Writing Resumes for a Publishing Career

Beth will tell you that I’m a stickler when it comes to my rules of resume writing and it amazes me that every time I make these suggestions to an intern she looks at me in horror, as if I’m telling her to wear cut-offs and a tank to her first job interview (don’t do that).

I’m not a career expert, but I am an employer and I do read resumes all the time. In fact, the idea for this blog post is coming from the two resumes currently sitting in my inbox. The cover letter and the resume (much like your query letter) are my first introduction to a potential job candidate and, just like with queries, the decision to see more from a candidate comes from the first five seconds I glance at your letter. This is the material that sets you apart from the other resume sitting in my inbox and what I look at to see if you have the experience I’m looking for in my next assistant or agent.

The very first thing I tell these poor soon-to-be graduating interns is that their education means nothing (I might exaggerate that a tad). Every single person (or nearly every single person) applying for a position with BookEnds has gone to college. While it might be a matter of interest to me, in the grand scheme I don’t care. I want to know exactly what makes you stand out from everyone else. Internships, job experience, and even extra-curriculars are what I care about. If I’m looking at your resume don’t make me read the entire thing to get to the important stuff. Put the important stuff right up there at the top. I like to think that an internship at BookEnds might mean something to other agents and publishing houses and gives you an edge not everyone has.

Another red flag for me are publication credits. As an authors’ representative I am always impressed. That being said, they have nothing to do (or little to do) with the job you’re currently looking for. I’m not looking for a writer. I’m looking for an agent. One of the things we often see in publishing is the intern who gets the position because she’s curious about how publishing works, but wants to work it from the other side. There are plenty in publishing who have written books or want to be writers. I have no issue with that. The problem with making it the star player of your resume is that it says to me you want to be a writer more than you want to represent writers and that’s not what I’m looking for. I want someone who wants to edit, and negotiate, and sell.

If you want to know the real key to getting a job as an assistant with BookEnds, for those interested in becoming literary agents, it’s being an intern. Every single one of our assistants was an intern first. We taught them, we liked them, we wanted to have a beer with them. And, each one was smart enough to stay in touch with us as time went by, especially when she graduated from college. When a job opened up we didn’t advertise for the position, we simply called a few of our old favorites. I also think we put feelers out to other agents who recommended their former interns to us.

Shameless plug of the day: take a look at Cynthia Shapiro’s What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here? This is an older book, but still a goodie. In fact, I used to send every intern home with a copy. It was one of my earlier represented titles and one of two books by Cynthia Shapiro, both of which I’m still incredibly proud of.

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3 comments

  1. I’m a little to old to be anyone’s intern and travel costs might just bankrupt us both.
    But there is still a lot of useful information here, thank you.

  2. In the NYT Sunday magazine this week, there was an interesting article about “blind” interviewing, where Ivy League credentials, SAT scores, gender, age, etc., are entirely screened out, and applicants are judged solely on their problem solving abilities relating to the job they want. (This may be a bit biased, since the data came from Google–but Google interview a lot of applicants.) We can all learn how to write the perfect cover letter and how to ace an interview, but can you prove you can do the job? Do you even know what the job really is?

  3. The only problem with starting your career is you don’t realise how the things you think are the most important (college, course, grades) actually aren’t.

    Good luck with hiring, Jessica.

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