If you have a 300-page document that's a rush job and you must edit it by the end of the day, how would you approach the task to ensure timely delivery?
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To give the interviewer confidence that you're able to manage your time effectively, be specific about the exact actions that you would take to ensure that the objective is completed. Explain each action briefly by telling the interviewer why you're doing it in terms of what benefit you gain from the action.
"First, I do a quick reading of the document so that way I can get a general gist of the piece. That way I know what to expect in terms of style, pacing, and structure. On this first pass, I'll take any quick notes that come to mind immediately, but I don't pause to do any deep thinking until later.
Then I do a section-by-section reading. I start with the first paragraph and then read the last one to understand what the writer is trying to accomplish. I work backwards from the goal and see if the rest of the writing supports that goal. Next, I..."
How would you handle sensitive writers who question every edit you make?
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An editor is a leader and manager of people and must therefore show sound judgment of character as well as diplomacy.
A sensitive person will require patience and compassion in conjunction with firmness. This kind of person is best led through a combination of consent and firmness.
Explain your understanding of the underlying principle of how you should lead this kind of person. Then talk about what actions you would take, bearing in mind that there are always deadlines to meet.
"A lot of writers are sensitive, which is understandable because they often put their heart and soul into it and they're doing the very best that they can. As an editor, I might be making tiny little edits on grammar and punctuation, which the writer might see as a slight. So I need to acknowledge their good work and the efforts they make. I might not have time to talk about every little edit, so I'll ask them to write down all their concerns so that we can have a meeting where we can talk about the newspaper's expectations and guidelines. That way we can meet the deadline and the writer still gets to be heard and understood."
Tell me about your post-secondary education. What was your favorite course? Which was your most challenging?
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The duties of a newspaper editor require strong attention to detail in the way that language is used. To choose your favorite course, think about a class where you enjoyed paying attention to the use of language. To choose your most challenging course, think about a class in which you made a big leap forward in your education as it relates to planning, revising, or reviewing written content.
Choose courses where you're able to demonstrate growth in areas that are important to the publication and department you're applying for. For instance, some newspapers may focus on politics while others may focus on local news, or you may be applying to edit for the food section or the human interest section. When possible, bring examples to life by relating them to benefits to the newspaper or department.
"I really enjoyed my creative nonfiction course because it taught me many different ways to convey a single truth, which I think is going to be a great asset in the human interest pieces. And the most challenging course was poetry. In that class, I learned how to do close readings and how to give effective constructive criticism, which definitely will help the writers turn in their work faster."
Give an example of a time when you had to edit or write a piece under a strict deadline. How did you ensure that you met the deadline?
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Talk about your time management skills and any outstanding measures that you took, if applicable. Give details about your methods. End with a summary sentence that affirms that you'll be able to meet deadlines.
"There's a concept called Parkinson's Law: tasks take as much time as you give yourself timeI always look at the deadline and I fool myself into thinking the deadline is one-third sooner than it really is. If a deadline is in three weeks, I'll make finish it in two weeks. If it's due in 3 days, I'll do it in 1 or 2 days. This makes me work much more efficiently. It also builds in extra time for me, just in case it really does take longer than my own deadline. That's how I make sure that I meet every deadline that I'm ever given."
What would your previous supervisor say about your time management skills?
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Many people may reflexively respond that they're excellent at something when they're asked what they themselves think of an ability of theirs. The interviewer is trying to get a better gauge of your time management skill by framing the question from an external perspective. It has the added benefit of assessing your integrity and your relationship with your superiors.
Be honest in your response. If your supervisor would say that you're good at time management, give a brief explanation of your methodology. If your supervisor wouldn't say that you're good at time management, say that your supervisor would say that you could use improvement, not that you're bad. Quickly move on to methods that you have learned and applied. Show that it's the things that you're bad at that you become the most consciously proficient at. End your response assuring the interviewer of your time management skill by saying that these methods are what enable you to meet your deadlines.
