The Essential Guide to Publishing Work Experience

Nora Mahony illustrates the dos and don’ts of this rite of passage that so many young publishers go through.

Spare a thought for that much-maligned period in all of our publishing lives, those key and seemingly endless weeks of unpaid work experience. These tips are standard, but keep them in mind as you go — you’d be surprised how many people miss the mark and how easy it is to be remembered as a great candidate for upcoming entry-level jobs. 

For your application:
- Proofread your entire application — and now, do it again.
- Send it in on time and to the correct address. Allude to any extra materials in your cover letter, e.g. ‘writing samples available upon request’ or ‘my full design portfolio/ books blog can be viewed at www... 

On receiving the offer:
- Ask about any remuneration and what receipts, banking details, etc. you may have to provide.
- Ask about dates and times, hours of work, dress code, etc.
- If there’s time, request a catalogue so that you can read up. 

For your first day:
- Make an effort: brush your hair, shave, wear something clean, ironed and comfortable. Don’t wear anything too revealing.
- Arrive five minutes early.
- Introduce yourself.
- Be prepared to go with the flow at lunchtime and at the day’s end.

While at work
Say ‘yes’. When someone asks you to do something, smile and say ‘yes’. If you have been given multiple tasks simultaneously, continue to smile and say ‘yes’, and ask which task should take priority.

Do not use your mobile or iPod

Do not complain
If you are at the company for a while, try to speak to someone about the kind of work you’d like to do, but otherwise you can but make it known that you’d be Very Interested to Read Submissions, or that you would Really Love to Work on a Publicity Campaign.

Be prepared for the fact that some things can’t be delegated. Also, try volunteering for the jobs no one wants; if you do someone a favour, they are more likely to listen when you express your Passionate Interest in X.

Take an interest
Don’t understand why you’re doing something or how your task fits in to the bigger picture? When there’s a quiet moment, ask questions. Doing so will help you to get to know more of the staff, and will get you noticed and remembered.

Ask for a reference, or, if you got on particularly well with a certain staff member, ask if you could list them as a referee. Check with all referees what contact information you have permission to list. 

You stand to learn an enormous amount, make contacts and even get a job out of your placement, and (here’s the good part) you should only need to do this a few times before someone will look at all those lovely lines on your CV and give you a real job. Until then, try to enjoy it; it is, as they say, what you make it. So make the best of it and try to keep your wits about you and your sense of humour keen.

Nora Mahony is the owner of Parkbench Publishing Services, and ran many work experience placements while working at John Murray.  This article was originally published in InPrint.