Confessions of an Editor: Top 10 “Don’t Hire Me” Traits

I spotted the above sign while driving back to Chicago from Toledo, Ohio and was inspired to write something for new editors who are about to put out a call for freelancers or writing staff. Writers, you should read this and take notes–knowing the mind of a potential editor is important to your survival in this business. As I am about to put out a call for new freelancers, this list is definitely top of mind. I dread posting those “freelancers wanted” ads, because I’ll get a flood of responses from people who belong in clown college rather than behind the keyboard. The three to five good results I get are worth the hassle, but when I am reading the slop, I don’t believe it.

I don’t view this so much as advice as sharing about how I personally do business. For some editors, this top ten won’t work, and that’s the nature of the biz, but I’m willing to bet at least 75% of those new to the editing game can find something useful here:

Top Ten Writer Traits Which Scream, “Don’t Hire Me”:

10. Misguided Cover Letters. Don’t tell me anything unrelated to the job ad–and don’t bother replying to an ad which seeks a specific type of writer unless you fit the bill. I once put out a job ad requesting replies only from writers who were also musicians. One cover letter in my inbox started out, “I am a voiceover artist.” That’s nice, buddy, but that’s NOT what I asked for. In case you’re wondering, the rest of the ad made it perfectly clear I was seeking musicians only, no other type of performers. The respondant clearly couldn’t follow instructions.

9. Clips From “Content” Websites. Sorry, kids, but if I see Associated Content, HubPages, or any other content mill material used as writing clips, it sends big warning flares off in my head. I’d rather see an unpublished clip directly related to my publication’s focus than some generalized crapola you took five minutes to write and edit before posting to the content mill. Submitting content clips screams “amateur” to me.

8. Clips From Blogs. If I am LOOKING for a blogger, I’ll ask for blog clips. If I need ARTICLES, blog clips don’t do me a damn bit of good when trying to evaluate the appropriate skills. Blogging is NOT article writing, and vice versa.

7. Submitting Fiction. Unless specifically asked for fiction clips, never include your short stories or novel excerpts when replying to a job ad. This is among the worst judgement errors you can make as it shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how the game is played. I have plenty of time for noobs and beginners as long as they show initiative and at least TRY to respond properly to a job ad or call for writers.

6. Not Including Basic Contact Info. The writer who sends an e-mail address but no phone number looks to me like someone who didn’t take their time with the cover letter. That is a bad way to begin a relationship.

5. Kooky E-Mail Addresses. Some editors may disagree with me here, but if I get a cover letter and resume from “”, I am much less inclined to take the sender seriously. You can’t take five minutes to get a hotmail addy with a professional-looking address? SPARE ME. The next button I am likely to push after reading your return addy is the DELETE key. It’s a bad, mean world out there.

4. Being Inappropriately Familiar. I hired a freelancer once upon a time who started addressing me as “Bud” and “Dude” in the earliest days of our professional relationship. I like my OWN NAME, thanks. Freelancers, please don’t do this. It makes it sooooo much easier to fire you later when you start dropping your plurals or misusing the apostrophe. Oh, and I HATE being called “Sir”. Some editors like it, but I am not one of them. Try to feel out your new editor first before you start in with the nicknames or excessive honorifics. Do it for ME.

3. Talking Out Your Arse. If you are applying for a writing gig or sending a query on a topic that you don’t quite truly understand, reassess your ability to write for that publication, but don’t give up on the gig just for a lack of information. I once hired a talented writer and video producer who admitted to me right up front that she didn’t know a great deal about the subject at hand, but was willing to learn and take the initiative to do it on her own time. I hired her immediately. I have moved on from the editor’s chair at that publication, but I’ve kept in touch and know she has done quite well. It all started with her honesty and willingness. Never underestimate the power of that willingness and enthusiasm, it can make up for a lack of subject matter expertise. Just don’t FAKE IT. You will accidentally misuse a technical term or refer to an outdated bit of data and will be revealed as a wanna-be.

2. An Inability To Follow Simple Instructions. I delete all resumes and cover letters with attachments, and say so in the job ads I post. If you can’t take the time to completely read the job ad and learn what my requirements are, you are already wasting my time just by responding. What makes me, the editor, think you’ll do any better if I actually screwed up and HIRED you?

1. Admitting To…ANYTHING. Some new writers put something in their cover letters along the lines of, “I don’t have any published clips.” or even more foolishly, “I don’t have much experience writing, but I hope you’ll take a chance on me.” I know there is a difference of opinion among editors on this one, but I believe you should never open the lines of communication with such nonsense. Your first impression is too valuable to waste; I’d rather get a cover letter from someone who can SELL themselves than someone who is WARNING YOU up front not to hire them. Don’t waste my time telling me what you haven’t done. Instead, tell me what you CAN do. That’s how you close the deal.

23 thoughts on “Confessions of an Editor: Top 10 “Don’t Hire Me” Traits”

  1. I agree with almost everything you have mentioned. However, number six really gets to me. You insist on having a phone number on the contact information. That is excellent. However, keep in mind that some of us are deaf, and do not provide a phone number because it makes it difficult for us to explain having to do a relay call. Keep an open mind before judging. This kind of comment discriminates even the hardest working people, and those that cannot use telephone like you can.

  2. Cheryl,

    This is an EXCELLENT point. It is far too easy to assume that everyone is instantly available by phone. I’m definitely guilty of that one…

  3. I agree with Joe – content sites by and large are a joke. Professional freelancers typically get paid $1-$2 per WORD not a few bucks per article. When I was starting out, I fell pray to the “easy money” promise of content sites and submitted a few articles. It didn’t take me long to see that such sites are inundated by amateurs who have no clue whatsoever about what good writing looks like. All in the name of a few bucks! Ask any professional writer or journalist what they think of content site writing and you will get an earful. I was frankly embarrassed to have even associated myself with such a site. Thank god I was writing under a pseudonym!

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