Alright y’all, it’s been over a year since the cover letters master post so I suppose we better get another one out there (apparently I’m only capable of doing one a year). And it’s been A LONG TIME COMING WE KNOW.
This one is going to be A LOT harder, because really there can’t be a set rule for how to go about doing well in interviews. It’s all about what works for you, what helps you to feel confident, and how you feel you can best get across your best self. But let’s give it a whack anyway!
I’m going to format this in a similar way to the cover letter post, in a step-by-step kind of way. So here’s how it’s going to go down:
- I’ve sent my CV and cover letter in, and heard nothing back. Is it alright to chase for a response?
- I’ve been requested to come in for an interview! What now?!
- So the interview is scheduled in, what do I need to do to prepare?
- Bloody hell, what do I need to wear?
- What do I need to do during the interview?
- Is it alright to ask about money/holiday/notice periods/how long it’ll take them to get back to me?
- Second interviews!
- Follow ups etc
And I’m going to throw in my two cents as well, all totally useful I’m sure – C.
1. I’ve sent my CV and cover letter in, is it alright to chase for a response?
Unfortunately, I’m going to go with a no on this one. The large majority of job postings state that if you don’t get a response within a certain amount of time, then you’ve been unsuccessful. It sucks, and it can be really disheartening when you’ve spent all this time, but recruiters are probably getting upwards of 100 applications for each entry level job for the most in demand roles/companies. Just don’t take it personally, and move on to the next one. I kind of tend to just forget about the role after I’ve applied, so that if I get an interview it’s a nice surprise, and if I don’t then I’m not too bothered.
I made myself a super spreadsheet for this because I really struggled with keeping track and it was good to know when the standard two weeks was up and to just make a guess at the fact that I hadn’t got an interview. Would recommend doing the same. Was super helpful.
2. I’ve been requested to come in for an interview! What now?!
Well, firstly, congrats! This is huge on its own, like I said companies are getting so many applications for each job, so it’s a big deal to get an interview. This is where people start getting stressed and anxious about having to go in, but really you just don’t need to. This is the time to start feeling confident about yourself and your achievements – they wouldn’t bother bringing you in if they didn’t think you were going to be appropriate and capable for the job. They’ve probably sent you a few dates and times, and if you’re worrying at all about which date/time will make you the most memorable – don’t. I’ve interviewed people, and I’m here to tell you that it makes absolutely no difference whether you’re the first, fourth, eighth, or last interview. It’s not when you’re there which will make you stand out, but what you’re like. On this note, you need to be realistic with what time you’re agreeing to go there. If you live a few hours away and you’ve agreed to an interview at 9am, is that really going to happen? Be generous with the time you’re giving yourself to get there.
Interviewers will help you out and fit with you if at all possible and if you’re coming from out of London they will understand that you need to fit in travel! I would always recommend if you’re coming from out of London give yourself at least an hour to travel from the train station to the interview, and try and arrive at least 10 minutes early for your interview if not earlier! Gives you time for a coffee and a calm down.
3. So the interview is scheduled in, what do I need to do to prepare?
I mean, lets get the obvious ones out of the way first. You need to research the company, research the books, research their editorial processes/marketing or PR campaigns or whatever department you’re going into, and you need to think about how and why you’re good for this job. You know what you said in your cover letter about how you’d be suitable? Crank that up to ten, think of all the reasons as to why you’re the best possible person for this job and how you can tell them this.
Classic publishing interview questions are; “what kind of books do you like/what are you reading at the moment”, “why do you want to work at this company”, “why do you think you’d be suitable for this role”, “what makes you stand out from other candidates”, and other typical stuff like this. Have your answers for these banked, write them down and read them back on the bus on the way there. If you go into a publishing interview and can’t think of a single book you’ve read recently, something going to look a bit fishy, even if it is just nerves getting the better of you.
Take your current read with you! If it’s in your hands or bag, it’s a great jumping off point for the interview and a super informal way to start the conversation. In my experience publishing interviews are a lot more informal than you expect them to be, so prepare but don’t be overly prepared (if you get me: you don’t want to sound like a robot).
I drafted some prep-questions for myself and had an idea of what I would say to them – never usually followed through with it, but it’s good to have some grounding. And know your CV like the back of your hand. I would also always recommend taking a few copies of your CV with you in case they’ve forgotten to print it out, you can whip it out and show how prepared you are. Also learn what you’ve said in your cover letter, you’ve probably written so many that you’ve lost track but if you start talking about the experience at a PR firm that you wrote about in your cover letter, when you actually never mentioned it at all, you might confuse them.
Also – the job description – try and remember exactly what they were looking for and demonstrate how well you know this.
Finally, prepare some questions for the end of the interview. They will always ask ‘do you have any questions?’ and if you say ‘no’ this is wrong. WRONG I SAY. Prepare at least three – I usually have a nice generic one ‘What has the person leaving this role gone on to do?’ and try and get in something more specific about the job/the company.
4. Bloody hell, what do I need to wear?
Think smart and professional but not business wear. In my first ever day of publishing work experience I made the mistake of turning up in a blouse and pencil skirt, and the girl I was working with came to get me in jeans and a t-shirt. I was mortified.
We are generally quite relaxed as an industry, but don’t forget this is a professional interview. You might be able to get away with jeans and a t-shirt when you’ve been at the company a while, but you must look smart and presentable for their first meeting with you.
