You will probably not be surprised to hear that getting a job at a big London publisher like Harper Collins or Penguin first of all requires getting an internship or work experience. Above all it requires a plan.
The following technique has five stages to getting employed in one of these places and has got me to step 4 so far. Bear in mind that no-one seems to be running a formal graduate scheme at the moment so the following approach is not geared to getting onto an all encompassing graduate scheme – merely a job as and when it appears.
Step 1: Visit the website. Obvious enough, and you probably need to anyway just to get the address. Once on the website though, my advice is to ignore the job posts (they’ll ignore your application) and go straight to their information on graduate schemes (or lack thereof). In the case of Penguin and Pearson there is an open day once a year for graduates who want to go into publishing. Penguin were actually nice enough to reply to one of my job applications and say I had to attend this open day first. So, as per instructions, I applied for the open day. This requires the first of the covering letters and CVs you are going to have to write to them – make it good.
Step 2: Rock up to the event. The day is run by Pearson (the mother company) but is primarily a “Penguin” event. It consists of many different people from Penguin’s many different departments and imprints giving ten minute talks and answering your questions. They like you to have questions prepared, and my advice would be to think about the bits of a company like this you prefer, and what you’d want to know from someone working there. Most of the other people attending will only know a bit about publishing so their queries will probably be answered in each lecturette or sound obvious. You should be able to be more probing. Sit near the front and centre and stay on your toes – they only take three or four questions per speaker.
The most useful part of the day is the buffet lunch – you get to mingle with all the speakers. Don’t drift aimlessly! Really target people and get a really good conversation going. If they like you they will tell you to drop them a line or give you their card. Resist, unlike me, the urge to collar the one who didn’t help with your dissertation. Stick to people who you’d like to do work experience for. Obviously email them as soon as you get back so they remember you.
Step 3: Apply for work experience. In this case I applied through the website as told to do and heard nothing. Abandoning this plan I then contacted someone who gave me a card at the open day. This led me to publicity, though it was not an area I had considered before. I turned to the publicity manager, first because she gave me a card, second because she said publicity always needs extra labour and it was best to sidestep the formal website application with them.
Applying for work experience obviously involves writing your second cover letter and CV; remember the competition is enormous. Point out everything interesting about your publishing CV (projects, placements) and about you. Apparently I was given a placement because my CV showed I had worked in the same country that the girl reading the applications was born in. I suspect turning up to the open day and going directly through the publicity manager helped.
Step 4: This is the work experience and it lasts two weeks. There will be a lot of filing to do, obviously get on with it, but do not allow them to only give you filing tasks. Every day point out what you can do/have done on projects. I pointed out to the publicity department that I had done a placement at a newspaper office so they let me write a press release. Having done one they then gave me a list of press releases to do. This is an example of a more interesting task to do within your department of choice – and it means you are doing the same as the full-time assistant sitting next to you.
I would also highly recommend engaging everyone in deep conversation about a) The finer points of the department you are in, and b) The books they are publishing. You will be able to take copies home, and you should plough through every one until you have a good feel for it. Then you can start talking to the full-time staff about it and why you agree or disagree with the principles behind publishing and marketing it a certain way. You will have (half) read about six books by the end of your two weeks! I also asked for a fifteen-minute chat with the publicity manager about the mechanics of the publicity department.
Doing all this raises your profile, and it got me an invitation to tag along with a publicist as she went to meet an author, and take him to BBC Bush house. Sitting in the recording studio listening to the interview and chatting to the author were both pretty entertaining.
Step 5: This is where you get access to the [insert name of publisher]’s internal jobs board. Often vacancies are only advertised in house. I am still waiting.
The above technique sounds depressing but it is methodical and it is however bearing fruit – I have been invited to work in the publicity department of another Penguin imprint. It may not be a job offer but it is a positive step.