I made a pretty drastic change while I was in college. I started off undecided, but had every intention of becoming a Computer Science major, pray that all of my classes just suddenly clicked for me, and hopefully find a lucrative job once I graduated. Now here I am, a senior about a week (at the time of writing this) from graduating, and I am now a proud creative writing student with my own made-up major, lots of publishing/literary agency/PR internship experience, and still hopelessly inept at all things computer science. One of the things I hear (and used to peddle myself) as a writer is that it’s impossible to find jobs as a Creative Writing or English major. Now, I won’t lie to you; it’s not easy. There are a lot of people out there who are passionate about writing and it’s a notoriously competitive field. Even with the experiences that I loved and cherish, I still worry about job prospects once I graduate. Certain current events have only further complicated an already difficult and stressful process.
But while job seeking as a writer can be difficult, it is by no means impossible. One of my internships this past semester was with Simon and Schuster, and not only was it an amazing experience for me personally, it helped me professionally in ways I didn’t even think I would need. One of those ways was through fixing my very unfortunate resume, which was not nearly as polished and indicative of my past experience as I had thought it was.
I realize other writers trying to get into the publishing industry might find themselves in the same predicament that I’ve been in (and will continue to be in, I’m sure), so I figured I’d share on Satyr Central The Dos and Don’ts of Resumes (Publishing Edition!). A huge thanks to Ada, who presented many of these tips to exiting interns in a webinar as we were all chilling at home for quarantine towards the end of the program. Also a huge thanks to my career coach Sarah, who had the patience of a saint throughout my time at NYU and watched my resume evolve from a tiny sheet of paper with some high school clubs on it to an actual, gasp!, resume! This list will include resume advice that is both specific to the publishing industry and just general helpful advice that I received from both Ada and Sarah. Let’s begin.
Do: Include All Contact Information Where It’s Easiest To See
Many of you have probably heard this before (maybe ad nauseam, even), but employers are usually not going to look at your resume very thoroughly. Because they have so many resumes to look over, thirty seconds is typically the time line given for how long they might skim over it, so it’s important that the information you want them to remember is clear, easy to find, and more likely to stay on their mind. I keep all of my contact information at the very top center, right below my name. And I make sure that my name is in all caps and larger than anything else on the resume, because I want to be sure employers remember it. Also be sure to include your full address, your best phone number, and your best email. And by best, I mean a professional email that you’re likely to respond to quickly. That means no firstname.lastname@example.org, folks.
Don’t: Just Tell Employers What You Did at Your Previous Jobs
I admit to being a little salty about this one, but it’s important enough to include. I used to be guilty of literally just putting in my resume in bullet points everything I did at each experience or even directly copy and pasting the job description from previous positions, and it was one of the first things I was warned about when I would get my resume looked over. Employers don’t just want to know what you did every day as a standard part of your job, but specific projects you were part of, changes you helped to implement, improvements you made, and other points that show your value. For example, if you’ve worked in PR, don’t just say you helped build media lists, but specify what they were for. Which client did you build the list for? What media outlets did you work with? If you’ve worked in publishing before, how many readers reports did you write or books did you help see through to production? Again, it’s not my favorite thing to have to focus on for a resume, especially as a student/recent graduate who doesn’t have a ton of super specific bullet points to add, but the best advice I can give is to try and be as specific as possible.
And going off of that, make sure you’re using active voice as much as possible in your resume and avoid the passive voice if at all possible. Direct is better. Passive makes you seem like you were just kinda there.
Do: Add Relevant Coursework (for Students and Recent Grads)
Did you take a business course in media or publishing? Did you take a bunch of creative writing courses? Maybe a course on a topic that reinforces the things you’d be interested in working on in publishing? How about a course that shows you’ve gained some technical skills that—while not related to publishing—could be helpful in administrative/technical work? Add it!
For example, I make sure it’s known on my resume that I made up my own kooky major with the goal of increasing the representation of people of color in the publishing industry. By adding these courses: Black Experience in Literature, Movies, and TV and The Other In Speculative Fiction, I am demonstrating that my interests can translate into publishing and that it’s something I’m really passionate about. By adding The Versatile Storyteller: Writing Young Adult Fiction and Writing the Fantastic, I’m showing that I’m very, very interested in YA and speculative fiction. And by adding Technical Writing for the Information Professions and Media Production for Professional Writers, I’m showing that I took classes to gain skills that could be helpful to a company even if they aren’t directly publishing-related. I also found this small section really helpful when I had no experience to work off of, because I was showing that I was still gaining important skills even if I didn’t have an internship yet. You have value whether you have internship/job experience on your resume or not. Take advantage of the cool courses you take and show them off!
Don’t: Ever, Ever, Ever Have Resume Typos
While this one is obvious, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is in publishing. If you’re applying for an editorial position and you have a typo in your resume or cover letter, not only is that a general resume no-no, but it’s an especially big red flag for the job you’re trying to get. It’s almost like having a page on your site offering a free beta reading/editing service and having a typo on it. Don’t do that.
Do: Include Unrelated Experiences/Accomplishments (If You Have Room) In a Separate Section
I struggled with this a lot. My initial experiences that I had to add on my resume did not exactly scream “publishing.” Sure, I had high school book club and newspaper, but I also had my job as a cashier at a candy store, which didn’t seem like the most relevant thing to add when I started looking for publishing and PR internships.
