We popped along to the first of SYP’s two events at London Book Fair (Tuesday 14th), and we weren’t alone. Only standing room was left before it even started, a room divided between publishing students and people generally interested in the field looking for career advice, and there was an excellent panel on hand to deliver.
First up was Helen Youngs, Recruitment Consultant at Inspired Selection, followed by Dr Alison Baverstock (Associate Professor, Journalism/Publishing, Kingston University), Bridget Shine, the Chief Executive of the Independent Publisher’s Guild, and Resourcing Manager at Penguin Random House, Ellie Pike.
SYP career talks are very informative, but also quite detailed, so grab your specs to learn about skills, CV and interview tips, as well as recommendations on how to get into publishing, with or without a degree. The information is invaluable!
“The world is your oyster.”
Helen’s focus is on the skills needed to get into publishing, and she’s keen to note that there are lots of jobs and all departments are equally important for a publisher to run. The world is your oyster. For an assistant at entry level, there’s a whole host of skills and tips she gives:
- Assist and support staff.
- Be efficient.
- Master your admin skills and email manner.
- Working temp jobs like retail beforehand will give you lots of transferable skills, so don’t feel you’re going in with nothing if this is your first publishing job.
- Be flexible and open minded – say yes to opportunities.
- You’ll be a digital native in most cases, use that to your advantage.
- Being proactive adds strings to your bow.
- Be inquisitive, never be afraid to ask.
- Research – you’ll do a hell of a lot of it in the job hunt process and beyond.
- Be yourself and recognise your own key skills. We’re all very different, and all have our own strengths and weaknesses.
“Life is relevant to publishing.”
Picking up from where Helen left off, Alison feels that getting involved and being nosy is important, it shows a desire to know more and better understand things, and that life is relevant to publishing. Everything is. Her focus is on the degree side; while it isn’t compulsory to have a degree to work in publishing, she feels there are a number of benefits:
- Thinking precedes better doing – there’s a value in spending time learning about things before you do them, in understanding more than just the department you’re in.
- You gain an overview of the industry – it exposes you to new opportunities you might not have heard of.
- Teaches you about yourself – you’ll learn what you enjoy and what you’re good at and, ideally, the job you end up in with combine both.
- Enables you to offer value before you arrive – you could have a placement within the course, continuous relevant assignments, practical skills and a broad industry overview.
Her final, and perhaps most important point, is that publishing is a people industry and the professional and personal networks you forge are for life.
“The smaller the publisher, the more experience.“
Bridget’s first point is on publisher size: if you’re looking for experience, you’ll get a broader range of hands on work in smaller publishers, who don’t have large enough teams to strictly departmentalise. She, too, has some key tips:
- Have a plan. There’s no magic wand to get you into publishing, but having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t change it over time.
- Skill up! Lots of skills you can acquire on your own – office, social media. She adds you should think about how you want to be interpreted on places like Twitter.
- “Data is the new rock ‘n’ roll” – Metadata. It’s not just an excellent quote, but an industry feeling: understanding Google analytics, and the likes, is a good start.
- Attention to detail: Paramount in the industry, and can be acquired through practice.
- Issues: Discoverability. Have a voice/presence on Twitter. Can help networking and getting yourself known.
- “We’re a people industry and relationships matter.”
- When applying, only go for jobs you actually have a chance of getting. If it says 5 years experience and you don’t come close, you’re wasting both your and their time.
- Don’t say you like reading. That’s a given. Maybe be ready for the question on what you are reading, as that can be picked up on instead.
“Make your application stand out.”
For some Penguin Random House roles, they’re getting hundreds of applications, notes Ellie, so you need to make your application stand out. Keep your CV simple, pay attention to detail, be consistent and offer specifics. With your cover letter, there are some more important chances to set yourself apart:
- Why do you want this job? It’s the most important part and links you and your abilities to the role.
- Link it to the publishing and the publisher, make it specific to their output. Pay extra level of detail to reference authors on their lists or campaigns you enjoyed.
- Commercial awareness – knowing the area you would work in and demonstrating that is great.
- Don’t repeat your CV. For one, it’s pointless, but it’s also wasting the opportunity to really set yourself apart.
- Use your initiative to ask who to direct the application to – they’re always happy to give names over Twitter to those who ask.
- Keep it to one page.
The other important part Ellie looks to cover is the digital video interview, a new way publishers are looking at interviewing candidates (HarperCollins’ new Graduate Scheme utilises it from the start). This gives them the opportunity to consider more candidates, and for those outside of London, or the given area, to partake with less hassle.
- Usually 5-10 questions.
- If you move onto a face-to-face interview, they know more about you and it will be a richer discussion.
She knows loads of people are horrified by being filmed, but she has some tips:
- Practice – it makes perfect!
- Check your tech! There’s nothing worse than it not working when you need it to.
- Don’t waffle.
- Content over style.
The floor is opened to questions, to which the panel say that it is entirely possible to start out in the industry part time to gain experience, but those positions can be rare as everyone goes for them. The smaller publisher tip comes up again, to utilise the experience for most skills. Apply for full time roles too, they say, and sell yourself, or send speculative letters. Many can be flexible for the right candidate. Freelancing is another fundamental part of the industry to gain experience.
“The industry has a great tradition of relying on external help.”
Non-native speakers are encouraged to apply as languages are an asset to a publisher, not a disadvantage. They note to make sure your CV is flawless, to show you can communicate well in English as well as offering new skills in your native language.
And breathe. Feel like you can take on the publishing world now? Us too. If you’re interested in joining the SYP and keeping up to date with our exciting events surroundings publishing, you can find the information here. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for regular updates via the sidebar!