Of course wear whatever you feel comfortable in – you want to look like you, not someone pretending to want this job – and especially dress for the weather. It gets really hot in London over summer and you do not want to turn up sweating through your shirt. I generally go for smart black trousers and a nice top that shows a bit of myself off. Eg. I have quite a girly personality, so I’ll usually be wearing something with flowers on.
Also take the opportunity whilst you’re interviewing to see what the interviewer is wearing as that will give you an idea of the company dress code – if they’re wearing jeans, you can wear jeans, if they’re wearing Converse, you don’t need to wear heeled boots every day.
5. What do I need to do during the interview?
Stay calm. Seriously. One interview, I was nearly at breaking point with my job search and ended up having word vomit about how much I wanted the job and how hard it was for entry-level candidates to get in, and I left thinking ‘what the hell did I just do’ – needless to say, I did not get the job.
Would recommend asking for a glass of water if you have nervous hands, gives you somewhere to put them and if you need time to think about a question, you can have a sip of water.
Most importantly, during the interview, be yourself – you do not want to end up getting the job and not be able to relax at work because you pretended to be someone else, someone you thought might be ‘more employable’ during the interview.
Be warm, be friendly, be honest, and just answer the questions. As long as you don’t get flustered, interviews are not a horrible experience – the interviewers are not ‘out to get you.’
6. Is it alright to ask about money/holiday/notice periods/how long it’ll take them to get back to me?
Debatable. I think the answer is probably yes (definitely yes to how long it’ll take to hear from them), but we’re all guilty of clamming up and I personally have never asked about salary or benefits in a first interview. I think there is probably more leeway with this for a second job where you already have an established salary and benefits.
I think with this, be tactful – in that if you want to ask, ask, but make sure you’re doing it sensibly and politely, not just straight up asking how much money you’re going to make. They may even ask you what salary you expect (do your research – ask around, check out the BookCareers salary survey).
But do ask when you expect to hear from them, you have a right to know.
7. Second interviews!
I think these are rare in entry level publishing jobs – do feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve only ever had one. And it was a great experience. I can obviously only speak about my experience with this second interview, but whilst the first interview was the straightforward interview you’d expect with all the usual questions (like those up there), the second interview was more job specific.
It was for a Publicity Assistant job (my current job actually), and beforehand I was asked to prepare some materials to present (a press release, a publicity campaign etc.) as a case study of how I would run a campaign. It was so exciting for me to do, and I know other people have been asked to do these things in the past for interviews, so not wholly unexpected. I sent the materials in on the Monday and had the interview on the Wednesday. We went through my presentation together and I expounded on it, then I was asked some more general questions about me as a person (I think they were trying to gage how I would fit in to the company environment – they asked about my hobbies etc.) and then I met with two more members of staff, who hadn’t been present in my first interview.
The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes – which was a lot longer than the first interview – and though I was nervous, I just tried to stay calm. Which really is all you can do in an interview.
8. Follow ups etc.
After the interview, I would always recommend sending a ‘thank you’ email. A handwritten note might be nicer, but in this day and age, an email is faster and more immediate, so the interviewer knows you were appreciative and thinking of them.
Whilst following up from sending in a CV and cover letter is usually a no-no, you are well within your right to follow up after an interview. You have actually sat down and met with this person, not just sent your application out into the void, so you can legitimately contact them for updates. Particularly if they’ve said you’ll hear back by X date and it’s been X date and you still haven’t heard.
I would recommend just dropping an email and saying ‘Hi X, just wondering where you’re at in the hiring process’ – it may well be that they’re still making up their mind and need more time.
If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to contact us – our DMs are now open woohoo. Also, another great source for interview tips is That Publishing Blog’s interview post which has a whole list of possible Qs you might be asked.
Some top tips from Anna Ridley at Penguin:
ANNA RIDLEY, HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS @ PENGUIN GENERAL
1. Passion for books –candidates should have several recent books they’ve loved in mind, be able to remember the title and author and talk about why they loved them with specifics, not just gushing!
2. Good communication style – I really admire precision and fluency in spoken communication, people who can make their points and also know when to stop talking. Also in an interview, even if over coffee or framed as a chat, is a formal situation and it’s probably best to avoid overly casual language.
3. Experience of assisting a team – doesn’t have to be from publishing but we’re always looking to improve the way we work together so any examples of changes the candidates have implemented that have improved team work are great!
4. Industry experience – work experience with a publisher, working in a bookshop or a library are great, though not always necessary.
5. For a comms role it’s great to be prepared with an example of a recent book campaign that caught your attention, and what it was about it that really made it stand out.
6. An awareness of yourself as a consumer and your consumer behaviour, the kinds of things that influence the books you choose to buy and read. People sometimes seem a bit baffled to be asked about this!
7. Research the publisher you’re applying to’s list – read some of their recent successes and be prepared to answer ‘which of our authors would you be most excited to work with’, and bonus points if you pick someone who is not the most obvious or most famous.
8. Don’t forget traditional media! Lots of the candidates I’ve interviewed automatically think of social media as the key part a campaign to launch a book, but that’s only one part of what we do, and it’s actually the traditional media and TV and radio interviews in particular that have the biggest impact on making books sell.
And there you have it! As always, we are always here to help – and we hope you found this useful!!