If you have lots of experience, but only a few of those are actually relevant, what do you do with everything else? Maybe you worked at a grocery store, babysat your neighbor’s kids, or were part of a lot of clubs. Whatever the case may be, the cool thing about all of your past experiences is that they can all be made relevant in some way. As a cashier at a grocery store, you had to learn communication skills, good customer service, friendliness, and professionalism. All of those things can be extremely helpful in the publishing industry. As a babysitter, you had to take charge and prove yourself a reliable leader (of young children, no less). As a leader or member of a club, there’s a myriad of different roles you might have taken on that demonstrate skills that the publishing industry looks for, whether it’s leadership, time management, money management, or any combination of skills based on the jobs you took on to help your club thrive.
Here’s an example of how my resume looks, where I made sure to include experiences that—while not directly related to the industry—are still nice to add and show that my relevant experiences weren’t my only experiences. Notice that there aren’t any bullet points giving more details on what I actually did, but the employer will still see that I did it even if it’s not very relevant. Dean’s Team, for example, is a college club I was a part of where we would welcome incoming and prospective students through different events and activities like speaking on panels and attending info sessions where we’d answer their questions. It doesn’t have anything to do with publishing, but it does demonstrate leadership skills and is still good to add, even if it’s in a quick section towards the bottom that just shows my role, the program, and how long I was part of it. You can name that section anything from “Additional Experience” to “Other Experience” to “Extracurriculars.”
Don’t: Go Nuts With the Skills Section
We want to show the many things we’re good at, and it’s great to have a wide variety of skills! However, skills sections are usually just reserved for language competencies, software, and social media proficiency. So if you’re fluent in multiple languages, be sure to include that in this section. And if you know a ton of cool programs, make sure to add that as well. Obsessed and very well versed in a ton of social media platforms, especially in a professional sense (like, for example, using it to represent a blog or brand)? Great! Companies have a lot of interest in marketing their brands on social media, so add that too. But maybe don’t include that you’re great at baking if it’s not relevant (add that to interests instead!) or that you’re a champion hot dog eater (really cool, though!). Also try to avoid “soft skills” like “leadership” and “time management,” as those skills should be demonstrated in the roles you’ve held and, for the most part, speak for themselves.
Do: Demonstrate Your Interests!
Every time I used to look up resume advice, I would always hear that adding an “Interests” section is no longer needed, and might even be a bad idea. Naturally, I avoided adding that section like the plague. However, in our resume webinar, I learned that that’s far from the case in publishing. After all, publishers have different departments and imprints that have different focuses, and by showing on your resume the kinds of things you’re interested in, you’re showing the person looking at your resume which imprint you might be a good fit for, particularly if you’re looking for an editorial position.
By telling potential employers that I like these things, I’m telling them that I’ll enjoy the kind of books that particular imprints are publishing, and will therefore be more invested in them than I might be at an imprint that doesn’t focus on my interests as much. Having this section helps employers by letting them know where you could be a good fit, and it helps you by giving you a better chance of showing that even your interests fit well with where you’re applying. I hadn’t included this section when I applied for S&S, but I did mention it in my cover letter, and that was what helped me end up in Gallery Books, where lots of pop culture, sci-fi, fantasy, and D&D books and comics are published.
Beyond that, it’s also a great talking point in interviews no matter what you’re applying for. When interviewers would notice my major and ask about it, I immediately felt more at ease because I got the chance to talk about something that I’m passionate about. The same is true for the interests you put on your resume, and it helps your interviewer get to know you not as another half hour meeting to get through, but as a person with interests and aspirations.
Do: Send a Thank You Note After Your Interview!
Not resume advice, per se, but just as important. Anytime you apply for a job—whether it’s in publishing or not—you have to make sure to send some sort of thank you note to your interviewer after the interview to let them know that you appreciate their time and attention. Not only does this show that you are understanding and even appreciative of other peoples’ time, it also ensures that the interviewer sees your name one more time. And it’s because of this that a single thank you note could be the difference between you getting hired and getting passed up. You could, for example, have a very similar background, resume, and even interview as someone else and it might end up being a tough decision trying to decide between you. Something as simple as sending a quick “thank you” note could be the one thing that tips you over the edge and nabs you the position. It’s also just generally a nice thing to do.
Don’t: Be Careless With Your Cover Letter
Another fairly obvious one, but I’ve heard from employers, career coaches, and even other job seekers who have made this blunder themselves about how they would use a single cover letter template and would just change the name and send it off with their applications. I admit that I’ve done this too. However, there are few things more embarrassing than sending out a cover letter and only realizing after you sent it that you accidentally addressed the wrong hiring manager or named the wrong company. It’s also a pretty big red flag that might make employers question how interested you actually are in the position if you just sent off the same cover letter to everyone and didn’t even notice that you sent it with the wrong name. Not the best first impression. So if you insist on doing this, make sure you’re tailoring it to the company you’re applying for, or at the very least make sure you have the right names!
Do: Be Creative With Your Resume!
You might hear a lot of resume gurus say that your resume should always be clean and professional, which, let’s be honest, usually means “don’t make it look pretty, just make it simple and straight to the point.” But in publishing, you have more wiggle room to get creative, especially if you’re going for an artsy role like graphic design, web design, cover art, etc, etc. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can absolutely lose your mind and get super informal or start using Wingdings, but you can add some color and make it look nicer than your average resume. Yours won’t be thrown into the trash just because you took the time to make it aesthetically pleasing. If anything, it will help you stand out more, show employers your creativity, and boost your odds of getting that interview.
Bryanna Gary is the founder of The Angry Noodle and a current editorial assistant at Del Rey Books–science fiction, fantasy, and horror imprint of Penguin Random House.