"My supervisor would tell all of the editors and writers that they need to improve their time management skills. I took that to heart and I read a lot about time management systems and methods. One method that's helped me improve by leaps and bounds is the Pomodoro method. I use a timer that ticks to remind me to stay on task, and I have built-in breaks to keep my mind fresh and efficient. That's one of the ways that I manage to meet all my deadlines."
6. What is your ideal company culture? The answer to this can be a complex one.
In order to give the interviewer confidence that you'll fit into the organization over the long term, do some research on what current employees are saying. Check out company reviews like Glassdoor and see if you can connect with employees—past or present—on LinkedIn or any other social media. Get a sense of the pace, the relational style, and the expected behaviors.
To develop your response, think about how you like to be treated; the quantity of work expected; and any other factors that are important to you. Imagine that you've already been extended the offer: what questions would you have that concern whether you would be happy in this position and in this organization? How do you want your boss to treat you? What are the non-negotiables, the things tat are absolutely essential?
In your response, speak on three different topics: what the values that drive company's demands and expectations for the employees; how you're expected to accomplish that (e.g. job duties); and who you're working with. Here is an answer example: "I like a progressive company that's always looking for ways to improve and that's willing to commit to small experiments to make incremental improvements. Ideally, I'd be working with people who are just as committed to excellence as I am, and my boss will be open to letting me earn her trust so that there's less communication overhead, meaning I can be more efficient and not encounter any bottlenecks that might delay my work and cause me to miss deadlines."7. How would you handle a freelance writer who handed in subpar work? Demonstrate your professionalism by keeping deadlines in mind and showing your adaptability. You must keep the newspaper's reputation intact while maximizing the opportunity for acquiring and retaining talent. Here is an answer example: "It depends on how close we are to the deadline. If there's enough time for them to resubmit, then I'll edit and give them feedback. I'll have a talk with them to make sure they understand my expectations. I'll have them submit a few paragraphs as quickly as possible, to see if they're on the right track. If they are, then they can go ahead and finish writing the piece.
If there isn't enough time, then I'll have to quickly find another writer. If it's going to cost us more, I'm willing to take it because it's important to be able to consistently meet deadlines. If we can't afford it, then I'll make other arrangements.
All in all, I'd revisit the situation and see if there were any indicators about their potential lack of quality that I didn't see. If the freelancer is capable and shows potential, I'll work with him or her again and give them more chances to raise themselves to our level, but not in a deadline-critical situation."8. What do you know about our company? Do your research and find out basic information such as when the company was founded and by who, as well as their mission and values. This indicates to the interviewer that you are serious about working specifically for this company. Candidates who show that they are proactive demonstrate strong motivation.
Tell the interviewer what you know. Try to talk about information that is of specific interest to you, rather than dry facts. Here is an answer example: "I know that Oakhurst Times was founded in 1836 and that it has a long history of writing about the lives of the residents of Oakhurst. This is one of the most exciting things about the paper that motivated me to apply."9. When have you had to be extra thorough in completing tasks? Some tasks will require a keener eye and additional diligence. Discuss a time when you were extra thorough during a work-related task. Here is an answer example: "I have to be extra thorough from time to time when I have clients that are especially detail oriented. Often this will mean spending additional time on calls with them to highlight project changes. I am absolutely okay with being extra thorough when needed."10. Tell me about your editing and proofreading process. You need to show the interviewer that you're a professional who's in control of the editing process. Lay out your procedure in a sequential, step-by-step manner. Give brief explanations at the end of each step to justify why you are doing it (ask yourself, What does this step achieve? What do I get out of it?). Assure the interviewer that you're diligent and thorough. Here is an answer example: "I'm very diligent and thorough when it comes to grammar, spelling, and punctuation—it looks really bad for us if a casual reader catches something that we didn't. A spell-check can usually catch most of the errors, but I always keep these things in mind when I'm doing a read-through of a piece anyway. On the first pass, I'll [...], because I'll be able to understand the writer's intent and I'll be able to give better feedback that way. Then, I [...]."11. Considering your background is in a different industry than ours, how do you think you'll fit into the job? It's important to understand that a profession can span different industries. For instance, in the legal profession, one can work in corporate, financial, or criminal law. The same goes for the profession of the editor. The framework of editing can be applied to many topics and industries.
