Desperate for Work Experience in the Publishing Industry?? Here's How...

Charlee OwenStarred Page By Charlee Owen, 11th Aug 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Jobs>Careers

Whether its magazines, books or newspapers, the publishing industry is a shark tank. Work experience is beyond essential if you stand a chance of breaking into these media hubs; starting out myself I have already experienced first-hand the ruthless nature of this selection process and if you're going to do it, you need plenty of inside information to get your foot firmly wedged under the table..

So what do I know about Work Experience in the publishing world?

Entering my third year of university I am by no means any different from the thousands of other students trying to prepare for an ever-more ominous future. At the beginning of the year I was desperate for anything that would help me break through the shatterproof walls even work experience holds up nowadays and these pointers gave me a great kick-start in the right direction. The people I worked with were fountains of knowledge and I shamelessly took full advantage.

To date, I have completed a week each in Heat magazine (editorial) and Woman’s Own (in lifestyle) and lined up two weeks at Headline Publishing for Christmas and another with the Southern Daily Echo newspaper next Easter.

I hope that by sharing the invaluable advice I gained about getting into the industry and what I learnt along the way will benefit you as much as it did me because when you finally get there, its worth it!

1. Be Realistic

Ask as far in advance as possible. In your cover letter always offer your availability almost immediately, show your flexibility and mention you are willing to arrange for next Christmas/Easter/summer if this is more convenient to them. Any requests just before the summer holidays for those following months will be ignored so be organised. The only exception may be if you are using a contact (see later section). Don’t forget smaller, local publications which are also easier to access - London is expensive and competitive!

2. Perseverance is the key!

Take one industry at a time & (sorry to be blunt) be prepared for rejection every step of the way. I sent around 50 individual letters to all sorts of publications and would be rewarded with silence or a rejection letter at best from every single one. There is no way to sugar-coat the fact it is a painful, disheartening process but it isn’t personal. They are simply overwhelmed with requests and the larger companies can have waiting lists of 2years or so.

It is usually an issue of time – people simply don’t have it. At Heat magazine I witnessed around 30 messages a day bombarding email and post boxes all saying the same thing over and over. Many emails also get sent straight to junk folders simply due to unrecognised addresses.

But don't despair!

Look out for official internship programs (Now magazine runs a few) and social networking sites occasionally advertise some so follow/like as many pages as possible on the off-chance an opportunity comes up. Also ask around your friends, family & colleagues and track down absolutely anybody who has a connection in your chosen industry - exploit every contact you can find.

Meanwhile, try to gain names or addresses for editorial, lifestyle and personal assistants or interns rather than directly to the editors as these are usually the people who deal with ‘workies’.

I gained the Daily Echo newspaper experience after receiving an automated response from the editor saying he was away and to contact his personal assistant if it was urgent. I sent the same message to this fresh contact and she was the one who responded.

3. The dreaded cover letter - time is everything

Every cover letter must be individually crafted to the company you are trying to get into. This can be very time consuming but NEVER duplicate the same one – it is always noticeable. Do not under-estimate flattery, mentioning specific articles you enjoyed and how you could relate/contribute to the publication (keep it short & sweet!) Subject headers are the thing I always struggle with. You want to stand out and get it opened but it’s hard not to be generic; be creative but be careful to keep it professional, not desperate or annoying.

ALWAYS proofread as spelling mistakes/typos/auto-formats happen to the best of us!! Reread the last line. Seriously, proofread it again – trust me!

Your CV needs to be ONE PAGE . I am also terrible at this but you must be cruel to be kind. They will honestly not spend more than 30seconds scanning it. It needs to flow from one section to another smoothly, highlighting relevant experience/skills/attributes to the industry. It is perfectly acceptable to alter the typical order of CV layouts to relate it to the experience/job you are aiming for as long as it’s all on there somewhere. Try not to cram in too much information (my weak spot!) as it looks crowded, confusing and time-consuming to read. Short & succinct!

