Emily (Salkin) Takoudes (‘98) is Executive Commissioning Editor of Food publications at Phaidon who majored in History and Women’s Studies at UW-Madison. She continued her education at the International Culinary Center in New York, receiving a certificate in Essentials of Fine Cooking, and has worked as an Editor for publishers including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House.
Q: How did your L&S degree help you succeed professionally in ways that you didn’t realize until after you graduated?
A: My majors were history and women’s studies—and the UW liberal arts degree turned out to be incredibly important in shaping me to be a well-rounded job candidate, interested in our society and the world, and well-spoken with good writing and critical thinking skills.
Q: Can you walk us through a day in the life of your current position, showing us the links between your work and the lessons, skills or perspective you gained as a student at UW?
A:I have been in my fields—book publishing and the food industry—for decades and am now an executive editor, with a focus on cookbooks. Each day I am trying to achieve my goals—of commissioning new projects, working with my authors and teams on the content of their books, and being part of a larger experienced senior team. I must know how to achieve what is expected of me, surpass what is expected of me, represent my company on a global level, network in the food and publishing industries, make convincing presentations, contribute thoughtfully to meetings, execute important decisions, troubleshoot with solutions for immediate issues, manage and mentor, and work well in a team; while also being autonomous, reliable, creative, enthusiastic, and a publishing expert for the authors and chefs who are counting on me to help them develop extraordinary and unique books. Because UW encourages its students to be curious and engaged while being dedicated learners, my L&S experience at UW lended itself to helping me succeed in just about anything I would have pursued professionally. Plus the dialogues with professors and small groups set me up well for working with superiors and teams in a work environment.
Q: How can you achieve work-life balance?
A: I think this is exceptionally important and I have focused on this balance, while encouraging my employees to do the same. Take all of your vacation days and use an out-of-office reply that indicates you will check email upon your return. Take your full lunch break, so you have a clear head for part two of your day. There is no need to check work email at all hours, minus those few exceptions. Mental health is important and you want to work hard, but you don’t want to burn out by work becoming your life. The interests you have outside of work will also make your professional outlook all the more enriching.
Q: What are the most important qualities when interviewing?
A: For starters, I have to toss out many candidates just after looking at their resumes and cover letters. The cover letter shouldn’t be generic, rather it should specifically address the individual and the company you want to work for. Explain specifically why you are incredibly passionate about this specific job, boss, and place. Make sure you spell check and that the organization of your resume is consistent. Also include outside interests, as these often become interview talking points and can show excellence in other ways. I’m a fan of the people who bring notes to interviews—those are often my most prepared interviewees, they have really done their homework and have insightful questions. Remember, you are also sort of interviewing the person YOU want to work for, and who may become your champion at the company or a mentor in the field.
Q: How did you get into your industry?
A: As I neared graduation and shortly thereafter, I told everyone I knew I was looking for a job in the publishing field, and this led to a relative giving me a contact list of editors-in-chief, which was so valuable. When young people come to me on their own or through a friend, I offer up what I can, remembering that is also how I got my start. And even if there are companies that interest you but don’t have openings, ask if you can meet near their office for a coffee, do a Zoom session, or stop by for 30 minutes for an informational interview. If you impress, you will be remembered when there is a job opening.
Interested in learning more about career options in publishing, media, or communications? Check out our Communications, Entertainment & the Arts career community, and chat with Megan Aley, Career & Internship Specialist for this industry.