First, fall back on the fundamental aspects of editing itself: demonstrate your expertise and mastery of the fundamentals by explaining techniques, methods, and frameworks that you've learned in your education or on the job. If possible, end by relating it to some common ground that you have found between your past work and the publication you're applying to.
In your response, make sure you address the main concern directly and inspire confidence by conveying that you have a strong understanding of the publication's content. Here is an answer example: "You're right that I've mostly edited fiction before. At the end of the day, editing boils down to two components. First is to make sure that the piece is free from technical errors, like grammar and punctuation. That's common whether I'm editing a piece about the financial crisis or a human interest piece. Second of all, the act of editing involves understanding the mechanics of the piece, and making sure that the reader has a good understanding of [...]. So, for example, I know that the tech section of your newspaper has lots of tips and tricks for your readers. I'd ensure that the writer stays on point by [...]."12. Would you consider yourself to be more analytical or creative by nature? We all have an analytical side and a creative side to some degree. Identify which trait is more valuable in this particular role. If you're expecting your primary responsibility to be revising a writer's work, then show your analytical side. If, on the other hand, you'll be expected to take the newspaper in new directions and to increase readership, creativity may be more important.
Either way, lead with the more important trait and explain why. Then show how the other trait supplements the first. Here is an answer example: "I'm more creative by nature. I tend to think outside the box and I never simply accept the status quo. If the objective is to get better, then I'm not the kind of person who gets stuck with doing things the way they're being done right now. I focus on what will be, not what was. And while creativity comes naturally to me, in my career I've had to learn how to be analytical. As an editor, I've had to learn how to break a piece of writing down and rework the mechanics on a paragraph-by-paragraph level down to the sentence and word level. That analytical side of me is what helps give structure to the creative side of me."13. If you could write a book on any topic, what would it be? Choose a topic that's relevant to the publication or department. For example, if you're applying to be the editor for the financial section in a free daily in a metropolitan area (e.g. Metro New York), consider the target audience's interests and talk about a relevant topic (e.g. how to save money and spend more on the things you care about, etc.). Do choose a topic that you can realistically speak about though. It won't do you any favors if you say that you'd like to write a book on financial models if you know nothing about it.
Alternatively, you can also use this as a chance to give the interviewer a glimpse of your personal interests. A direct superior might be one person who would be interested in knowing what your interests are.
Start your response with the topic that you'd like to write a book on and, if possible, connect it with a personal experience in which you gained expertise. Here is an answer example: "I'd like to write a book about leadership. I discovered my passion for leadership when I was able to turn the office around from underperforming to overperforming. It's a win-win situation because the writers are happy, the editor-in-chief is happy, and the company is happy. I have a passion for making things better for everyone, and writing a book about how to be a good leader would definitely benefit people."14. As a newspaper editor you may be asked to work overtime, evenings or weekends. Are you available to work long and flexible hours? Depending on whether or not the position is remote, consider your response carefully. Demands on your time are one thing that will not easily be negotiated. A mismatch between your needs and the company's needs drastically increases the chance of poor performance and/or turnover.
Regardless, always demonstrate positivity and a willingness to sacrifice. If you're experienced and confident that the interviewer likes you, you can even inquire about the root cause of this need for so much time, and then mention a way that you can improve that situation. Here is an answer example: "I'm always happy to do whatever it takes to meet deadlines. When I first started as an editor at The Plumtree Ledger, we were running around day and night trying to meet deadlines. Six months later, I was able to arrange our workflow and make huge efficiencies so that we were all able to have social lives!"15. How comfortable are you with assisting in newspaper design layout? This question indicates that you may be asked to assist with newspaper layout. It's best to assume that you'll be asked to do this regularly.
