Foot in the Editor's Door: Identifying the Skills You've Got—and Need
Chicago Women in Publishing provided another evening of invaluable information for publishing professionals at its November 16, 2011, event: Foot in the Editor’s Door: Identifying the Skills You’ve Got—and Need. Lauren Milligan, CEO of ResuMAYDAY, gave a keynote address on the do’s and don’ts of good resume writing. Her excellent presentation was followed by insight from a panel of professionals representing a cross section of the publishing world: Nancy Baker, Manager of Book and Product Development and Production, American Medical Association; Lonnie Plecha, Editor, Cricket Magazine Group; and Amy Browning, Copyedit Manager, Groupon. The panelists shared their perspectives on resumes and the traits of good copyeditors, as well as career advice. All panelists have experience directly supervising and working with copyeditors.
Resumes: How to Stand Out
Lauren began her address by expressing enthusiasm about being in a room full of writers, editors, and proofreaders who understand the power and influence of words. “You get it!” she remarked.
Because job applicants have only three to six seconds to grab a would-be employer’s attention and make him or her want to read more, it’s essential to understand the following: objective statements and long sentences are out; and summary statements and bulleted phrases showing accomplishments are in.
Most of us have been encouraged to include an objective statement at the top of our resumes. Employers want to know who we are and what we are looking for, right? Not necessarily. The employer wants to fill a specific need, and you need to show how you will do that. An objective statement that reads, “To obtain a position as a copyeditor where I can utilize my editing talents and attention to detail while making a positive impact” is not only vague; it also doesn’t set you apart from other candidates.
Replace an objective statement with a summary statement, which is a three-to-five-sentence statement that clearly defines how you are better than your best competition and answers the following three questions:
1. What do you do better than your peers?
2. What do you love to do or are willing to do that your peers are not?
3. What is in your background that makes you unique from your peers?
Regarding question three, Lauren emphasized that everyone has an accomplishment like this in his or her background—if you don’t think you do, you’re not looking hard enough.
Once you have your summary statement in place, show your accomplishments. Eliminate long, complicated sentences because no one reads paragraphs on resumes. Rather than listing tasks you performed, list bulleted phrases that answer two questions:
1. What were the results of this work?
2. Why was it important?
For example, if one of the duties you performed (whether part of your official job description or not) was negotiating to collect past-due debts, you might word your bulleted phrase as “Negotiated to collect $1 million in outstanding debts, boosting company’s profit margin by X%.” In this case, the results were collecting $1 million, and the importance was increasing the company’s profit margin.
What Do You Look For on a Resume?
An engaging resume is important, but does your resume also contain what companies are looking for in a copyeditor? The panelists all agreed that a spelling error will immediately eliminate you from the consideration pile. Another common answer was “diverse experience.” Diverse experience includes the more technical skills of editing multiple types of documents, in addition to working with other editors, authors, and departments. If there are gaps in your resume, did you do any pro bono or volunteer work during those times? Employers want to know that you’ve kept your skills sharp and relevant to current publishing trends. One panelist looks for a willingness to go above and beyond the copyediting role, such as tagging a manuscript. Another panelist remarked that a lot of experience is not nearly as important as someone very energetic who is willing to work hard without complaint.
Holding copyediting certifications (e.g., from the University of Chicago Graham School) or a degree that relates to copyediting, such as English or Journalism (but not Marketing Communications), are also ways to differentiate yourself. For example, do you lack familiarity with American Medical Association (AMA) style, but would like to be certified in it? You can become certified through the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences. One caveat is that it is a very difficult certification—even for those well versed in AMA style. During the Q&A portion of the evening, Nancy answered that yes, an AMA certification would be enough to consider hiring someone as a freelance medical copyeditor, and she would be delighted to come across a copyeditor who holds that certification.
Another very important competency the panelists look for is software skills. If you can edit electronically with Track Changes in Word or make electronic edits to PDF files, make sure to put it on your resume. It might seem like a small thing, but electronic editing is essential to many copyediting positions.
Show Me, Don’t Tell Me: Resume Pet Peeves
When asked what to avoid on resumes, one resounding piece of advice was to steer clear of hackneyed phrases such as:
- perfect for the position
- hone my skills
- on time and under budget
- attention to detail
- love of editing
- interpersonal communications
- multitasker or self-starter
In other words, if anyone can say it, no one should say it. Instead of writing that you are “perfect for the position,” show how you are perfect for the position–anything that says “I’m interested in this job.” Illustrate your “love of editing,” and demonstrate your “attention to detail” by being very specific about what you did. If employers can picture you doing your job, they’ll want to talk to you.
What Makes a Good Copyeditor?
The panelists were asked to share the attributes of the best copyeditors they’ve ever worked with, as well as their worst experiences. Nancy shared that she appreciates copyeditors who are able to offer good suggestions that make the article better, particularly identifying contradictory facts presented in the same article. The best copyeditor she worked with was also very fast. Amy shared that an in-demand editor she worked with really read the content, queried appropriately but not excessively, and knew when to make global changes. Lonnie said he finds that the best copyeditors have a “gentle persistence.” Also important is caring about the text and suggesting ways to make it better without trying to take complete ownership of it.
All three panelists expressed that less positive experiences with copyeditors have been few and far between. Some things to avoid include the following:
- excessive rewriting
- editing without leaving Track Changes on
- handing in an assignment late
- adhering too strictly to a style guide
- some authors are particular about certain words
- there will always be exceptions to a style guide
- handing in an article with wrinkled pages or with pages out of order
- arguing too aggressively for the 10 percent of your edits that were not taken
What Is Your Best Career Advice?
The panelists were asked to share their best piece of career advice, and each had some helpful answers. Amy encouraged flexibility with your career: any company or organization that publishes materials, whether in print or online, is a potential employer. Nancy said to be willing to diversify and to quickly get to know how a company works. If you understand what your coworkers do, you can engage with them at a higher level. This ultimately allows you more mobility within a company. Lonnie recommended pursuing an avenue that you are truly interested in. For him, it happened to be children’s literature.