New Year, New Job: What a magazine editor looks for in writers applying for work

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Official PlayStation Magazine's editor Matthew Pellett shares what he looks for in candidates applying to the publication, and offers his top tips for landing a job in the games media.

What skills do you look for in job hunters applying to Official PlayStation Magazine?

Two things from a writing perspective in a writing sample: creative spark (does a piece of writing grab me?) and basic English skills. The first is the more important of the two as teaching that spark is very tough – the latter can be taught or fixed by production editors and editors – but, having said that, if somebody submits pieces of writing with misplaced apostrophes or the wrong there/their/they're every other line, it would leave a bad impression. Other than that, experience and evidence of gaming dedication/knowledge.

What do you look for in a CV?

Not a great deal in the CV itself beyond checking for experience. For me, the covering letter and a writing sample are far more important as they're great baseline tests for what we can expect day-to-day. The difference between a good and bad writing example will be the difference between being invited in for an interview or being turned down – typically we get many, many applications for vacancies, and there will always be a handful of standout writing samples that arrive during that process. Those samples that hook us will be the ones we pursue.

What's your top tip for those looking for jobs in the games media?

Get as much experience as possible and keep writing. It doesn't have to be about games – the art of writing transcends topics. Write as much as possible, and try to get work experience on local papers (news writing is one of the hardest elements to master, and so local newspapers are great places to cut your teeth). I'd also strongly suggest starting a gaming blog - not necessarily to get millions of readers (though push to get it in front of as many eyes as possible), but to hone skills and also prove that you have the dedication it takes for this career. Broadly speaking, this career doesn't pay well and does require some extra-curricular work to maintain the expert knowledge levels to stay ahead of the pack – dedication is important, and regularly updated blogs are a great way of showing off your desire to work in the business.

Once you've got some experience, get in touch with editors with freelance pitches. Every piece of correspondence matters, so the wording and quality of every letter or email is crucial. Get to the point nice and quickly (we don't have time to read thousands of words asking for a job), submit a short writing sample and pitch some ideas to the magazine or site that fit their house style. And make every pitch or piece of contact personal to that brand – I've had freelance pitches before addressed to the wrong magazine and company. (I didn't offer them work.)

Could you tell me about the best and worst job interviews you've seen?

The standout interviews on both sides revolve around knowledge of the job and the market. So aside from showcasing all the necessary skills, the best interview I've had involved a candidate who knew the magazine inside out and also knew what the competition was doing. In a couple of instances I've had interviews where either the candidate doesn't know the magazine they're applying for (confusing issue sections with those of a competitor), or have grossly misunderstood the job requirements.

What was your own interview like?

My interview was eight years ago, and it was far from typical. I was actually hired to edit cover-mount discs, not for editorial. From 2005 to 2007 I used to record game footage as guides work freelance for Future, with those videos then making their way onto discs. (I daren't think about what might have happened if I'd gone straight to YouTube and stuck with that path…) When the role as disc editor became available, I was already at an advantage because I was doing large parts of the job on a freelance basis, which is why I personally place so much value on experience for job hunters. I'd already been down to the office and worked with the team as a freelancer for a few days, so when it came to the interview itself it was mostly about a role I'd been doing already. Once I'd got the job, my then-editor asked if I could write for the magazine as well. We gave it a go and it turned out I could, and then became a staff writer with added disc duties.

What does the future of the games media look like for job hunters?

Full of opportunities. There are more chances than ever to make a name for yourself and find a way into the industry. But there's also a lot of competition out there. It's a really exciting time to be working in this business, especially as gaming models are changing and the ways in which we cover them are evolving too.

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