Any organization that produces high volumes of written content needs to ensure that that content meets certain criteria before publication. It must be free of errors, read to a high standard and resonate with its intended audience. It must also be appropriately structured and formatted, and where relevant, factually accurate.
Responsibility for all of this falls to an editor. These are the people in charge of planning, commissioning, revising and polishing written content to prepare it for publication.
An editor may work for one of many organizations, such as a book publisher, magazine publisher, or news agency. They are also employed by companies across all industries to oversee online content and communications editing.
They may work in-house, through an agency, or as a freelancer, but in all cases, they need a diverse set of skills and abilities to succeed in the role.
In this article, we look at what those skills and abilities are, why they’re so important and how to make sure the next editor you hire ticks all the right boxes.
What should an editor be able to do?
There’s a common misconception that editors simply proofread and correct spelling errors in written content, when in fact this is just one small part of a very broad job description.
What an editor does is far more complex. They explore topics and decide on the subject matter, source writers and work with them to improve their copy and collaborate with other business departments such as design, marketing, legal, and finance.
On any given day, an editor may undertake the following tasks:
- Generating topic ideas and planning advanced content schedules.
- Liaising with writers, evaluating submitted proposals, commissioning work and ensuring submission deadlines are met.
- Line editing, correcting issues with spelling, grammar, syntax and flow.
- Editing copy in terms of structure, style, length and tone.
- Checking facts, confirming sources and ensuring copy aligns with relevant style guidelines.
- Negotiating rates of pay, collecting invoices and coordinating payment.
- Offering constructive feedback to improve on copy until final draft approval.
- Working with design teams on layout, image selection and visuals.
- Checking content for plagiarism, defamation and any other legal concerns.
Depending on the area they work in, an editor may also be involved in specific tasks, for example, SEO for online content, or writing a synopsis for a book.
Skills to look for in an editor
The role of an editor is varied and involves working in different capacities - from the solitary act of actually editing text to being part of a team that delivers to strict deadlines.
To meet the demands of their profession, there’s a set of core skills every editor should possess, and that every employer should look for throughout the recruitment process:
Language skills: an editor must have an excellent command of written language. They should have an extensive vocabulary, knowledge of grammatical rules and understand how to write for a particular audience. Though it’s not their job in itself to produce copy, they need strong language skills to polish it.
Time management: an editor is responsible for managing their own time, and may also need to coordinate multiple writers working on multiple projects at once. Regardless of the organization they’re employed by, they will typically be working to deadlines, so keen organizational skills and time management are essential.
Decision making: editors make important decisions on a daily basis, like choosing what topics will engage an audience, allocating writers based on subject knowledge and determining which parts of a piece of content need to be cut. For this, they need strong judgment and decision-making skills.
Interpersonal skills: whilst some of an editor’s work is done independently, most of it requires collaboration and teamwork, so an editor needs to be a people person. Interpersonal skills are particularly important when working with writers, as the relationship needs to be a supportive and respectful one.
IT skills: editors spend a lot of time working on computers so IT skills are a must. They should be proficient in the use of word processing programs and any other job-specific software. For example, you may require them to have a working knowledge of design programs like Adobe InDesign, or a specific content management system (CMS).
Useful abilities for an editor
When shortlisting candidates for an editorial role, it’s not just essential skills recruiters should pay attention to. They should also be on the lookout for certain abilities that will allow an editor to excel in their position. These include:
Attention to detail: a talented editor has the ability to spot errors at speed and produce flawless final drafts, even when working under pressure. They also use their keen eye for detail to coordinate multiple writing jobs simultaneously.
Analytical thinking: analytical thinking allows an editor to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of text. It helps them understand how ideas link together, ensure all the information contained is relevant, and that the content as a whole follows a logical order.
Adaptability: adaptability benefits an editor in multiple ways, from reorganizing their work schedule in line with shifting deadlines to working with new writers. Those that are flexible in their approach will achieve better results than those that prefer structure.
Teanwork: editors will often need to collaborate with others to complete a project on time, so the ability to work as part of a team is key. This involves an array of skills like communication, active listening and problem-solving.
Creativity: editing is a creative profession, so anyone in it should have a creative mind. They should also be curious and have the ability to quickly take on new knowledge. This allows them to transfer their editing skills from one subject area to another.
What soft skills tests could I use to hire an editor?
Soft skills are notoriously difficult to measure during recruitment, as they can’t be shown through academic qualifications or a candidate’s work history listed on paper.
That’s where soft skills tests come in. Expertly designed to evaluate real-world potential, they give recruiters much better insight into an applicant’s strengths. When hiring an editor, the soft skills tests you might consider using include:
Interpersonal skills: a multiple choice test that looks at an individual’s ability to engage with others, this will show you how capable a candidate is of building supportive relationships with writers and working with key stakeholders.
Decision making: with this test, you’ll build a better picture of a candidate’s skill for making well-informed, logical decisions, much like they’ll be required to do on a daily basis if offered the role.
Time management: time management skills dictate the ability to plan, schedule, curate, and revise content based on publication deadlines. Those that score highly here will manage their own workload and coordinate time-critical activities effectively.
Teamwork: a teamwork test looks at all the skills required of a strong team player, like compromise, communication and empathy. Editors need these skills to work with both external writers and internal departments.
What technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire an editor?
Along with soft skills, you should also look to measure technical ability and natural aptitude. By combining these different forms of pre-employment assessment, you can build a highly detailed profile for each applicant.
Technical and aptitude tests you might want to consider for an editor include:
Error checking: here a candidate must spot errors and inconsistencies whilst working under the pressure of a time constraint, so needs to demonstrate both speed and accuracy. It’s an ideal test for any role that requires exacting attention to detail, including that of an editor.
Verbal reasoning: this covers an applicant’s language comprehension. It requires them to quickly read, evaluate and interpret new information, pick out pertinent details, and draw logical conclusions. These are all key skills for those that work with large volumes of text.
Logical reasoning: logical reasoning tests measure analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. Candidates must identify rules and relationships in visual sequences and apply them to fill in any gaps. A high score shows a keen understanding of logical order.
Microsoft Word: this is likely the program an editor will spend most of their time using, so proficiency is key. The test looks at everything from basic file management to a candidate’s knowledge of shortcuts and collaborative functions.
If you’re hiring an editor to work with content written in a language other than their native tongue, you should also consider administering the relevant language test.
Our recommended test battery for an editor
Whilst there are many tests you can administer when recruiting for an editor, the last thing you want to do is overload your candidates with assessments. This can put them off and prompt them to withdraw their application.
To avoid such a scenario, we recommend that you stick to just three or four and opt for those that test multiple skills.
Project management: an editor’s role is essentially a series of mini projects, so this is a great option, looking at a range of skills including time management, teamwork and decision making.
Verbal reasoning: use this test to ensure shortlisted applicants have an excellent grasp of written language, can process new information quickly, understand its context and form logical conclusions through critical evaluation.
Error checking: with an error checking test, you make sure that a candidate has the required eye for detail and can work accurately under the pressure of a looming deadline.
Time management: editors need excellent time management skills to meet deadlines, which a time management skill test can help assess.
For more information on how to hire an editor, visit our editor test page.