How can I come up with work samples and get this job?
June 26, 2006 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm applying for a part-time copy editing position at a local paper. They're asking for ten work samples, but the thing is, I haven't really done anything professionally. Even better, I don't have all that much experience in journalism. (A little bit of work with the high school paper is it.) What can I do to overcome my lack of experience and get this job?
posted by kyleg to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe edit something on wikipedia or take a quick freelance gig via craigslist? Do you have blog? Can you request that they give you an editing test instead?
posted by lunalaguna at 11:25 AM on June 26, 2006

That's kind of a weird requirement -- without the original, it won't be clear what you did. If they just want to see your language skills, a writing sample would work just as well -- do you have old papers written for school, or anything else "formal"?

Wikipedia's a good idea, so long as no one comes along behind you and throws in a clunker.
posted by futility closet at 11:41 AM on June 26, 2006

Best answer: Just be honest. Bring a couple samples of your writing. Tell them you don't have the experience, but you have the knowledge and you can do the job. Play up your strengths, but don't hide your weaknesses. They are what they are. Admit them and explain why you're a good candidate despite them.

Speaking as someone who has interviewed and hired employees, I'd be more impressed by honesty than by self-assigned "homework" dressed up as experience. Every candidate thinks of some clever way to mask his shortcomings. It gets old fast, and it just makes you look defensive and dishonest.
posted by cribcage at 11:50 AM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: if they are asking for so many samples, they are trying to get experienced copy editors, of which you are not. it will be very hard to convice them that you can edit--and because they are asking for 10, they want to see your editing in a wide variety of styles. the fact that the job is part time indicates that they don't want to waste any time training anyone.

your editing doesn't necessarily have to be 'professional', so don't think you are limited there. however, just the fact that you are asking this question here makes me wonder if you have a clear idea of what the position will entail.

to break in: try to serve an internship there. also try to submit articles for publication there. make sure you learn what style manual they are using, and follow it.

(ianace, but i am married to one.)
posted by lester at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2006

A question and some suggestions:

Do you have any college coursework for which you have written papers? If yes, then copy edit those and submit them.

Take and submit proofreading/copyediting tests. Here's one. Here's another. This last one includes some standards you will not need (Chicago manual). Instead, bone up on the AP manual. You can get your hands on one at the library or at

Use your local library or local university library (especially) to track down textbooks used in editing/news writing classes. There will be samples to edit there.

A less politically correct but possible method, if your local rag is as bad as mine, would be to take several days worth of the lead section and blue-pencil it for mistakes.

What the hiring editors will be looking for is an excruciating attention to detail, a good to excellent knowledge of the correct AP style, and a general understanding of the genre that is the newspaper story, especially as it is written in their paper.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: By professional samples, they probably mean published materials you have copy edited. No, they don't need to see the original. All that matters is that the finished product is clean and consistent.

Honestly, if you really have almost no experience, you don't stand much chance of getting this job unless there's no competition. Everyone thinks they can edit, but they're almost always wrong. Experience matters.

However, it can't hurt to give it a shot. Gather together what writing samples you can, and make sure you're familiar with copy-editing symbols. If you want to get into this sort of job in future, volunteer for some sort of publication and keep copies of whatever you work on.
posted by orange swan at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2006

And I also second Cribcage's advice. He knows whereof he speaks. Honesty is the best course. If you do self-administer tests (assuming they are not offering one) do not equate them as experience. Offer them only as an indication that you know the symbols and the language.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2006

Best answer: Lester and orange swan are right on—if they're asking for samples like that, they want to see things you've edited in a professional (or at very least a college newspaper) context. They want someone who knows AP style, accepted reporting/journalism conventions, and how to work with editors and writers. You need to know editing marks, and preferably something about layout/workflow software. You also need to know how to fact-check—newspaper copy editing is NOT mere proofreading.

Even if you truly are a gifted copy editor—i.e. the guy who ripped apart everyone's papers in class and wrote better than everyone else—you're going to need to show them something you've written or edited. Preferably a lot of somethings. Unless you know someone involved with hiring at this newspaper, or have some spectacularly ripped-apart papers (written by others) from some of your classes, or can get some experience somewhere first, you're going to have a rough time of it.

