On Interviews

Our interns officially started today - we did an orientation last week, but today was Day 1 - and I have to admit I'm impressed and feeling great about the group we have.

But a colleague and I waded through 50+ intern resumes and interviewed 40+ potential interns, and I couldn't help feels surprised at how unprepared some of the applicants were. (Obviously not any of the fabulous interns we ended up with.) But as with many things it brought me back to when I was teaching, and I couldn't help reflect on mock interviews I did with my freshmen a few years ago.

The top three biggest mistakes:

1. Lack of Research. Anyone interviewing for a job should check out the company they're interviewing with. When I snagged an interview for my internship, I went out and bought a book on the agency's website - one I'd had on my wishlist anyway - and read it before the interview just so that I could come in and say "I read this book" and then hold an intelligent conversation about it. That may be extravagant, but checking out a agency's website and taking note of bestselling books and authors is a must.

2. Over Familiarity. I understand that I'm young - sort of - and I look younger than I am, and I like to think I'm pretty friendly, but I was surprised at how many people came in and chose familiarity over professionalism. There's nothing wrong with showing personality in an interview, but it's so important to also convey that you're there to do a job and do it well, not necessarily make friends. Occasionally, a few applicants actually acted is if they had already gotten the job.

3. Snubbing Genre Fiction. Everyone in publishing (or at least almost everyone) loves the classics. We all have an appreciation for beautifully written literary fiction, but we also love and appreciate genre fiction including books that people might consider beach reads or fluff. There's purpose and value in books that you can read cover to cover in a few hours without putting it down. It isn't necessary to like all genres (thrillers really just aren't my thing - usually - they tend to all seem like the same story to me), but anyone with an interest in working in publishing should understand there are places for all different genres and they shouldn't turn their nose up at any of them.

* Along these lines, the worst thing anyone interested in a career in publishing can do is trash a specific popular book, company, genre or *eek* the industry as a whole. It's okay to say "I want to help great books get made" - we all want that. It's not okay to say "I want to help great books get made because there aren't any great children's books out there anymore." Because chances are, the interviewer has worked on or likes a lot of the children's books out there.

The top three impressive moves:

1. Well Thought-out Questions. By asking good questions about the internship, the agency, or even my job or my clients, some applicants showed not only their preparation, but also their interest in the agency as a team. One of my favorite interviews was when an applicant pulled out a sheet of questions and a pen and took notes on our answers. The unique and in depth questions showed the applicant's interest and research as well as attention to detail and a level of seriousness about doing a good job.

2. Excitement. I love talking books. I can do it all the time, on and on and on. I love my job. I find everything about the publishing process exciting! It was great to see applicants come it and light up when they talked about books they'd read recently or books they'd loved. Everyone wants to work in a place, and with people, that possess positive enthusiasm. So it was great to see that in interviews.

3. Thank You Notes. It seems silly to say it out loud - I've always thought it was silly, and I definitely didn't do this after my interview (FAIL), but getting a thank you note after interviews serves two purposes. It makes the interviewers feel appreciated - and hey our time is valuable, interviewing all those people was hard work - and it helps interviewers remember that applicant. Getting a card in the mail or even a quick email made me pause to remember that person, think back to who they were and what they said.

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Rhiannon Hart said...

Very thought provoking blog post! I didn't realise until now that you were an agent. It's good to have another industry person's perspective. I like your taste in books too.

Joanna said...

Here, here, Suzie!

Rachel said...

It is interesting to hear thoughts on an interview from the "other side" - in preparation for my interview I read and researched a lot about what kinds of questions to ask and how to make a good overall impression, but your post gives great insight on what you guys were looking for and going through during the interview process :) I'm excited I made the cut!