Typical Publishing Job Interview Questions
Today I thought I would share a blog post on typical publishing job interview questions you may get when being interviewed. If you want to learn more about how to ace a publishing job interview you can watch my #MarketYourMarketing video.
The interview questions below typically come up at entry-level interviews. But they may also be asked at interviews for exec and managerial roles as well.
I’ve included these questions based on my experience of my own experience of interviews. I’ve had many publishing interviews in my career. These are also questions I would want to be answered before I hired an entry-level-to-executive applicant.
Typical Publishing Job Interview Questions
Can you tell us about your career and experience to date?
This may seem like a strange one to ask an entry-level applicant who may not have had work experience or a graduate placement in publishing. However, it’s useful to know what skill level an applicant has from the off-set. In particular, it’s useful to see how they present that skill-set. I knew that my experience working at a garden centre as a teenager wasn’t interesting to a publisher; however, my customer service skill and ability to communicate well was.
What books do you like to read?
This is not a trick question, but as someone who has done many interviews of entry-level applicants for grad schemes and full-time roles, this trips people up. Interviewers want you to be honest and get to know your personality and tastes. But there is also a level of learning to be found from this question.
If you’re applying for a role at a commercial imprint and are telling an interviewer you only read literary prize-winners, that’s a red flag. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not making the interviewer think you’d be passionate about the books you’re publishing either.
What motivates you?
This question is open-ended on purpose. A lot of people in publishing right now are burnout and the big question in HR is how to drive motivation and passion within their employees. When asked this question, interviewers want to learn if you’re an independent worker or a team worker? Do you need a lot of explanation and training or will you go and find the answers yourself? Are you motivated by success or will you need to be pushed to go the extra mile? All of these answers are useful from a hiring perspective.
But I personally think this is one of the most important questions you’ll be asked in a publishing job interview.
What would you say is your biggest weakness?
Much like motivation, this is another open-ended question for interviewers to get to know your personality and how you work. Are you easily distracted when you work in a team? Do you struggle with public speaking? Do you say yes more than no and get overwhelmed with the workload? All of these answers are valid and can easily be switched to a positive point.
There are no wrong or right answers when it comes to motivation and weaknesses. A team might be looking for an independent worker who is self-motivated by the bestseller flag and if you answered that you love working in a team and are motivated by creative brainstorming with other people then you’re not going to be what they’re looking for. However, that answer you gave isn’t a bad one. It’s luck of the draw.
Can you give us an example of when you used your initiative?
Again, slightly unexpected for an entry-level position interview, but this is a typical publishing interview question. An example of initiative can be work-related or about your degree at university, or even a personal project you undertook.
When I started interviewing for jobs in publishing I told interviewers about my unemployment stint post-university. Odd right? I told them, that instead of resting on my laurels I started a book blog to immerse myself in the bookish community and network with the publishing industry. That answer got me my first two jobs in publishing.
Why do you want to work for this company?
This is a question to prove to the interviewer that you are invested in this role and that you did your research. I have, unfortunately, seen too many people turn up to interviews and recite the opening paragraph from an imprint’s website but then not know that that imprint publishes commercial fiction or is part of another company.
Interviewers aren’t looking for you to kiss their backsides about their amazing company. They want you to be passionate about working there for actual reasons like the authors they publish, the opportunities to grow within that company, or to work with certain people in that imprint, etc.
Which of the authors on our list are you most excited to work on?
Another question, much like the above, is to prove your passion and interest in the role as well as your research.
Whatever you do – I beg you – don’t ever say ‘I’ve not read any of the authors on your list’. I recently went through an experience where every applicant said this, and it was shockingly bad form. It suggests laziness, lack of passion, and complete lack of research.
Even if you haven’t read an author on that list, download a book online or grab a book from your local library that’s on their list and read the opening chapter. There is no reason if you want to work in publishing and have an actual interview, not to read a little bit of a book that you couldn’t potentially work on.
And if you have read an author on their list, wax lyrical about it.
What campaigns have you seen/have impressed you recently?
And finally, a more marketing or PR-specific publishing interview question, but interviewers love to ask you about other campaigns you’ve seen. This is to test your market knowledge and awareness of publishing as a whole.
The big slip-up I see the most is when an applicant tells me about a campaign from 5+ years ago. Interviewers want to know what you’ve seen recently (as in, in the last 6 months). This is a question you can easily prepare for by looking at Amazon, Waterstones, Twitter, or The Bookseller. And if you genuinely want to get into publishing, you should probably already have a book in mind.
I suggest writing 3 bullet points on a recent campaign on a post-it and having it nearby to refresh your memory during the interview. We all have blank moments, particularly under pressure.
And there we have it. Some typical publishing job interview questions you’re likely to hear if you’re looking for a job in publishing. I hope this was helpful. For more publishing insights check out the Publishing Hopeful’s Toolkit I put together.
If you have any requests for further publishing tips and tricks let me know in the comments below.