(art from Box Brown’s wonderful nonfiction graphic novel Andre the Giant. This is an interview, but it’s not an informational one)
There are times when you want a job and you know who you want it with. But: they’re very clear in explaining how their hiring works, and they don’t have any openings that would work for you right now.
What do you do?
Getting a job (especially, especially if it’s your first job) can be a really long and frustrating process. For me personally, it was seven months from the point when I started applying for a job in publishing to getting one. And that’s actually pretty quick as far as jobs in this particular industry go — I know someone who finally got her first publishing job . . . two years after she started applying for one. That’s such a long time!
What can be particularly frustrating about publishing is that you can go into the looking-for-a-job situation knowing the one or two or insert-your-own-very-small-number-here of places where you’d be an amazing fit. But because of low staff turnover, some of those companies may not have any openings for years at a time. So even though you know that there’s a perfect job out there with books you love, there’s no way for you to get it.
(What do you do about this? We recommend that you try working in other parts of the industry — bookselling, librarianing, even working in publishing in perhaps-less-initially-appealing jobs like sales or rights so that you get a feel for the industry. These jobs can also get you the connections to get the job that you ultimately want . . . or in the meantime, you might find that you prefer being a rights manager!)
So you know who the publishers are where you want to work . . . and none of them have job openings. What do you do next?
You go meet them anyways!
One of the classic getting-a-job strategies is the informational interview (and the subject of this post). What is an informational interview? It’s where you go in to talk to the person you want to work for about how you think they’re great and that you’d like a job . . . even though a job isn’t actually available.
This is a real thing that people do, I swear.
Here’s the thing: because jobs in publishing can come up pretty infrequently, you want to be on the radar of the person who’s hiring. What better way to go meet them even before the job is public and tell them about how wonderful you think their company is and why you want to work there? Informational interviews are also a great way to actually interview the person you’re talking to about what the company does, what their job, and what it’s like to work there (which might either make you super-excited about working there in the future or make you decide that you’d really rather work somewhere else)! Come prepared with questions about things that you’re curious about.
After the interview is over, write a thank-you note, and stay in touch every six months or so with quick e-mails like, ‘hey, I really enjoyed that book that you edited that just came out.’
That way, when the job comes open, you are automatically candidate #1!