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Real questions from editorial job interviews

Allen_Ludden_Jack_Klugman_Tony_Randall_Odd_Couple_1I’ve been to a fair few job interviews in the past 4 years for jobs ranging from Editorial Assistant to Commissioning Editor. Afterwards, I wrote down as many of the questions I was asked as I could remember. Some of the interviews were more conversational than others, so there were fewer questions. I haven’t included my answers, because a) I didn’t write them down at the time, and b) I didn’t get most of these jobs so they would probably not be that useful! :P

The interviews I had were all at well-known trade publishing houses in London. I hope this will be helpful for people who are preparing for similar interviews!

Questions from an Editorial Assistant interview

  • How do you cope with having multiple urgent things to do at the same time?
  • What would happen if I (interviewer who this role supports) felt like you were doing things for other people but my stuff was getting neglected?
  • What do you think your current manager would say about you if we asked him?
  • Ultimately, are you more interested in working in managing editorial or commissioning?

For this interview, I was asked to prepare an idea for a new book that would fit the publisher’s list, and more questions arose from that. I also did a SPAG test.

Questions from an Assistant Editor interview

  • What do you know about the company?
  • What made you want to work in publishing?
  • What career hopes do you have?
  • What kind of books do you enjoy?
  • How do you respond to conflicting priorities or juggling many things at once?
  • What do you think makes good AI and jacket copy?
  • Are you aware of the considerations involved in designing a book that will be co-editionable?
  • Describe your current role.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? (The interviewer said: ‘This is a cliche question but it does reveal something about self-perception’)
  • Why are you interested in working with [genre]?
  • (Talking about benefits of not being a native English-speaker): But on the other hand, does it put you at a disadvantage with more colloquial language and books that are written perhaps not in perfectly grammatical English?
  • Sometimes, projects are running late because, say, we’re waiting for input from the author, and he is not responsive. How would you deal with this?
  • What experience do you have in Picture Research?
  • Do you check layouts at layout stage?
  • What things do you pay attention to when you are checking plotters?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Questions from an Editor interview

  • Tell us about your career history so far.
  • What do you think makes you a good editor?
  • Take us through the project-editing process from when you get the manuscript until the book is published.
  • Do you have experience working with budgets?
  • Have you worked with manuscripts a lot?
  • Have you had to deal with a tardy author or freelancer?
  • You say you have a close working relationship with your production department. Tell us about that.
  • What do you know about [our company]?
  • How do you feel about ebooks?
  • Have you got any questions for us?

Questions from Commissioning Editor interviews

  • How would you get access to a new author when there isn’t an existing relationship with them or their agent?
  • What exactly would you say to the new author when first approaching them?
  • If you started this job tomorrow, what would you do first?
  • Tell us about your interest in [genre].
  • What do you think a book needs to become a bestseller in this genre?
  • Tell us about your current role.
  • What do you think are the qualities you would need in this job to be successful?
  • Do you write jacket copy?
  • How familiar are you with the process of signing new authors?
  • Do you know any agents?
  • Which newspapers or magazines do you read to keep up with developments in this subject area?
  • Would you miss working with [different kinds of books I was working with at the time]?

For one of these interviews I was asked to bring an idea for a new book for the list in question.


  1. katy katy 12 February 2015

    this is an interesting post – even now i’m not interested in getting into a new publishing job :p i would have had absolutely no idea re the commissioning editor ones (and probably would have failed the other ones too). my worst is always – what do you know about our company? because i will have done some light research but Very Little.

  2. Meri Meri 12 February 2015

    Thanks Katy — I usually like to dig into the company and read everything The Bookseller has on them, but I dread the ‘tell us about a time when…’ questions. They always bring out the bad stand-up comedian in me. :|

  3. blondematilda blondematilda 12 July 2015

    Thank you so much for this Meri! I’ve bookmarked this to hopefully come back to again and again, only starting out at the moment and interviews terrify me, my hands always start shaking and I go all blotchy (if only there were tips to help with that too!)

    • Meri Meri 13 July 2015

      You’re very welcome, I’m glad you found this helpful! I’m a blusher, myself, but I try not to care, ha ha. Sometimes it’s easier and sometimes harder, but you can power through it by focusing on what you’re saying rather than the fact you’re going blotchy.

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