If you have the technical skill to do so, indicate your willingness to do so. If you don't have that skill, demonstrate your capacity for professional growth by talking about courses you're taking or willing to take to help in that aspect. Here is an answer example: "I'm very happy to help. It wasn't require in my previous positions, but I've always been interested in print design and I'm taking courses on Adobe InDesign and typography on Udemy."16. Do you have a mentor in the editing industry, or any particular writer or publication that you admire? If possible, find out who you'll be reporting to and do research on this person to get a sense of their interests and what their personality might be like. You should choose a professional who shares common ground with your supervisor.
Either way, choose an professional whose work you've studied or followed and highlight the reasons that you respect and admire them. Speak on the qualities of the work, especially any qualities that are relevant to the aspirations of the publication or your superior.
The key here is that who you're talking about shares common ground in some way with the publication or the people you'll be working with. Here is an answer example: "I don't have a mentor, and at this stage in my career I'm really looking for a mentor. I really admire Susan Greenfield because she [...]."17. Tell me about your leadership style. Leadership is about the way that you relate to people in order to direct their work. Research the company on social media to see what their work culture is like and develop a response that's aligned with that kind of culture. For example, one publication may favor a hectic and high-pressure environment with a lot of team interaction, whereas another might have a more relaxed environment that gives writers leeway to work remotely and independently.
To develop your response, think about how you motivate others and how you communicate. Think about things that you proactively do to effectively manage your team's work to stay on deadlines.
Start your response with 2-3 character traits and connect these traits with the impact it has on your direct reports. Where possible, follow up with specific techniques that you use. Sum up with how your style results in a benefit to the company, such as ensuring that writers meet their deadlines while maintaining standards of quality. Here is an answer example: "I'm a very positive and energetic leader. I'm very hands-on and approachable: I make sure that my team knows that no question is a stupid one and that I'm always there for them. I make sure that my team has the energy they need to do their work efficiently and on time."18. You have two major headlines that are both worthy of a spot on the first page. How do you choose? It's important to give the interviewer confidence in your judgment. To do this, lay out your decision-making process by using 'if-then' statements. Show what kind of information you use to make your decision. Make sure that you're balanced and consider both sides of the equation. You might find it helpful to draw out a flowchart ahead of time to help you clarify your decision-making process. Here is an answer example: "I'd look at which headline would get more readers. If we have analytics, I'd use that to guide my decision. I'd also look at what our competitors have put on their front page recently. I'll make a decision based on whether we're trying to compete with them directly or if we're trying to differentiate ourselves..."19. Do you prefer working with print, or online publications? Use your best judgment: the most effective answer will depend on the needs of the organization and the position you're applying to. Considering that you're applying to be a newspaper editor, it's most likely that you should answer that you prefer print publications. However, do your research first and don't make that assumption. It may be possible that the publication is looking to move online, or that your position will be have an online component.
A response that demonstrates your flexibility and adaptability will speak to your understanding of both mediums. Here is an answer example: "I'm equally comfortable with both. In my experience, online publication typically lends itself to shorter pieces that prompt the reader to engage with the content. It's easier because a reader can just log in on Facebook and comment and share the article immediately. Print publication is a little different because [...]. So at the end of the day, I'm happy editing both print and online."20. What do you like most about being an editor? The best answer will demonstrate to the interviewer that you have in-depth experience planning and revising content.
Identify one of the most important guiding principles of the newspaper or department that you're applying for. For instance, one paper might be driven by long-form articles on investigative journalism while another might be focused on short columns on the arts.
Start your response by stating what you enjoy. Connect it with a principle that comes from your professional experience (e.g. a common truth that you've observed). Talk about how your experience shapes the way that you approach being an editor. Here is an answer example: "I really like the process of guiding the writers. Writers always need room for creativity, and I like guiding their creativity: I ask myself, how can I get the right story that we need for our paper while giving them room for expression?"21. What is your greatest weakness as an editor? What are you doing to improve it? Choose a weakness that is related to a skill and not a character trait. Character traits are difficult to change—for instance, you may naturally be inclined to keep to yourself (e.g. introverted). Skills, on the other hand, are learned behaviors. Think about a skill that you can learn more about and ask yourself if it's a critical error that would cause a lot of trouble. If it is, skip it and move on to a less critical skill.
