How to Become an Editorial Assistant in 4 Steps: Learn 3 Essential Skills All Editorial Assistants Need

Written by MasterClass

Sep 5, 2019 • 3 min read

Every year, aspiring writers in media capitals like New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington embark on new journeys in the field of publishing. Some wish to be reporters or critics, while others aspire to one day be the editor-in-chief of a publication.

If you have dreams of becoming a newspaper or magazine editor but are new to the industry, the entry-level position of editorial assistant may be a great way to gain valuable experience in the world of publishing.



What Is an Editorial Assistant?

An editorial assistant is a person who assists an editor with both the creative and the clerical duties of their job.

Some editorial assistants report to a publication’s editor-in-chief. Others report to other members of the editorial staff, including a publication’s managing editor, senior editor, content editor, and more.

What Does an Editorial Assistant Do?

An editorial assistant’s job description is typically divided into two categories. The first of these is administrative. Tasks in the administrative realm may include:

  • Overseeing the writing deadlines of staff writers and freelance contributors
  • Helping manage the workload and schedule of the editor to whom they report
  • Making phone calls and sending emails to facilitate projects with industry contacts and interview subjects
  • Overall project management

An editorial assistant may also do work that appears in the pages of their publication. Such work might include:

  • Fact-checking and research
  • Proofreading and copy checking
  • Writing short articles assigned to them by their supervising editor

By combining these two categories of work, an editorial assistant ends up performing a role that’s a hybrid of an editor, writer, and administrative assistant.

Where Do Editorial Assistants Work?

At large publications, editorial assistants work in an office with other members of an editorial department. They rarely have their own offices, so they tend to work in communal areas or cubicles in the middle of an office while reporting to a boss with his or her own private space.

For smaller publications, including many content-generating websites, editorial assistants can sometimes work from home.

3 Essential Skills All Editorial Assistants Need

Although editorial assistant salaries tend to be quite low, there is nonetheless a good deal of competition for these positions, particularly among those who see editorial assistant jobs as a stepping stone toward related jobs in the world of magazines, newspapers, and book publishing.

  1. Have the right degree. To stand out in a crowded field, it helps to already have a bachelor’s degree, particularly with an industry-relevant major such as journalism, English, or media studies.
  2. Strong communicator. Strong verbal communication skills and a firm grasp of the English language, grammar, and syntax are a must.
  3. Know your way around tech. You must display proficiency with email and productivity software. Today’s editorial assistants are also sometimes tasked with handling various social media responsibilities, so it pays to know your way around current trends and social media best practices.

How to Become an Editorial Assistant in 4 Steps

In today’s publishing environment, editorial assistants work long hours, are lightly paid, and receive minimal credit in the pages of their respective magazine, newspaper, or journal. Therefore, to thrive in this role, one needs to be passionate about journalism and the written word.

  1. Find the right fit. Editorial assistant jobs are advertised in trade publications, on online job boards, and via career offices at colleges and universities. Since you never know when such a job will be staffing, have a standard cover letter and resume on file.
  2. Stand out from other applicants. Any past experience in journalism, even in high school, will help distinguish your application.
  3. Mine your contacts and ask for help. And don’t shy away from asking working editors for career advice. Simply making them aware of the fact that you’re looking to work in the publishing industry can keep you at the forefront of their minds when they’re looking to staff a new position.
  4. Once you’re in, work hard and move up quickly. And if you’re lucky enough to land an editorial assistant position, work hard and keep your eye on the prize. A good editorial assistant role in the publishing industry can be a great stepping stone toward the publishing job of your dreams.

Want to Become a Magazine Editor?

No one knows magazines better than the legendary Anna Wintour, who has served as Vogue editor-in-chief since 1988. In Anna Wintour’s MasterClass on creativity and leadership, the current Artistic Director of Condé Nast provides her distinct and priceless insight into everything from finding your voice and the power of a singular image, to spotting designer talent and leading with impact within the fashion industry.

Want to become a better journalist? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from editorial masters, including Anna Wintour, Malcolm Gladwell, Bob Woodward, and more.



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