews, but just smart shoes which match your blazer will do.

2. First impressions matter

You’re nervous, checking your watch constantly, tugging at your clothes and not considering much of what’s going on around you. Before you step into their building, or even onto their street, compose yourself. Walk in with a smile, greet the receptionist, sign in and sit and attempt conversation if it’s appropriate. Shake hands and smile at the interviewer. Smile at anyone you see, and be polite to anyone who talks to you within the building; you could be working with them!


You’ve made it this far, through the gruelling applications process, written a million cover letters all perfectly tailored to the individual job specification and you’ve finally got an interview. REJOICE! But this does not mean you’re in; this is where the real work begins. Check their website, note down the mission statement, how old the company is, and its various imprints, genres and a few authors to keep in mind. Have a google of the sector’s market reports to see where the company stands, who their main competition is and what the general market overview looks like. One I’ve learned more recently: research around the area as well. Find the key trends happening not only in crime fiction but in real crime, TV and cinema. Other things to consider include general industry trends; make sure that you know of something exciting another publisher is doing, as they may ask you about this. Also, while it’s great to understand every book on their list, make note of lookalike authors and books so you’re able to compare – this is a huge skill to have in publishing.


You’ve got the email, you’ve done a happy dance, rang your mum and you’re ready to reply. Read the email in full; does it say anything about tests? At pretty much any publishing interview you’ll be required to proof-read something. If they mention tests, make sure you understand them. If not, clarify them in your email. Check if it asks you to prepare some work; do you understand this? Will you need any materials or information from them to complete it? Consider this before replying; they’re not going to retract the request, so read it fully and make sure you have everything you need before confirming.

If they’ve asked you to do something, do it and then some. They want a presentation? Make it interactive, bring handouts, make a video to go with it. Publishing professionals love creation and innovation.

5. Don’t be afraid

Nerves are fine – more than fine – nerves are great because they show how much you want the job, but don’t let them get the better of you. If they offer you the choice of test or interview first, do the test first. It gives you a chance to sit alone with a glass of water, go through their test and compose yourself further. Remember: they like you! They read your CV and cover letter and thought you were fabulous and wanted to meet you and maybe work with you. If you don’t understand a question, they’re not trying to trip you up. Pause and decide how to respond; if you don’t understand, ask what they mean – they want you to do well so they can hire you.

6. Be honest

As I’ve just said, let them know if you don’t understand something. They’re not your angry school teacher, they won’t tell you off for not having heard of their specific CMS or not having experience in an advanced tool, especially at entry level. You can be selectively honest about certain questions if you need to be, but relate it back to the truth as much as possible. If you got fired, you can say you left, but they might want a reference from that source, so try to be honest even if it might not paint you in the best light. If you did something wrong and got fired, admitting it is usually best practice rather than trying to cover your tracks.

7. Ask questions

Here are some questions to ask that they are not likely to answer when they tell you about the job:

  • What’s the atmosphere of the company?
  • What are the opportunities for future progression?
  • What training and development opportunities are there?
  • What does a typical week look like in this role?
  • And ALWAYS make sure you ask what the next steps are – second round of interviews, will there be a task involved, and what the expected timeline is for this.

If they haven’t mentioned salary, ask about it at your first interview, because it’s important for you to know if you can afford to take this job. Watch them when they answer, if they’re open and honest about the role and the company and they explain things properly, the chances are that it’s a good place to work and they want you to work there. If their answers are short or they avoid answering your questions directly, try and find more out when you get home because it might not all be as wonderful as it seems.

8. Glassdoor is OUR friend

Review your interview (once you’ve found out if you’ve got the job). Put in as many details as possible and how you felt about the company. This is useful so future applicants will know that when they say ‘basic knowledge of PhotoShop’, they really mean you’re going to do a PhotoShop exercise, so practice for it. If you don’t get it, leaving an amicable review shows your good nature. Also, you’ll be applying for more jobs and will hope that there is as much information on Glassdoor about this job as possible to help you on the way.

Also, use it before the interview. Check what people are saying about the company, their roles and suchlike. See if it seems like the kind of place you want to work, and compare those reviews to the atmosphere when you’re there. The interviews section is great for seeing what kinds of questions you’ll be asked.

9. You don’t have to take the job

If it’s not for you, don’t take it. Yes, it’s publishing, a very difficult industry to enter and getting even one job offer is a dream come true – we can all relate. However, if you don’t like the company, think the job would be soul-destroying or simply don’t think you’d get along well with the managers who interviewed you, let someone else have it. This is for your own benefit as much as theirs – if you don’t like the job, you’ll leave in a short period and they’ll have to replace you again.

10. BUT don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

If you have some hang-ups about the job because you have to do loads of administration and it isn’t all sitting reading books, meeting authors and attending book launches, get over it. Every entry level position is padded with administration, which is actually great to learn. All jobs in publishing expect you to know how to use a computer, file things, answer the phone, take messages etc. so this experience is actually invaluable. As inexperienced graduates/first jobbers, we all could do with any (PAID) experience we can get. If it was a boring role at Penguin, I would bite their hand off!

Adding to this, when applying for mid-level roles, if the salary range in the job description is £25,000 – £27,000, do not automatically expect that they will offer you £27,000. They will more likely offer you the lowest available, especially if you have had less trade publishing experience. The highest salary in that range is more than likely reserved for people already at that level who are moving from exec-exec role, while if you’re moving up from assistant – executive/officer/mid-level job title, then it’s more likely the offer will be low. Do not pass up on a job you really want because of this, but find out if there’s any ‘wiggle room’. I wouldn’t recommend negotiating any higher than £1,000 more before you start the job, and remember you start paying your student loan back at £25,750, so staying below that while you can could even be a financial benefit to you!

Comment on here or Twitter if you have any questions for me!

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