Pub Rants

Interview Tips

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What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHATTERED by O.A.R.

This probably won’t come up for the majority of my blog readers but just in case, I’m going to dispense a few more interview tips if you ever want to work at a literary agency.

Before the interview, visit the agency’s website. (I know—no brainer but hang with me here.) See what kinds of authors and books the agency handles. Then, in preparation for your interview, read some of the authors before your meeting. (Or at the very least see if you can find the first chapter on Amazon’s Search Inside or the author’s webpage so you can read a snippet of the work.) Then demonstrate that knowledge during the interview.

We were hugely impressed with candidates who did that.

Another bit of advice? Be prepared to ask some insightful and/or intelligent questions. At the end of each interview, we always asked the candidate if he/she had any questions for us. Good questions really stood out for us—especially if it showed the candidate’s awareness of current events in publishing (like the Google Settlement or anything else that may have hit the major newswires).

And one last bit of advice. Practice your interview with a friend (and have that friend make up some questions for you). This will allow you to think on your feet if you receive a question that is unanticipated. This will also allow you to practice your speech and conversational ability during the interview. The biggest killer for us in our recent interviews was the constant repetition of the word “um.”

Now we realize that people are nervous in interview situations. We do expect some “ums” (after all, anyone who doesn’t make a living in TV or radio will interject an occasional one here and there). It’s the excessive amount of “ums” that are the problem. Unfortunately, that can make a candidate sound verbally ineffective or tentative—not two qualities you want to project in an interview.

So be conscious of that possible verbal tic during an interview and if you practice before, you’ll have some answers ready and smooth. Trust me, that will impress.

17 Responses

  1. Bron said:

    If you take out the specifics about the publishing industry, these are good tips for any interview in any industry.

  2. Andrea M. Bodel said:

    My boyfriend hates speech disfluencies of any sort. He broke me of the “Um” habit by following me around with a bell and ringing it every time I said “um” or “uh”.

    I don’t say either now, and I’m not in the business of vocal words. >_>

  3. Mechelle Fogelsong said:

    When a writer gets to meet and chat with you at a conference do the “ums” count against them too?

    Before going to the PNWA writer’s conference last summer, I purchased and read 3 books from one agent’s website. I never got to meet with her, though. It was very disappointing, as you can imagine.

  4. Abigail said:

    I hate interviews. 🙁 Mainly because my hands get cold and I’m extremely shy. With that being said, I had mock interviews during my senior year in high school and one of the ladies that interviewed me said she wouldn’t hire me because I had cold hands (??? How does that make sense?).

    Anyway, great advice, for sure. Even the last part about practicing with a friend before an interview should be in general when it comes to any type of job. 🙂

  5. Jonas Samuelle said:

    Does being a writer help or hurt one’s chances at a lit agency? I know some agents choose to write, and they often pursue representation themselves. But it seems like it might be a benefit in that they know literature, and a hindrance in that it could cause some conflict.
    -Colin Hill

  6. Angie said:

    So I’m a shoe in, right? I’m from the Midwest, just one state below your hometown. My mom and dad lived in Denver before moving back to the Midwest. AND the last 3 books I read/ or am currently reading are: I’d Tell You I Love You…, Perfect Chemistry, and How to Ruin a Summer Vacation. I’ve found that I LOVE a lot of your client’s books. You have good taste in clients and the written word. You rock Kristin!!

  7. Jeff Baird said:

    I think the best prepared, pat answered, most knowledgeable and most prepared employee I ever hired was the worst. Isn’t it fascinating where this Blog goes!!!!! What an in-depth education into so many minds and the business! I actually have a list of the 10 worst questions to answer on an interview!!!

  8. GK said:

    I think I became conscious of verbal tics at a very young age and made sure to get them out of my own speech. In my years of noticing (and occasionally counting) them in others, I realized that generally people use them because they don’t want a single pause in their speaking. Which is silly, pauses are good, show that you’re actually thinking while you speak. But maybe it’s because they’re afraid that if they’re quiet for even a second, they’ll be interrupted.

    My current roommate has the verbal tic of “you know what I mean?” So far the highest count is 5 times in one sentence. When I first met her, I thought perhaps I wasn’t giving the right nonverbal cues that I was listening, but eventually I realized she didn’t even know she was saying it. It’s rather bemusing, though I think I might prefer “um” because at least that’s a short sound. Easier to ignore. ^_^

  9. veela-valoom said:

    I’m really bad at the questions. For the job that I just got they gave me a lot of vague & general information about what the job entailed. I was still processing & thinking. It was difficult to come up with questions. By the second interview I had some though. I got the job. I think my past experiences & personality outweighed my question difficulties.

  10. Sarah Tormey said:

    At dinner last night, my husband and some friends were debating whether or not to Google a candidate before hiring them. With Facebook, blogs and other online resources, an employer can easily find out if someone who looks great on paper like to spend their Friday nights partying to the point that they wake up in Bozo the clown outfit the next morning. Just curious if this played into your search.

    On a different note, I landed my second publishing job by raving about a new “break out” author whose marketing plans I had worked on. I even sent an ARC with my thank you note. (And by the way that author was Jodi Picoult:)

  11. Eridani said:

    @Sarah Tormey – Funny story about Googling someone. About 6 years ago, I gave some positive quotes to a magazine about a product I’d beta tested, and little did I know it was published in like 15 countries and cited by the product’s vendor as a great testimonial. So, when you Googled my name, you’d find me quoted in a bunch of variations of this magazine in all these languages like I’m this big shot expert.

    I had no idea about any of that until I had an interview about 3 months later and the guy was positively gleeful at having bagged such a pro as myself. I cannot count how many times someone has Googled me and thinks I’m important (which is pretty funny). This must be the other end of the spectrum from the drunken Facebook pages. 😉

  12. Kathy McIntosh said:

    I recently posted about the benefit of Toastmasters to writers. Guess your experience indicates the value to everyone. Toastmasters helps speakers eliminate the ums, think on their feet and realize the value of the silent pause for thought.
    Glad you found someone who suits!

  13. Saleem Mundia said:

    Yes i Do agree with you Kristin, practice interview with friends, gives you lot of confidence and boost your skills of handling difficult questions in job interview.
    By the way, you write very well 🙂