Talk about how you're improving or intend to improve that skill. If possible, show that you're internalizing this improvement so that it becomes a permanent change. Here is an answer example: "To be honest, I'm not very good at editing punctuation. I tend to focus on the content, the structure and flow of the narrative. So I'm actually working on my attention to detail for punctuation. Even in my spare time, whenever I read anything, I have the Style Manual in front of me and I look at whether it conforms. If it doesn't, I look up how it ought to look."22. What are your career goals as an Editor? Do research about the organization's values and read up on the articles and pieces in that publication and try your best to identify the intent behind the direction they're taking with its content. Ask yourself, Why this topic at this time? Question the content and see if you can discern the editor's intent, which may give you some insight into the company's goals.
It's not always possible to get a glimpse of where the company is heading, but you can always keep an eye out for the industry as a whole. For instance, newspapers may be looking for ways to integrate technology and social media into the print publication to stay relevant and increase reader engagement.
With all this in mind, develop your response by thinking about how your goals can benefit the organization. You can choose to give a broad overview or give a very specific goal that you'd like to achieve. Explain your motivation for achieving it and how it benefits the newspaper. Here is an answer example: "One thing I'd like to accomplish is to increase reader engagement with a print publication. Everyone is saying that print is dead, that everything is online now. But I don't think it's that simple. I think that there's a time and place for everything, and it's our job as editors to find out where a newspaper fits into our readers' lives. I've always liked a challenge because it's more rewarding to achieve something challenging. To survive, we have to find a way to stay relevant to our readers. And then we have to get them to keep coming back, if we want to thrive."23. Why did you choose to apply with our company? Do your research and find out basic information such as when the company was founded and by who, as well as their mission and values. By finding out their values, you can align yourself with them and show the interviewer that you are compatible with their mission.
Use key facts about the company to talk about what interests you. If possible, show the interviewer how working at this specific company fits into your long-term career goals. Here is an answer example: "I know that Oakhurst Times was founded in 1836 and that it has a long history of writing about the lives of the residents of Oakhurst. This is one of the most exciting things about the paper that motivated me to apply. I'm very interested in continuing that tradition because I think that it's something that makes this paper unique. It's also a great opportunity for my career because I'd like to some day edit biographies."24. What are your 3 greatest strengths as an editor? This question is concerned with your performance in the job. All publications must deal with the pressure of deadlines while producing content of a certain quality.
Choose a skill that relates to quality assurance. Then choose a second skill that enables you to meet deadlines. Finally, choose a third skill that focuses on your ability to manage people.
Start your response with the overall result that you're capable of producing. Support that answer by listing three of your strongest skills, following each skill with a brief explanation. Here is an answer example: "I'm great at making sure that we produce quality content on time. First of all, I have a good eye for quality. Second of all, I'm a great project manager: I have good time management skills. Last but not least, I'm very good at making sure people meet their deadlines: I know exactly how much pressure I need to give to each individual writer and when to let up."25. Why are you the best newspaper editor for us? It's important to research the newspaper's values ahead of time. Choose a skill of yours that you think is aligned with these values and connect it with an innate character trait of yours. Keep in mind that character traits drive your behavior. While two people may have the same skill (e.g. editing on tight deadlines), they can have two very different approaches based on their character traits. Connect all of this to a positive outcome that would benefit the newspaper. Here is an answer example: "I'm a very energetic person, and I'm also very creative. Altogether, I find ways to motivate the writers and brainstorm new directions that we can go in terms of the kinds of news that we cover and how we cover it. Through this approach, I think I can increase reader engagement and get us not just better advertising rates but also more acclaim."26. Do you read any blogs on writing and editing? Which ones? What do you like about these? Prepare for this response by looking up blogs on writing and editing. In particular, pay attention to anything related to the mechanics of writing and editing, or anything that provides special insights. You want to demonstrate that you are serious about the editing profession. Here is an answer example: "I really like the series on editing on the Bellow Blog. It really digs into the personal side of editing. There are lots of books on how to edit, but this blog captures the human element: editing is, after all, a process between two human beings."27. What books/magazines/newspapers do you enjoy reading? Assess the publication's overall subject matter, tone, style, etc. Of the publications you enjoy reading, mention the ones that are similar and explain why by talking about the key element of that publication that it shares in common with the publication you're applying to now. Here is an answer example: "I really like The Atlantic for the long-form articles because they really dig deep into how one local issue impacts society on a broader scale. I also like reading literary fiction on the New York Times list because..."28. How do you prioritize when you have multiple deadlines to meet? Talk about time management techniques that you use for yourself and others.
