The SYP and JFL Search and Selection Careers Evening: How to get a job in the recession

Posted on November 3, 2009 in Uncategorized

This year’s careers evening (ran by the SYP in association with JFL, Inspired Selection, Harper Collins and Bookcareers.com) saw Waterstone’s Simpsons room packed out with job seekers eager to soak up the advice from the four publishing recruitment consultants. Whether looking for your first job in publishing or trying to make that difficult next step up the ladder there was plenty of helpful information on how to try and stand out from the masses and get yourself noticed – especially welcome at a time when there seems to be very little opportunity out there. After hearing from the speakers, members of the audience queued up for the free C.V. consultation clinics on offer while the rest of the room set about enjoying the free drinks and networking.

First to speak was Ros Kindersley, Managing Director of JFL Search and Selection. As someone who has been recruiting for the publishing industry for the last 20 years, Ros has seen it all and knows better than anyone what exactly it is that recruiters are looking for in potential employees. First Ros addressed the main issues that are the forefront of job seeker’s minds:
·         What should I do if I don’t have a job at all? – Turn this to your advantage. This means that you are ‘available immediately’ which is definitely a plus for any employer looking to fill a role as quickly as possible. Also, this means that you have plenty of time to look for jobs and properly research roles and companies. It’s easy to get down hearted when you are unemployed but this time can be spent with plenty of active pursuits.
·         Keep an open mind! For those who filled in the questionnaire prior to the evening the results were not that surprising – the majority of job seekers are looking to get into editorial. Moreover, the majority of those are looking to work in trade fiction. Ros urged job seekers to properly give thought to other areas. There are plenty of other sections to consider and once you have your first break in the industry you can always change route. Even if you want to work in editorial, employers will be looking to see if you have a good knowledge of publishing as a whole. It is vital to understand how sales and marketing and production etc work and what their relationship with editorial is. Also, keep an open mind about the type of publishing you want to get into – the majority of jobs available are in Educational, Academic and STM publishing. The reality is that jobs sitting editing the next Booker Prize winner are few and far between and many promising opportunities can be missed out on if you try and stick to too rigid a path in your pursuit of the perfect job.
·         Where to find jobs? Aside from the obvious choices such as recruitment agencies, online (Bookseller website, The Guardian, SYP website) and word of mouth at networking events there is also the age-old trick of ‘being in the right place at the right time’. One way you can try and make sure this happens is, you guessed it, work experience! As was to be emphasised throughout the rest of the night, work experience is one of the most valuable things you can do to try and get into publishing. As well as showing your dedication, it is invaluable in making contacts in order to make sure you are the first person that springs to mind if and when a vacancy does become available.
·         What do recruiters want? Recruiters are looking for evidence. Evidence that you want to get into publishing. As well as getting involved with associations like the SYP, the best thing you can do to demonstrate ‘evidence’ is, again, work experience.
The Interview.
Ros encouraged job seekers not to see this as the terrifying ordeal that many do. Instead treat it as an opportunity. Some of the advice might have seemed obvious but it is important not to become blasé about the interview.
1.     Preparation is the key. Research the role – know what will be expected of you in the role and also find out as much as possible about the company – you will be asked and expected to know.
2.     Arrive on time and remember that you are ‘on trial’ from the moment you press the buzzer, so bear this in mind with everyone that you deal with. This includes members of reception, for example.
3.     Wear clothes you feel comfortable in. Obviously it is important to look smart but if you are the type of person that is visibly uncomfortable wearing a suit, this will radiate from you and make you look unconfident.
4.     Non-verbal communication. Amazingly, the actual words coming out of your mouth only count for a tiny percentage of how the interviewer judges you. It is the way you say it as well as your body language that gives away your true colours. Try and pick up on any habits you might have that may become particularly obvious when you are nervous.
5.     Another handy tip– When asked a question try and be aware of your eyes. If you look up to the left it means you are remembering something. If you look up to the right it means you are imagining something (i.e. lying). The seasoned interview will pick up on this, even if it is only subconsciously. (Although perhaps don’t take this advice too literally; you might look a bit strange if you spend the whole interview staring up at the left hand corner of the room.)
6.     There are different types of questions you will be asked throughout the interview:
·         Direct questions – For example, ‘Where do you live?’, ‘How long were you in your last role?’ Such questions require concise, precise answers and you should resist the temptation to ramble on.
·         Open questions – These will often start with ‘Tell me about’ or ‘Describe for me’. These are designed to start a discussion and you should be prepared to give longer answers to these.
·         Opinion questions – Again, you should be well prepared for these. These could be on any topic really but you should be prepared to give your thoughts on what is happening in the industry and your favourite types of books for example. Questions like these are a good opportunity to let your personality shine through and build a rapport with the interviewer.
·         Competency based questions – A ‘competency’ is a combination of skills, knowledge and experience required to form a certain task. To prepare for these look at the key criteria for the job.
·         Motivation and work ethic – In order to establish these qualities you should be prepared to discuss what you have done in order to achieve your goal to get into publishing. For example, state your situation (unemployed), your objective (to get a job) and then list the actions you have taken to achieve the objective (work experience, networking).
·         Finally, make sure you have some questions prepared of your own!
7.     Follow up the interview with an email thanking the interviewer for their time and expressing an interest in the job
            
Next up to offer their pearls of wisdom for jobseekers was Tim Palmer, Talent Attraction Manager at HarperCollins. Tim emphasised the importance of recruiters in a company as large as HarperCollins. As the people who work at a company are its very life-blood it is important that all is done to attract the best talent in the industry. One step that HarperCollins has taken to do this is to run a graduate scheme, the only publisher at the moment doing so. The alarming news was that this scheme received over 1,000 applicants this year which was a stark reminder of the scale of the competition out there.
 
