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How to Hire Good Editors

Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 10:16 AM

The advertising upswing has created a need for additional content. Editorial staffs are growing once again. But hiring mistakes can really slow you down and sap productivity.

By Allan Polak

As our economy gets back on track, page counts are rising and editors are staffing up. It is crucial to hire the right people. A great hire can take your publication to new levels of success, while a bad hire can drag down your productivity, demand a great deal of time and attention of you, and have a nasty ripple effect on your editorial team -- not to mention your readers!

Yet much hiring is done haphazardly with a lot of guesswork, bias, and "feel." Unfortunately, that approach is not at all predictive of future job performance and success. To hire the best, consider these 6 tips in making your selection:

1. Skills matter. Ask questions and talk to references to learn what the candidate has actually done. What has she done well? What has she struggled with? Realize that some skills are highly "transferrable." Even if the candidate has not performed a job or task that is exactly the same as what you need in the job you are hiring for, her basic skill set might still be a good match for your open position. For example, if you need someone who will be highly organized and deadline-compliant, ask about past experiences that demanded that skill, such as volunteer activities, juggling life's demands, or aspects of a prior job.

2. Experience can be overrated. Experience matters, of course, but many hiring managers place too much emphasis on this factor. They may believe that if someone has, for example, 10 years' experience doing an editorial job similar to the one you are hiring for, then that the job candidate will automatically do the job well. Are those 10 years of experience with seven different companies? Why might that be? Did the person learn the job in the first year and approach it without creativity and energy for the next nine? What does that tell you? Is the person just interested in doing the same kind of work in the same way? With all the technological changes that are confronting editors in the digital age, that might not be a very successful work ethic.

3. Learning is a predictor. A powerful predictor of success in many jobs is how eager a learner someone is inclined to be. Especially eager learners will be more likely take direction well, more apt to notice ways to improve processes or address reader needs, and a more willing colleague and collaborator with other editors. Ask the potential hire the most exciting thing he has learned in the past year or two. Assess how relevant that is to the position you are seeking to fill. Ask the candidate what he wants to learn during his first 3-6 months on the job and why. There is powerful predictive data in these explorations.

4. Emotional intelligence matters. Almost all editorial jobs involve people interacting with other people, be they colleagues, authors, or readers. Being smart is important in order to learn things, master information, and perform key tasks and responsibilities. But if you have two or three candidates with similar IQs, then the real predictor and separator may well be their EQ, or emotional intelligence. EQ is an important predictor of how well someone will handle stress, deal with demanding readers and prima donna writers, comply with tight deadlines, and cope with the boss and other aspects of a job.

5. Core motivations are critical. Everybody is motivated. The big question: To do what? Even someone you perceive as quite lazy is motivated -- to keep life simple and to avoid expending much energy. You want to hire someone who is naturally motivated to do the kind of work your open position requires. That person will bring more energy to the effort, will be willing to work through barriers and challenges, and be much more likely to go the extra mile when necessary. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can hire somebody who is very smart, or a person with whom you have a "good connection or sense of chemistry," and expect you can motivate the individual to enjoy things or do things that are of little interest to him or her. People succeed at what they like to do, not at what you want them to like to do.

6. Traits are in the wiring. Smart, motivated people can learn skills, but traits are what make people unique. They are aspects of one's overall makeup and really don't change much in a lifetime -- except, sometimes, in response to very powerful life events. For example, having "thin skin" or "thick skin" when criticized is a trait. A candidate with thick skin will be able to handle direct, even harsh, interpersonal experiences or criticism much better than someone with thin skin. The latter may carry the pain of that experience around with him for weeks, months, or even years. It will color his expectations of and interactions with the person involved for a long time.

Alan Polak is president of ALP Consulting Resources, a firm specializing in executive coaching and development, organizational and team performance enhancement, and strategic leadership and communications. Reach him at www.ALPConsultingResources.com.

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"Shouldn't a skills test be part of this process, along with checking references intelligently?" --Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, www.WriterRuth.com. 4-28-2011

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