Pursuing Publishing - HR

Welcome back to another Pursuing Publishing blog post! Recently, I’ve noticed there’s been a real surge in applications for publishing jobs, which has led to people wondering how on earth do they stand out in an increasingly competitive job market?

In order to help a bit with this issue, as well as shed light on another role in publishing, I spoke with the amazing Cassie Leung, Resourcing Adviser and HR whizz at Penguin Random House.

How did you land your role?

I was aggressively job hunting at the time, saw a job ad on LinkedIn and applied; that's literally it!

In terms of the process, I was invited for a recorded video interview (which I now know is the platform called HireVue), and I did it in the dead of night so I wouldn't be interrupted by flatmates.

I got a face to face interview just before Christmas for January so spent Christmas/NYE a nervous bundle, but the two interviewers were so friendly and I came away with the impression that it would just be a really nice place to work.

For my second interview, I had to do a task, which was to write a job advert for a fake job – I enjoyed it, which told me that it was probably a good fit for me. (The fake job was for Dead Good, and I stuffed it with crime puns.) I also had a chance to meet one of my peers at the 2nd stage, who could tell me more about the day-to-day.

What does an average day in your position look like?

My job depends on how many vacancies we have. Most days, I have some time where I'm shortlisting (reading applications), organising interview logistics, drafting/editing either job adverts or job specifications, talking to hiring managers about what they're looking for, and sorting paperwork for offers.

There's also a number of longer-term projects to do with inclusivity, systems, processes, internal resources, resources for candidates, etc, so there's always something to be getting on with!

If you had to pitch working in recruitment in one sentence, what would it be?

It's like professional matchmaking.

Is there anything that surprised you about working in HR that you didn’t realise before?

I honestly didn't know anything about HR before this job. My previous jobs didn't have HR departments, and my job before this one was at a recruitment agency.

I think what I didn't expect was how much internal comms is involved in rolling things out, and how much HR is involved in every aspect of a company.

Has lockdown changed the recruitment process in any way, and if so, how?

Definitely. We've moved all interviews to either video or phone, and we're currently working remotely with a phased return to the office, so we have to work with each new hire to sort out home working equipment such as laptops, office chairs, monitors, etc, and also see what they're comfortable with in terms of travel.

We're also seeing a much higher number of applications than before, which just means spending more time at the shortlisting stage.

What do you personally look for in cover letters, and what makes the ones chosen for an interview stand out?

1. An understanding of the job.

For example, if it's a Marketing Assistant role for non-fiction books, then someone who's interested in marketing and advertising techniques, and knows what book marketing campaigns look like.

Also, non-fiction is an enormous category so someone who's researched the team to see exactly what it is they do, be it cookbooks, gift books, celebrity memoirs, business books, and expressed their interest in the right area.

2. Relating your skills/research/experience to the job with specific examples

Anyone can say 'I'm super organised', but an example to illustrate it makes it more concrete.

We also want people who want to work in the modern book industry – so people who read new releases, follow current authors and writers or, if you read classics, are interested in repackaging or remarketing classics for new audiences. Again, if you can use specific examples, this is best.

3. The best cover letters get the point across concisely. If it's font size 9 with no margins and no line breaks, my first thought is that the candidate isn't demonstrating good editing skills. You wouldn't be able to do that with a book blurb, you'd be asked to edit it down; you have to be able to write to a brief.

Ultimately, the way I think about it is that the CV is about the candidate, the job advert is about the job – the cover letter is the bridge between the two.

What’s more important in an application – relevant experience, or passion and the desire to learn?

Passion and the desire to learn – but I would also say that passion is an ambiguous thing that people often interpret as waxing lyrical about books. I think passion is best demonstrated by showing you've thought about how your skills are relevant and transferable, doing your research on the publishing industry and book market, knowing your book clubs/literary prizes/literary festivals.

What are some mistakes people make in CVs and Cover Letters that lead to an immediate rejection?

There are few things that are an instant no: applying to the wrong job, misspelling the name of the company/team, not following the application instructions on the advert.

There are a number of things that make it harder to get shortlisted though: not relating skills/experience to the job, multiple typo/grammar mistakes, or not mentioning what job it is at all.

And then this isn't a mistake, but is just a bit awkward: when people don't realise that their tracked changes are saved into the document and are viewable (this probably doesn't come up often, but the system we use sometimes shows them automatically).

What would be your advice to people looking to break into either HR or publishing in general?

For publishing – read more recent releases. The best way to know trends in publishing is by reading them. Also, try and get some office experience even if it's not in publishing, and if unpaid work experience is not something you can do, I would suggest an office temp agency which will give you some flexibility in short-term contracts. Lastly, there are a number of great resources on social media that are free, whether it's people explaining their jobs and areas or how to get into publishing routes, so definitely have a look around on book twitter.

For HR – getting an understanding of how businesses work can be useful, whether that's getting some admin experience or reading articles on LinkedIn. HR is a huge area, so have a look into what areas you think you're interested in, whether that's Recruitment, Learning and Development, HR Generalist/Advisor, Compensation/Benefits, etc.

As a more general working life tip, I follow a blog called Ask A Manager. She's from the US so take some things with a pinch of salt, but it's a good resource not just for job hunting but also navigating office life, understanding work boundaries, and having difficult workplace conversations.

And finally, for your bookish question – what’s one book you think everyone should read?

I am currently really enjoying the Fence graphic novel series by C.S. Pacat with art by Johanna the Mad. It reads like sports anime – light-hearted, full of character beats – and the art is delightful.

It features a diverse cast of characters, promises a queer romance, and is packed full of fun boarding school and roommate tropes.

Would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes Haikyuu!! or Yuri!! On Ice, but also things like Heartstopper and Check, Please!


A huge thank you to Cassie for sharing her wisdom on all things HR, be sure to follow her on Twitter: @cm_leung

And thanks to everyone who sent in questions they’d like to be answered!

If you want to be updated with every new post, you can subscribe to my blog here.

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