Monday, June 30, 2014

Publishing work experience: five things to think about before you apply

Meet Elizabeth Bingham

If you organise them well, work experience placements can be interesting, stimulating and informative. Get it wrong, and you may find yourself stuffing envelopes for days on end. It partly depends on luck; some employers are more clued up than others. But if you want to make sure you get the most out of your publishing placements, there are certain steps you can take before you apply. 

Here are five things I wish I’d known when I started out…

1.       Bigger isn't always better

It’s tempting to think that your career will be made if you get a big name on your CV. That’s definitely not the case when it comes to work experience. Generally you’ll learn more and take on a greater variety of tasks at smaller publishers, since job roles tend to be more fluid – editors may get involved with marketing, rights, or design and vice versa. At larger publishers you’re more likely to be restricted to a single department. Also, it’s easier to get a sense of the business as a whole when you go to a smaller publisher, which will help with your ‘commercial awareness’ – something that recruiters bang on about a lot. But if you do decide to go big…

2.       Keep your finger over the mouse

Or touch screen, or clicky thing on your laptop – whatever it may be. Some of the big book publishing houses’ placements, usually those advertised on Facebook and Twitter, only stay up for a day or so. Large publishers receive tons of applications – one entry level job I applied for got 400. It’s likely that the first, second and third applications received more attention than the 399th and 400th. When you get tired of refreshing your Facebook feed, it may be time to…

3.       Make speculative applications

Smaller publishers don’t advertise much. You’ll need go to them – do a quick Google search, find out what they publish, and send them a CV and covering letter stating your available dates and why you’re interested in them. It might feel a bit strange at first, but it does work. Just because they don’t have a careers page on their website doesn't mean that they don’t take on new staff or offer work placements. But wherever you go, make sure you...

4.       Buy a notepad

Keeping a record of what you've done will help you when you come to write CVs and prepare for interviews. It may also be a good idea to keep a glossary of key terms. Every industry has its jargon and while publishing may not be as bad as…say, law…there are a few things to watch out for. On one placement at an educational publisher I had to help make ‘flat plans’, which are documents editors use to map out the layout of a book. When I came to write it up on my CV, I couldn't remember what they were called. I eventually had to leave that bit off, because I didn't think it would sound too professional if I informed potential employers that ‘I made some things which tell you what page goes where’. Finally…

5.       Mix it up

Publishing is a diverse industry – it spans across books, magazines, social media, websites, academic journals, revision guides and so forth. To put it another way, any business which strings together some sentences for a general readership arguably has a publishing side to it. If you’re not sure which area of publishing interests you, doing a variety of placements will help you decide. Equally, if you think you are sure you may end up surprising yourself - for a long time I was adamant that I wanted to be a book editor, but since starting at TARGETjobs I've realised that there are a lot more options out there.

One last thing I would add is: keep it short and sweet. Work experience placements are rarely paid and you don’t want to spend too much time working for free. I’d recommend you don’t stay in one place for longer than a week; three or four days are really all you need to get a sense of how a business or department operates. Stick around much longer and by the end you may find that you’ve learned more about British postal services than about publishing or media.

Written by Elizabeth Bingham
GTI Media, Editorial Intern

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