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The One Question to Ask When Looking to Hire an Editor

One of my highest priorities as editor in chief of DLA Editors & Proofers is to be personally available to our clients. While the demands on my time sometimes prevent this, I enjoy introducing myself to prospective clients, especially when they are coming to us from over the internet.  It is my hope that this personal touch will help show that we are real people who really do work on their documents, instead of simply running them through a computer program.

This experience has given me valuable insight into the questions most people ask when looking to hire an editor.  Of course many of these are centered around the common concerns of price, turnaround time and the quality of editing.  Interestingly, I have learned that the concerns they have for finding a good editor are the same ones I have when evaluating candidates to add to our team, and I have learned that the best way to evaluate potential editors is not through the front door with these obvious questions, but through the back door with something much more important.

Why Asking for an Editor’s Qualifications Will Not Give the Information You Are Seeking

Perhaps the greatest challenge in looking for an editor is evaluating the editor’s qualifications to edit a particular document.  Editing in the APA style is a classic example that will illustrate my point well, though it could be equally applied to any type of document, from novels to personal statements.

Let us say that a client submits a dissertation needing to be edited according to the APA style.  For these documents, the APA style is critical.  Any missed detail can lead to a rejection.  I need to know not only that the editor I ask to work on it knows how to edit a dissertation, but also that he or she knows APA inside and out.

The key to excellent APA editing, though, is not actually to have all the APA rules memorized.  Instead it is to understand the methodology of APA and, more importantly, to recognize when to look something up.  This is where the irony comes in.  No matter how extensive a candidate’s experience is with APA before applying to work for me—whether it be at the undergraduate, master’s or PhD level—when I ask the candidate to rate his or her ability on a scale of 1 to 10, the response is inevitably either a 1 or 2, or 9 or 10.  In testing them, though, I learn that actually they are all equally around a 4 or a 5!  The candidate’s response, therefore, indicates much more his or her personality—whether too shy or too confident—than actual editing ability.

How to Find out if Your Editor Is Truly Qualified

If inquiring directly about an editor’s qualifications will not truthfully indicate whether the editor is qualified, then what should you ask?  While the answer may not at first be obvious, it can be easily deduced from experience.  What I have noticed is that there is one particular personality type that is much more likely to produce perfect editing than any other.  The fact is that all editors are human beings and as such are prone to making mistakes.  They can make mistakes by leaving errors uncorrected, or they can make mistakes by misunderstanding a rule and applying it incorrectly.  These last ones can actually introduce errors when the editor is working on a document.

What I have learned to be essential in evaluating editors, therefore, is not to ask whether they know all the rules, but whether they have ever made mistakes, and more particularly if they have ever had customers who were dissatisfied with their services.  Any editor with significant editing experience will certainly have had dissatisfied customers.  The key is not whether an editor has had dissatisfied customers but whether he or she can admit it in an honest and respectful manner.  Only editors who admit to having made mistakes will be less likely to make them again in the future.

How an Editing Company Can Have Dissatisfied Customers and Still Have a 100% Satisfaction Rate

One of the greatest challenges for any editing company is to achieve a 100% satisfaction rate.  In our case, for example, not only are we human beings who sometimes make mistakes, our clients also come from a variety of backgrounds, have a variety of personalities, and are experiencing a variety of stresses in their lives.  The way we approach this is to admit that we do sometimes make mistakes, to work diligently to correct them, and to accept that in spite of our best efforts, we may not always be able to.

One great example of this is our Personal Statement Revision and Critique service.  For reasons that are not entirely clear to us, and despite the fact that we state clearly on our website and in all our conversations with potential clients that we do not actually write  personal statements, there are many clients who expect that we will write their personal statements for them, and not just edit, proofread and correct them.  When what they receive back is a critiqued, edited and proofread personal statement, and one in which we have identified issues for them to address by writing new content, they may respond in either anger or disappointment, complaining that we did not write the new content.

While there are particular situations in which we are lamentably unable to achieve our clients’ satisfaction, we have nevertheless been able to achieve a nearly perfect satisfaction rate across all our clients.  The reason for this is quite simple, which is that those who have reported being unsatisfied represent less than a handful of all our clients.  While we wish that this rate were even lower, we also know that the only way to improve is to accept our mistakes and to learn from them.  It is our hope, therefore, that all of our clients share their experiences with us, a standard I expect of all the editors I hire to work for me.

Posted in  Professionals
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