- Tips and expert advice
Tips on applying for an editorial job at Usborne
Managing Editor Mairi Mackinnon offers an inside view of Usborne’s recruitment process for new writers and editors, with some helpful tips for candidates. This blog post was updated in August 2021 to include information about the recruitment software that we are now using to de-bias the application process.
Usborne is, famously, a company where people tend to stay. Average length of service is over nine years, and thirty or even forty years is not unknown. I’ve been with the company for over twenty years myself, but I spent a few years before that trying to find my career feet in English teaching, translating and tour management. I’ve experienced plenty of interviews as a candidate, ranging from the encouraging to the excruciating to the why-are-we-even-here? All of which makes me well aware of the responsibilities of interviewing new editors myself, rather than being interviewed.
Now that I’m on the other side of the table, it’s wonderful that Usborne receives ever higher numbers of job applications – but pretty daunting, too. Recently we had over two hundred credible applications for just one editorial place at entry level. We’re bound to disappoint a huge number of people each time we advertise, and I have every sympathy for applicants who feel it’s easier to break into a Hatton Garden vault than a publishing career.
Mairi Mackinnon - Managing Editor at Usborne
How do we narrow down an interview shortlist from such numbers, and ensure a fair and inclusive selection process? We have recently adopted recruitment software to address the potential for bias in the traditional approach of CVs and covering letters. Our digital application form is tailored to the editor’s role, asking targeted questions that are directly relevant to the skills and potential we are looking for, and giving candidates the opportunity to show their writing flair and clarity first and foremost. These responses are then anonymised and reviewed before candidates are shortlisted.
Usborne books are all about clear communication, so we’ll always be drawn to applicants who write good and straightforward answers without rambling or excessive detail. Flair is essential, but we still place a high value on accuracy, including spelling and grammar. For a creative job, that may sound soulless – but as children’s publishers, we will quickly lose readers’ trust if they find mistakes in our books. Can we really be sure of candidates who don’t take the trouble to check their applications thoroughly before submitting them?
We still ask for a CV, which we will review once we reach the interview stage. We are not looking for lengthy personal statements: we know that many careers departments encourage them, but they are full of pitfalls and it’s hard to strike the right balance between confidence and sincerity or cockiness and hype. We also advise against over-padding the CV itself: we know there’s a temptation, especially for candidates without much direct experience, to talk up any and every holiday job – but three paragraphs on laminating and issuing ID cards really is a little too much. One and a half to two pages in total is usually plenty.
An editor testing the models for an Usborne Origami book
Finally, we see plenty of applications that begin, “This would be the perfect job for me” – which is appealing when it comes from someone with a clear and genuine love of children’s publishing, but less so when it’s all about how we would be the ideal first step on the candidate’s glittering career path (implying that we’d be lucky to have them). Telling us what the job will do for you is a little self-regarding; we’d much rather hear what you can bring to the company, and that can just as well be your passion and enthusiasm as your previous experience.
As a quick summary:
- Don’t assume publishing is closed and clubby, but
- Do apply if you genuinely want the job (if not, it will show).
- Do give plenty of thought to answering the application questions – they are your first and best chance to make a good impression
- Don’t sound as though you think you’re doing us a favour by applying
- Do make your CV clear and focused and
- Above all, do check your answers and CV very thoroughly for mistakes before submitting. Spell-check alone is not enough.
If you’re interested in a job at Usborne, do keep an eye on the Current vacancies area of our website.
Lastly, whether you apply to Usborne or anywhere else –