Almost everyone I know in publishing started out doing work experience, myself included. For some people it lasted for a couple of weeks, for others it stretched to months, and the merits/ethics of it have been debated for years. It’s an unfortunate reality that to land your dream job in publishing you sometimes have to work for free in one of the most expensive cities on the planet, but it can’t be denied that it’s an invaluable foot-in-the-door.
With the help of one of my colleagues at HC (as in, one of the lovely ladies who shares my open-plan pod), I have compiled what I hope is a helpful list of tips for people embarking on work experience for a publishing house.
This list presumes that you have a work experience placement already. In terms of getting a work placement, all I can say is keep an open mind and cast a wide net! I never expected to end up working on commercial non-fiction when my dream role was in SF/F, but I gained such valuable experience it’s worth doing whatever you can get your hands on! In the beginning, don’t worry about being pigeon-holed.
And now, on to the tips…
1. Be Friendly
It might sound obvious, but being friendly and polite is so important. You don’t need to be a social butterfly but if you make the effort to get involved – offer to help out on other teams, go for lunch or drinks when you’re invited and make an effort to get to know people in other departments – it’s much easier to be memorable. Publishing involves working closely with lots of different people, and so you should show you can work well in a team. Don’t worry about being bothersome – especially the junior staff, we know how you feel – we were probably in your shoes recently!
2. Be Willing
Say yes to everything (well, within reason!) There is nothing worse than having someone who thinks they are too good for certain duties, especially when they are things that we all have to do. Plus, you never know when something more interesting will come up.
3. Speak up
Sometimes the person in charge of you might forget to delegate work, or not give you enough to fill your time – if so, speak up! And make sure you let them know about things you might be most interested in. If you want some editorial experience, be sure to ask about checking proofs or if there’s some cover copy you might work on.
4. Be Flexible
One minute you could be working with an author and the next working your way through a pile of old newspaper clippings or making a mood board – you can’t expect to have all your work planned out from the beginning, deadlines will suddenly crop up and everything will be dropped to fulfill those needs.
5. Do Even the Crappy Jobs Well
This one for me is key. When you get into work experience there are some jobs that are just not going to be fun – making tea, franking post (yeah, I didn’t know what that meant until I started work experience either!), reorganizing bookshelves, or working the dreaded photocopier. But funnily enough, the effort doesn’t go unnoticed. And once we had a girl who made tea with used mugs, and so one editor got a cup with floating bits of chicken soup in it. We remembered her, but not in a good way.
And most importantly… Stay in Touch
Always stay in touch with the person who you worked for. You may want to use them as a reference or there may be a job that comes up in the future.
If anyone has any questions about these or any other pub tips, let me know!