Friday, August 15, 2008

not enough good applicants, not enough jobs?

I recently had an editor-in-chief ask about the lack of qualified applicants for positions she's trying to fill, a complaint I've heard a few times over recent months. Her beef: most of those who have applied don't have the qualifications and the ones who do are asking for laughably large salaries. To job seekers she suggests, "Apply for positions for which you are adequately qualified, proof your letters and resumes at least twice, take the time to read several issues of the magazine and make cogent comment on it, understand the role that is offered and the wage levels that go with it, and spell the name of the interviewer correctly. Seems pretty straightforward to me." Yes, pretty common sense, I agree, and would-be-editors should follow it. But there seems to be a disconnect here.

I constantly hear about how impossible it is to find a job, about the lack of opportunities. So if editors can't find the right people and people can't find the jobs, are we not training our people well enough in school and entry level positions? Are we not providing them with enough growth opportunities to learn and develop their skills? Are we not communicating well enough what our expectations and requirements are? Why are both sides of the desk having such a hard time?


Kat Tancock said...

I think there's a shortage of low-to-mid-level jobs in the industry - assistant editors and the like where junior staff can hone their skills under the mentorship of someone more senior. Just look at the mastheads - we don't have nearly as many positions like that as American magazines.

Briony said...

I can't speak for senior editor positions, but when hiring jags happen, the job postings are often for assistant or associate editors.

One of the reasons why they may be getting a lot of underqualified applicants for those positions is that it can be difficult for positions below that (whether it be editorial assistant or staff writer, or even intern) to get the editing and assigning experience necessary for these positions.

I think there's something missing from both sides. Assistant editor hopefuls need to press their higher-ups for more editing tasks, or seek out volunteer editing opportunities so that they might have a shot at the next level.

On the other side, editors need to be ready to give their editorial assistants and staff writers these tasks so that they can build the skillset they need to progress to the next editorial level. If the editorial staff just below the assistant or associate editor levels are not getting practice with the skillset required of those levels, they'll never be qualified enough.

And, on the issue of money, it's quite easy to see why people have no idea what to ask for: no-one knows how much money anybody else makes! None of the job postings ever list even a range for the positions they're hiring for, so job hopefuls have little idea what an editorial assistant, associate editor, or editor-in-chief makes.

There is still a societal awkwardness around talking about money, but that can really hurt you when it comes to the job-search. Sure, you can ask those in the positions you're going for how much they make, but you risk offending them. And you can call up and ask the hiring manager what the range is, but doing this (especially during the delicate hiring phase) can come off as greedy.

Until we're more open about the salary ranges of the different editorial staff levels at the different publications and companies, people will continue to be in the dark about what they can expect to ask for.

Anonymous said...

Salaries for the profession haven't changed since the dark ages, and while we could say we are doing it for the love of writing and contributing positively to society, I think we'd all agree that while we have accepted bag lunches, transit, and other things, it would still be nice to know you could afford a new pair of shoes, your car payments, and heat in the winter....the industry does not provide a living wage.

then there is the task of having to do more and more with less and less...where is the time to mentor and build skills in others when you're no longer wearing the hat of two people, but three or four?

things need to change, and we all know why.

that's my rant. what does everybody else think?

i hope people comment. let's get the conversation going...for a group of people that write about anything else without fear or shame, why is everyone tip toeing around these types of discussions?

i'm so tired i can't be bothered to use caps, proofread this, etc. that's because i wore ten hats today, but i did make sure that the remaining energy i had went to teaching someone something that will help them grow. i can't say i will be able to do this much longer without feeling taken advantage of...both financially and professionally.

copyedits said...

I agree, there's something missing from both sides.

As a recent graduate though, I'd say there isn't enough education at journalism schools to prepare us for entry level jobs. Which is probably applications from new graduates just aren't worth hiring from. Because it's true, what editors really have time to mentor and train new employees?
I've noticed a lot of fellow graduates who apply for entry level jobs thinking that they're qualified, but it's possible to go through your degree without learning to fact-check or even copy edit. I'd like to see more classes offered at j-schools that focus on skills like these, rather than beating the inverted pyramid over our heads over and over again.

I've also noticed that a lot of my fellow students just haven't been able to get experience through internships because they can't afford to not be paid. It's hard, because internships are so important but some talented students just can't afford to do them.

So those are my random thoughts that might not make sense...

Anonymous said...

Re: interns - there is definitely something off in how j-school students are being prepped for the magazine world. I've worked at several large monthly consumer mags and in general am shocked at the entitlement complexes, poor attention to detail and lack of enthusiasm amongst the interns I've worked with. So I can see why filling editorial assistant or assistant editor jobs would be difficult, if this is the pool from which to draw from.

I have an issue with the editor saying qualified candidates were asking for too much money. This industry is ridiculous in terms of salaries/workload. Yes there are a lot of perks, and it can supposedly be "glamorous" but I can't pay my rent with lipstick. I just left a rather plum job that wasn't so plum in reality, because unlike when I was at entry-level at previous magazines, in my most recent position the buck stopped with me. Meaning I was responsible for an unbelievable amount of editing and writing, mainly cleaning up other people's work (my assistant's and freelancers). I didn't have time to train these people to improve their writing since I was so strapped for time myself. In the end, it wasn't worth it for me to work so hard for such a minimal increase in salary over what I was making before.

This industry is best for those at the entry-to-mid-level positions. Once you're responsible for editing others' work, it's generally not worth the added stress. Maybe a handful of magazines are the exception.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the comment about the "lack of enthusiasm ... poor attention to detail and lack of enthusiasm" interns demonstrate, I believe it has a lot to do with the fact that they get stuck with tasks that don't develop their writing or editing skills, the tasks no one else wants to do. Don't get me wrong, I believe these menial tasks are absolutely essential, such as cataloguing products.

However, I spent one internship for a big fashion magazine getting someone's tea, cleaning out their desk, filing, and having the story ideas I pitched and researched chucked into a recycling bin. For four months. I didn't quit because some interns, like me, don't dash from difficult circumstances.

So I ask, Anonymous: in this particular internship, do you see any valuable skills I could cite on a CV or talk about in a job interview?

I'm not saying that all internships, paid or unpaid, are like this one. I've had fantastic internships where my "binned" ideas were good enough to be printed. Thus, I agree, it is up to the mags to develop their interns' talents, not just see them as "free labour".

Moreover, I think the hiring process is sometimes too rigid. Some places ask for experience a lot of us new grads cannot afford to get because how long is one suppose to intern without pay for? I graduated in 2007, completed four unpaid internships and possess most of the qualifications for any entry-level job. But, I am not considered because I don't have three to five years of experience.

On behalf of all new grads, I ask: how long are we suppose to intern for? How long are we suppose to work at Starbucks for minimum wage to support ourselves, while interning? Does our internship experience even count?

On a personal note: my parents came from very poor countries in Latin America and immigrated here to give me the education and opportunity they didn't have. It hurts me to be the first person in my family to graduate from university and be such a tremendous disappointment after all their efforts.

However, like my parents who tried numerous times to get their visas, I'm not going to give up because I love writing. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to the daily task of sending out more CVs.

I also apologize for any copy errors in my rant.

Praying For Miracles