Know the industry. Tim agreed with Ros on the point that any interviewer will expect you to be up-to-date with what is happening in the industry – especially the DIGITAL IMPACT!
 
Work experience – Of the whole panel, Tim was one of the strongest advocators of work experience and could not stress enough how valuable this could be in getting that first job. He readily acknowledged that working for free was by far not the easiest option but encouraged job-seekers to do all that they could to make sure they got this opportunity – even if it does mean taking an extra job in the evening.
 
When applying for work experience, do not just apply and then sit back and wait. Find out who it is deals with work experience applications and phone them up and get them to remember your name. Once you have got the work experience make sure that you make the most of your experience. This means being extremely proactive. Before you go there find out who it is you would like to meet and speak to and what you want to learn from them.
 
Tim finished by emphasising how important it was to persevere. Publishing is a difficult industry to get into and the experience can be down-heartening at times. However, if you want it bad enough it will happen. Have a clear idea of where it is you want to go in your career and how your research, work experience and networking can help you get there.
Next up to speak was Orna O’Brien of the Publishing Training Centre. This is a non-profit organisation that offers short courses, distance learning and in-house training for everyone who works in publishing, or uses publishing skills in their business.
Orna made an interesting point about publishing and training. We call ourselves ‘professionals’ but we differ from most other professions, such as doctors and lawyers, in that we do not traditionally go through any vocational training. Publishers enter the industry and are suddenly expected to know how to put together a book. Obviously learning on the job is how it is done and is the best way of learning the business. However, there are certain skills such as editing, desktop publishing etc that can be taught out with the workplace, making you more prepared and a bigger asset as a new employee. This is partly why publishing MAs, while by no means a pre-requisite to gain entry into the business, are becoming ever more popular. The centre started with two courses, imaginatively called ‘Editorial 1’ and ‘Editorial 2’ but now there are many to choose from.
Orna also raised the importance of having a Personal Development Plan. While this is something that you may have been made to do at university, or through your work, it is definitely worth taking the time to make one on your own. To quote The Peter Principle, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else’. Your written plan should cover:
·         Goals and intentions
·         An assessment of what your skills are
·         An action plan. This can include training courses to take and smaller goals – such as attending SYP events.
You also need to adopt an on-going review policy. When you have landed your first job it is easy be tempted to be sit back and relax. It is important to keep progressing and thinking what the next best step to take is towards your ultimate goal.
Orna also stressed the importance of work experience – this can even be volunteering from your own home. Many companies, charities for example, will welcome the skills of editors etc. Another important way to increase your marketability, especially at the moment, is to remain digitally savvy. There is a huge need for understanding in this area at the moment and it will definitely set you ahead of the game if you possess digital skills.
Suzanne Collier is the Business Manager of BookCareers. As well as keeping an online register of those looking for jobs in the industry (CV Clearing House) she is about to launch a job club for those who are unemployed and looking for publishing jobs. She started by discussing what is arguably your biggest tool in the job-hunt – your C.V. Think of it as a marketing tool for yourself. Essentially, it is your ticket to the interview and it is important that it sells you as quickly and clearly as possible. Think of the three main points on your C.V. that sell you. Now look at your C.V. If you cannot find these three things within ten seconds of looking at it, then you can be fairly certain an employer won’t. It seems a short amount of time but the reality is that this might be all that an employer might give your C.V. when faced with hundreds of applications.
Another piece of advice Suzanne gave was to resist the temptation to lie or exaggerate on your C.V. Employers will be aware that the reality is that you probably spent your two weeks work experience stuffing envelopes. This does not mean that you did not spend the time learning about the functionality of a publishing house, for example. It is better to say something like this about the experience rather than making unrealistic claims about what you did. One thing that you do not want to come across as is dishonest.
Suzanne was also keen to emphasise the importance of keeping your CV completely mistake free. It does seem obvious but apparently more than 50% of people registered with the CV Clearing House have mistakes in their CVs and it goes without saying this is the biggest faux pas you can commit when applying for a publishing role, especially an editorial one. Finally remember to attach the attachment! We’ve all done it but a job application is not a time you can afford to make any such unprofessional mistakes.
Following the four speakers there was some time to ask the panel members some questions after which people queued up for the free CV clinics as the rest of the room enjoyed some drinks and nibbles whilst partaking in that ultimate career step – networking!
Claire Robertson