January’s SYP event was one for interns: those who want to work in publishing but aren’t sure how to get their foot in the door, or those who wonder what to do to keep them there once they’ve snagged an internship.
Chaired by Rosie Howie of educational publisher Bright Red, the five guest speakers to give advice were Jessica Rodgers (The List), Kirstin Lamb (Barrington Stoke), Lois Wilson (Floris Books), Vikki Reilly (Birlinn) and Katie Moffat (Canongate). Here are some of the key points aspiring interns should note!
HOW TO GET A FOOT IN THE DOOR?
The way in which they got their foot in the door varies, from being a mandatory part of their Masters course to just plain old perseverance after working at Waterstones.
Publishing is a competitive industry, so presenting yourself well in your CV is key. Show your experience, even if it’s just working in a bookshop, or retail in general. Showing experience within the working world helps over pages of purely education, and many of the skills are transferable: communication, etc.
Show and tell is another way to catch interest, in that you include some images or proof of your work. It not only backs up your CV but can set you apart.
Also tailor your cover letter. The worst thing is when you copy and paste across various emails, only changing the publisher name, and showing nothing relevant or specific to the company you’re contacting. When emailing, you really should have their website open right beside it as reference throughout.
Use direct and active language, and if you put references it saves the employer effort of requesting them.
You’ve got your Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. But does your online presence impact your job application? It can play a part – some of those on the panel look people up, others don’t. Overall, though, an online presence doesn’t compare to meeting you in person, so don’t get too hung up on it.
Get a hold of the latest catalogue from the publishers and know what they’re publishing, most of all – know the business. They underline the point of doing your research, and studying their website and social media. You should also visit bookshops not purely as a punter – see displays and the books facing out, try understand what’s big and why, even chat to booksellers to get a better understanding.
Initiative is how to get recognised, be sure to make people aware of what you’ve done. Saying “I love books” is not enough to get into publishing, nor is it technically your skill set – without the right attitude and the willingness to roll up your sleeves and work, you won’t succeed.
The more you ask for and say yes to is good, but without totally stretching yourself. Take on responsibility for more work and those you work with will remember it (even put in a good worth with new employers, maybe!). Soaking up the day to day life of a publishing office will open you up to a whole new side of publishing – be a sponge. Even with rubbish jobs, do them to your best ability and use them to your advantage in future.
BIG DOS AND DON’TS
Be confident, even if you feel terrified on arrival at your first day. Be open, accepting and smiley. Don’t worry when you make a mistake and try cover it, just admit it and ask for help. Chances are you’d get caught out anyway…
More so, don’t struggle with something and keep it to yourself – you’re there to learn, and the staff are there to help you, so ASK! Asking questions isn’t something to be afraid of, not is it a weakness. In fact, they agree it shows that you’re listening, interested and paying attention. There should be questions – despite similarities in the business, each book is different. The Philadelphia movie quote “Explain this to me like I’m a six year old” works as a surprising mantra – it’s better to ask and understand properly than try to wing it.
HOW DO YOU TURN INTERNSHIPS INTO JOBS?
There comes a point where you’ve done a lot and it might not be going anywhere, but don’t stay just for the sake of it. Put yourself out there.
Having said that, a lot of the time it is just down to luck and timing. There does come a point where you might want to move sideways in viewing your career if nothing seems to be going anywhere after years of trying the same thing. Courses don’t always handle all the aspects of the business, so there might be new areas you hadn’t considered that are perfect for you. It’s just a case of exploring your options a little more.
HOW DO YOU KEEP IN TOUCH?
Ask those you worked with for a reference first of all. Plus, if the publisher hosts events like book launches make an effort to go. Most will have personal profiles on Twitter or Facebook, so it’s never been easier to keep in contact in that respect. Just attend events (like SYP!) because it’s a small community and people see each other all the time in these situations.
Don’t feel like you’re being a pain – many of the publishers talk about previous interns, wondering where they have gone on since the company and what they’re doing now, so they do like to hear from you now and then.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME…
And tell yourself one thing, before you’d started any internships, what would it be?
Intern while studying, not after graduation. Look more widely, pick and target more carefully. Go to more things and put your face out there – it helps you meet plenty of people, and often the right people for your career. Have confidence – it’s quite easy to think it’s fine to settle in and work away, but you still have to present yourself a bit. Get a showbiz face, people will remember you. Find an advocate to champion you.
With this host of advice, internships and putting yourself out there on the job front might not seem quite as scary any more. What are your experiences with interning? Any other tips you’d give?