Also feel free to be creative with it. The media is a dynamic industry and as long as it includes the right criteria and looks professional anything goes. Here is a brilliant example my last co-worker Alice showed me: Although you don’t have to go quite so far it proves a point!

4. It's not what you know...

Everyone has to start somewhere and if you know somebody who knows somebody, they are often more than happy to help you get your foot in the door. I landed experience at Heat magazine with my friend’s sister by dropping it into every conversation I had with people – sometimes inadvertently (the same way I found my housemates for third year but that’s another story) and you’d be surprised – it’s a small world!

By summer I was looking for another; having left it so late I sent out a desperate plea via my facebook status asking if anyone knew anyone in the industry. Almost immediately I got a response from somebody I had worked with in a bar over 2years before, whose sister worked in Woman’s Own lifestyle magazine.

In both instances I was able to choose my dates and skip the queue so it is definitely worth asking around. For this reason, when you get there, network like crazy!

5. First impressions are (also) everything

If you are friendly, enthusiastic and complete tedious tasks graciously you are more likely to become involved in more exciting projects, learn important skills and contribute more directly to the overal publication. Your co-worker is also more likely to warm to you and adapt your time towards the areas you are most interested in.

Remember they also have a job to do and will not be able to babysit you the whole time so be respectful. This may all sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many people turn up expecting to be interviewing celebrities and writing articles then drop out and leave everyone in the lurch.

If you are struggling, keep in mind how hard you worked (or might have had to) to get where you are. There are thousands of others who would do anything to be in your position so make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. You will not be doing ground-breaking projects and you must be prepared for some mind-numbingly boring tasks (think Devil Wears Prada), partly because there’s not always that much to do and partly because they need to gain confidence in your abilities.

To give you some idea of what to expect, here are some typical tasks I undertook at Heat and Woman’s Own magazine:

- Research for stories, writing web articles for their sites, proofreading horoscopes
- Sorting and handing out post, photocopying, errands
- transcribing interviews, updating book/music archives with press release info
- using the phone, contacting PR companies to order samples and images
- picture mark-ups (counting every single image in each issue of the magazine

Even if you realise halfway through it’s not for you, it’s worth hanging in there to grasp any other inspiration that’s floating about and in the meantime enjoy the chance to soak up the atmosphere and observe the day-to-day running on the office.

6. You are being watched

While you’re there speak to as many people as you can and become on friendly terms with the people you are working closest with as these are the people you may need to contact in the future if your progress runs dry. You then have more chance of gaining more advice, further contacts and being recommended. People talk within industries and it’s all about getting noticed in a positive light. I wouldn’t have got anywhere without the fantastic people I met along the way.

You also need references. One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to ask for your referees and work experience co-ordinators to write 2-3 lines about you and attach a couple at the end of each letter for an immediate first impression.

It is also a good idea to get your co-worker to look over your CV and cover letter for any advice they have and perhaps go for lunch and spend some time talking about where you want to go and how to get there. It surprised me how small the offices where with teams of around 30 – some less. This gives you an idea of how competitive it is to get into these positions with so few available and how vital it is to make an impact at every opportunity.

7. It's all a massive learning curve..

Work experience is not only essential for employers in showing you are serious about the career you want, but also for you. It took two different magazines for me to realise this particular sector isn’t for me but every experience moves you forward and its all valuable as you gain many transferable skills to apply in others.

Much of this advice should be credited to one of my work experience colleagues Giselle Wainwright who has given me a kick-start into this profession with loads of ideas, help & encouragement in this often disheartening process. You may not be feeling confident you have the right skills, chances or motivation to get where you want to be but she worked her way up the ladder without contacts, using a degree in fashion, internships and a positive, ambitious attitude...

Now all you've got to do is make it happen! Good Luck!


Books, Career Tips, Desperate, Essential, Experience, Experiments, Graduates, How To, Magazine, Newspaper, Publishing, Students, Summer, Work Experience

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author avatar Charlee Owen ~ literature, psychology, travelling, art, writing, volunteering & languages.

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