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How to Become an Editorial Assistant: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an editorial assistant. Learn about the job duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in editing.

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Should I Become an Editorial Assistant?

Editorial assistants hold entry-level positions for book publishing companies, magazines, newspapers and digital media sites. They might perform background research, copyedit material, read unsolicited manuscripts or articles and provide general support to editorial staff. The position is often lower-paying, but can lead to upper-level careers in editing, publishing and writing. This field can be competitive; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated little to no job growth for editorial jobs from 2012-2022.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field English, journalism or communications, though other majors may be acceptable
Experience Typically requires at least two years of editorial experience, though some employers do not call for post-college experience
Key Skills Excellent written and verbal communication skills, strong attention to detail, ability to manage time, organizational skills, proficiency in Microsoft Office and publishing tools like InDesign and Arbortext Epic Editor
Salary (2015) $33,245 per year (median earnings for editorial assistants)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CareerBuilder.com job postings (August 2015), PayScale.com.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is a necessary requirement for most editorial assistant positions. Students may choose to study journalism, English or communications, or they could major in an unrelated field and gain journalism skills exclusively through hands-on experience. A four-year degree in communications, for example, covers topics like media and society, writing and editing, journalistic research and media ethics. Many programs also allow students to choose a concentration such as news or mass communication.

Success Tips:

  • Cater your curriculum toward an editorial career. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) recommends that students, regardless of their majors, take a varied range of classes to prepare them for the diverse subject matter they may need to work with as editors. Students who want to specialize in a specific area of publishing, such as business or television, may benefit from taking electives in that area of specialty.
  • Gain writing and editing experience during college. Editorial assistant positions often require applicants to have applicable experience and one way to gain such experience is by working on publications during college. The BLS suggests that aspiring editorial assistants work at their college newspaper or magazine to train in the field. This option provides students with a way to gain writing, editing and leadership skills and build portfolios that demonstrate their abilities.
  • Complete an internship. Doing a summer internship at a magazine or newspaper during college has numerous benefits. Internships expose students to various types of publishing and help them build the skills necessary to thrive in the fast-paced publishing environment. Interns also have the opportunity to develop professional contacts that could help them with their future job search.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Individuals may be able to obtain entry-level editorial assistant positions directly after college, however, if employment is not possible immediately upon graduating, there are other ways to build experience. Pitching stories to local magazines and working as a freelancer can help build an aspiring editorial assistant's reputation in the publishing world. Maintaining a blog can be another way of sharpening one's writing ability, along with being an outlet for demonstrating a commitment to writing and an ability to use online media. Paid, post-college internships may offer another avenue through which to gain editorial experience.

Step 3: Join Professional Organizations and Stay Current on Trends

Organizations such as the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) offer career advice, hold professional development workshops and host conferences. Joining such an organization can open up opportunities for networking with industry professionals and finding out about internships and job openings.

Staying on top of the latest technology used in publishing, including desktop publishing, web authoring and social media, can make aspiring editors more desirable job applicants. Some schools offer workshops and classes in editorial technology and the ASME even offers its members discounts for such programs. Building a solid reputation and staying involved in the publishing industry can lead to further career advancement.

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