'I looked at the next level and how to achieve it'

Conor McNicholas is the editor of New Musical Express (NME). The Shockwaves NME Awards are on 28 February.

What did you want to be as a child?

I was pretty aimless, although as a teenager I was in a band. I was also interested in media, writing and communicating.

Why did you study philosophy at Manchester University?

I applied to Queens College, Cambridge, and the interview was one of the worst weekends of my life; it was so alienating and lonely. Then I screwed up my A-levels and my mum said, "what do you actually want to do?" I said, "philosophy at Manchester", because of the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays.

How did you get into journalism?

I joined the student union newspaper and I was there, late at night, during production when the editor turned round and said, "We don't have any stars". So I made up an astrology column. Then I got involved with Sub, the free student newspaper.

You wrote for Ministry and Mixmag, became editor of Muzik and then, aged 28, editor of NME. How did you work your way up?

I was quite ambitious; I looked at the next level and how to achieve it. I was also good with ideas and developing them.

Do you consider yourself successful?

Yes. I couldn't hold this position for so long and not be. Before NME I'd worked on small title magazines and when I'd tell my mum I had a new job she'd say, "That's nice, I'll look out for it on the news stands," which meant she had no idea what I was talking about. When I told her about the NME job she said, "That's like editing the Complete Works of Shakespeare," because it's such an iconic brand.

Your interview tips?

Know what you're on about, understand the organisation and try to see things from their point of view. Be honest, if you don't have the answer then say so.

Your CV tips?

I want something entirely functional – where you've worked and your experience – or something informal and bouncy.

What motivates you?

Making things happen. When I walk into the O2 Arena next week with 18,000 people going mad, I get to stand on the side of the stage and think, I helped do this.

How do I get to be where you are?

I don't care if you've got a degree or not, but it helps to be a good writer. Start to make things happen now, getting experience is vital, so is loving the internet. I used to be very dismissive of media studies but universities are now creating multimedia journalists who are very valuable.

What's the best perk of your job?

Being able to go to any gig I want, but the best part happened a few minutes ago when the magazine came into the office. There is nothing like the thrill of the printed page, and that happens every Tuesday.