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Breaking into Copyediting, Part 3: Getting Your First Editing Job

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In this series, I’ve been digging into how to get started in copyediting. In part 1, I outlined the knowledge and skills you need to get started. In part 2, I discussed how you’ll need to continue your education to move into the journeyman stage.

But how do you get that first editing job? Do you need to wait until you’ve done that journeyman education?

No, because you can’t get better without practice. That said, you’re not yet ready to tackle big, hairy jobs, and the right level of editing work can be difficult to find at first.

Start looking around for work once you’ve completed your initial training. Take the desired qualifications in job ads seriously. If the employer or client wants someone with at least five years’ experience, it’s likely because they know the work requires more skill than newer editors have.

This isn’t a personal slam or a senior editing trying to keep junior editors out. As I noted last week, becoming a good editor requires practice and feedback. You do, however, need to break in—and that could take some work.

Applying for Copyediting Jobs

Look for copyediting work that requires less than five years’ experience. Be prepared to take editing tests, as well. Because new editors have little to no demonstrable experience, employers and clients like to be sure of candidates by testing their skills.

If you aren’t getting any responses to—or even an acknowledgement of—your application, check to see if:

  • You followed all the directions in the job ad
  • You met the basic qualifications for the job

Hiring agents get swamped with applications. The first step to managing them is to immediately eliminate anyone who doesn’t follow directions for applying and anyone who doesn’t meet some basic qualifications.

Let’s say you’re getting as far as taking the editing test but you’re not winning the job. Try to get some feedback on how you’re doing on the tests or why they chose another candidate. You won’t always get a response, but it’s worth asking.

If you do get a response, take the feedback to heart and work on it. Ask if you can take the test again later; some companies will let you retest after a specified time.

Applying for Related Jobs

Another route is to look for jobs that incorporate editing tasks with other duties. Editorial assistants and administrative assistants both do some copyediting or proofreading and can help you gain experience in your new field.

Proofreading jobs might also be a good place to start. You have to thoroughly understand—and stick to!—the proofreader’s role, but if you have those skills, working as a proofreader will get you some experience toward editing.

How Not to Apply

It’s a bad idea, though, to ask to be hired to learn editing instead of to do the job advertised. With the number of applicants for every job or gig, no one has time for “not quite right” or “I just need my first break!” Sell them on why you will excel in the job they do have.

For example, when I co-owned Copyediting, we hired a temporary administrative assistant. We advertised the job, outlining the skills and tasks and the desired experience we wanted. We got some great applicants, some good applicants, and some applicants that made me wonder if they had read our ad at all.

Among that last group were many people who want to get started in editing. I’m happy to give people opportunities to grow in their jobs, but when you have no skills or experience to do the job I have, how will you help me, the person paying you?

You can imagine how we responded to those applicants.

Other items to keep in mind when you’re applying for a job, hoping to gain some editing experience:

  • Tell the hiring agent how you fit their needs. You can mention your editing skills, but focus on the primary skills needed for the job.
  • Be passionate about the job you’re applying for. Yes, you might be doing this to practice editing, but the hiring agent wants someone who will be passionate about the job they have, not leave them in the same mess a few months later.
  • For the love of words, don’t say “I don’t exactly fit but it was worth a shot.” It might be worth it to you, but it’s not worth it to the hiring agent. You’re just wasting their time. If you can’t do the job they have, don’t apply!

Work is about serving the employer’s or client’s needs. In exchange, they give you money, as well as other benefits, such as training and experience. It’s a basic contract.

You absolutely should be concerned about how the job will benefit you. But you have to serve the person paying you, and you have to present yourself as being able to do that.

Next time, I’ll explore what you can do if you’re mostly qualified for that first editing job.

Previous: What to do after your basic training.

A version of this article was originally published on on October 5, 2018.

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