Start with what you would do and demonstrate your professionalism by explaining why you would do it. Here is an answer example: "I look at what can be completed first. People have a tendency to get overwhelmed if there are a lot of tasks and things to do, so I always try to quickly whittle down that list to a manageable size. The shorter articles should get written first so they can be submitted. Shorter articles usually have smaller problems that can quickly be fixed. Longer pieces get more complex and can take longer than expected, and I don't want those to hold up the other work."29. How do you handle stressful situations? Every job has stressful situations. Deadlines are a common stress for newspaper editors. Another example might be dealing with a writer who is stubborn and not very open to change.
Talk about an example in which you were able to keep calm and identify an issue clearly despite highly emotional nature of the situation. Be detailed about the indicators that you can detect in yourself and others. Show how you were able to defuse the situation and end your response with a positive outcome. Here is an answer example: "Whenever I feel stressed out, I tell myself to slow down and breathe. If I feel myself getting tense, or my heart starts racing, I know immediately that I'm stressed and I discreetly pinch myself in the leg to remind myself that I'm in control.
There was this one time that a writer was getting very short with me about the edits that I suggested. I could tell from the beginning because he was frowning and staring at the page, I noticed that's what he does when he's stressed out. He started yelling at me, but I didn't yell back. Instead I showed him compassion. In the end, we worked things out much faster that way, and we were able to meet the deadline."30. Name one thing that you feel you can do better than other Editors you have worked with previously. Each person has unique competitive advantages. One editor might be extremely fast at editing for grammar and punctuation, another editor might be very good at research, and yet another might be great at restructuring a piece.
Read 2-3 articles published in this publication/department and look for ways that you can improve both of them. It's best to look for a common theme. For instance, the ending paragraph may be lacking in drama and impact.
In your response, speak on how you'd improve the articles as it relates to a benefit that's important to the publication. For instance, reader engagement is a common concern for publications. In which case, you might talk about how to end an article in such a way that increases reader engagement.
Follow through with an example of how you've done that before and wrap everything up with a summary sentence that brings attention back to the benefit. Here is an answer example: "Would you say that reader engagement is an important concern for you? [Get confirmation that it is.] I've read several articles in this section and I found several ways to improve reader engagement. For example, when I was at The Madison Post, I told the writers to end the articles with a question instead of a statement. I think that, compared to other editors, I'm very good at getting people to talk and engage with the paper, which does wonders for advertising."31. Take a few minutes to bring your resume to life for me, focusing on your work as an editor and writer. Where possible, start with quantifiable improvements that are beneficial to the company and tell the interviewer what actions you took that led to that benefit. If the actions you took are innovative or noteworthy, briefly describe them. Ideally, they will focus on your ability to plan and revise content. Here is an answer example: "You'll notice that I increased reader engagement by 18%, which led to our ability to raise ad revenue by 10%. I increased reader engagement by asking the writers to write as if they were speaking directly to the reader and to ask them questions. I also added touch points at the end of each article so that readers can write in using email, Twitter, and even a phone hotline."
Author of Newspaper Editor Answers and Questions
Ryan Brown, is the creator of MockQuestions. He has over ten years experience creating interview questions. His website has helped over 10 million job seekers in their interview preparation.
First written on: 09/22/2010 Last modified on: 06/04/2019
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