You could try to make an end run around the system by getting an internship there, but newspaper internships are highly competitive—there are a lot of people out there who are really serious about breaking into the field, and internships are how you get started. To get an internship—unless they already know you're awesome—you're going to need published clips, a writing resume, a cover letter and references, and you're going to need to be better than the other applicants.

And as orange swan notes, pretty much everyone thinks copy editing will be a breeze—and pretty much everyone sucks at it. Even experienced editors are often poor copy editors.

I'm not trying to be overly harsh here, but rather to help you gain some insight into why exactly you're applying for this job and what your prospects might be. Do you want to use this as a stepping-stone to a career in journalism? Do you hope to gain experience so you can break into publishing? Do you have any contacts at this newspaper who can help you? These are all very relevant questions.

I also have to tell you, as a copy editor myself who put in the years of hard work necessary to land the position, I can't help but feel a bit defensive when I read your question. Good copy editors are hard to come by—and good copy editors work hard. In my case, copy editing came incredibly easy to me, and I enjoy it greatly. It's essentially my calling, although it's not the only thing I want to do with my life. But I still had to put in the hours and the necessary work to get here.

If you truly have a gift for copy editing, the world needs you, and you should do whatever you can to break into the field. This newspaper needs you, even if they don't know it yet. But if you've never tried it and think it might be easy money, and really aren't interested in it in any serious way, you'd be wasting your time and your editors' time.
posted by limeonaire at 1:14 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Meh. I landed a professional copyediting job (at Microsoft) by taking a couple of tests at an agency. Before that, my only 'experience' was having read a lot of books, including the Chicago Manual of Style. I agree that it's not a job for everyone, but there are also plenty of people who can do it just fine without much training.

If they're asking for 10 samples and you want to give it a shot, find 10 pieces of published work that are full of errors, and then correct them, using proper copyeditor's marks. You might have to first copy the published text into Word or something similar so that you can give yourself enough room to make the marks properly. Then submit the published text in its original form, along with the version with your editing marks on it.

You may also want to look into Project Gutenberg, where you can sign up to be a volunteer proofreader. It doesn't involve the fancy marks that offline proofreaders use, and it's not 'professional' experience since you don't get paid, but it is a fairly well-known and well-regarded project. Then you can mention it on your resume next time.
posted by bingo at 2:19 PM on June 26, 2006

I agree with limeonaire and not bingo, and I completely disagree with "there are also plenty of people who can do it just fine without much training." Maybe well enough to satisfy Microsoft (I know nothing about their standards), but not traditional publishers/newspapers who care about clean copy. It sounds like they want someone with professional experience. If you want to be a copy editor, start trying to acquire some, but this job doesn't sound like your first stepping-stone.
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on June 26, 2006

Some local papers are small and local enough that they will hire inexperienced folks who are just good with language but aren't ace copy editors (yet). Probably the best way to get a start would be with an outfit like that. At high-end publications, however, good copy editors are very much in demand and hard to find (and retain). The skill and experience requirements are usually quite high, so you'll need to find a way to get good and also have identifiably good resume lines if you want to advance in the trade. I don't know of any resources in Indiana, but you might try looking for a copy editing course. In the SF Bay Area, for example, you can do so through Editcetera or UC Berkeley Extension. I'd be surprised if there weren't something similar down the road in Bloomington.

It's a strange and often thankless profession, life on the copy desk. The best sign that you're good at your job is if nobody notices your presence.
posted by donpedro at 4:11 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm applying for a part-time copy editing position at a local paper. (OP)
Some local papers are small and local enough that they will hire inexperienced folks who are just good with language but aren't ace copy editors (yet). Probably the best way to get a start would be with an outfit like that.(donpedro)

That appears to be what the OP is trying to do, folks. Start out as a part-time copyeditor at a small paper.

kyleg, there are nuggets of advice buried in the above. Winnow and persevere.

Limeonaire, no need to feel defensive. kyleg wants to get to where you are, but not try to get your job by faking. Gotta start somewhere in order to learn the ropes.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:39 AM on June 27, 2006

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