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17 February 2020

How to get work experience in publishing when you're at school

It’s that time of year, when Year 11/Year 12 students at secondary school start panicking about their work experience. Most do theirs in the summer holidays, when GCSEs are over. It can be done as one block of two weeks, or two blocks of one week with different employers.

Work experience isn’t mandatory, but the UK Government recommends that all pupils spend two weeks in a work environment. It also helps when applying to university or college, and starts young people thinking about career options. For some subjects, like Medicine or Law, it’s becoming almost a prerequisite to have done work experience at a relevant employer when applying to university.

If you’re interested in doing your work experience in publishing, here are some helpful tips to get you started.

Connections aren’t what they used to be

As publishing aims to become more diverse and inclusive, many companies no longer take referrals. Gone are the days when you could ask a friend of a friend to secure you a work placement. This is a good thing, as publishing needs to open up and be considered by everyone as a job option, not only those with connections.

That said, it can still be a route into an unpaid one- or two-week stint for those who are determined to ask around. If you haven’t already, invest in or borrow a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook from your local or careers library (Bloomsbury, £27.50). It’s a great resource for researching publishing companies you like, as it lists them all with full contact details. You can then follow up online or by contacting the publisher directly to see if they do have any schemes or consider requests.

It’s worth asking smaller publishing houses, with fewer employees, about work experience, especially if you live outside London. They will be more likely to consider you and it’s a great way to find out about the business. The fewer people in a company, the more you’ll be exposed to, and the more you’ll learn.

How to sell yourself

Focus on publishers who publish books in areas you love, subjects you’re studying, or want to study in future. Your enthusiasm will show in your communications and application. It will also help you, should you be successful, as those are the areas that you’ll be working in.

Remember to list all your skills, even if they seem basic. It’s helpful for a would-be employer to know that you can use Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Include details of any relevant experience that you have, whether it’s paid work, unpaid work or leisure activities. If you write a blog, make videos, run a fanzine, or design computer games, let people know.

School will probably have asked you to create a CV. If not, you’ll need to prepare one. You may want to create a profile on LinkedIn too.

Different application routes

Most of the big publishers don’t offer Year 11/12 work experience - among them Bloomsbury Publishing, Hachette (Hodder), Pearson, Simon & Schuster and Springer Nature (Macmillan, PanMacmillan). Others offer places via an application process, such as PenguinRandomHouse. HarperCollins advertises any openings on twitter, @JobsatHarper.

If you’re not already following publishers on social media, then you should. Don’t forget LinkedIn, as the HR department will post openings there and you can follow companies to see their posts.

Internships, apprenticeships and others

Some of the larger academic publishers like Cambridge University Press offer internships or apprenticeship schemes. These are designed for people over 18 who want to get into publishing, and work full-time, not those studying GCSEs or A’ levels. Companies need to pay people who do work for them, even a short time, either the minimum wage or the London Living Wage.

Work experience is exempt from this, so you won’t be paid for your time. Some companies cover travel expenses - it’s worth asking if that’s the case. Insurance can be another issue. Many employers only have cover for staff aged 18 years and older. If you are 15 or 16, then it may be too much trouble, and too expensive, to extend that cover for one person just for a week or two.

Don’t give up!

Publishing companies employ around 30,000 people in the UK. That’s tiny compared to the 2.9m who work in retail or the 1.2m in the NHS. There are many other organisations that publish books, magazines, websites and other content, as well. Do consider approaching them as the skills are transferable and much of what you learn will apply to publishing as well.

There’s nothing like work experience to give you a taste of what work is like. When you find it, make the most of it. And hopefully one day, you’ll be in a position to offer it to youngsters like yourself.

Good luck!

Petra Green

Petra Green is Head of the PTC. She has hosted Year 11 work experience students at previous employers and attends careers evenings in schools to advise those interested in a publishing career.