#SYP101: Internships Anonymous

internshipsThe publishing industry has a complex relationship with internships. How can those of us trying to break into the industry gain experience, but ensure we are not being exploited? When we picked our theme for this year’s conference, it seemed natural to include a session on the subject. What was less clear was how we could best organise a session that would encourage participation from those who had completed placements with flying colours, those who had horror stories, and those who were unsure what to expect from internships.

We settled on a closed door session chaired by our very own Catriona Cox, so this post will avoid giving away the details of any individuals or companies. Luckily there were plenty of tips that weren’t unique to our contributors’ experiences, which we can divulge!

Your expectations should be met!
Several contributors commented that their placements were not what they expected – in some cases, the specific details from the placement advertisement were scrapped completely. As an intern, you should be given the opportunity to learn new skills, to gain experience relevant to your future career in publishing, and to receive feedback on your work. If the tasks set during your internship aren’t what you were expecting, ask if there are other things that you can do. Particularly if you are working without pay, you should be compensated with valuable learning experiences to help further your career.

Don’t be afraid to say yes! Equally, don’t be afraid to say no…
As an intern, you may be asked to undertake tasks you are not immediately comfortable with. If your discomfort is due to immorality, or even illegality, don’t be afraid to turn the task down. We heard from contributors who were told to complete personal errands for their employers, which interns really shouldn’t have to do.

If you simply have not completed a type of task previously, perhaps using specific software, you may not know where to start. In this respect, leaving your comfort zone is an excellent opportunity to gain new skills. On that note…

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Asking for guidance does not equate to weakness. Catriona pointed out that quite the opposite is true – admitting that you don’t know something requires confidence. Throughout your career, you will find that there are others in the industry who know more than you, and this is never more true than when you are starting out. Asking questions enables you to get the most out of your internship.

One size doesn’t fit all…
As the publishing industry strives to recruit a more diverse workforce, the notion that one size does not fit all is becoming ever more applicable. Unpaid internships are simply not an option for all aspiring publishers. Find a career path that suits you, and remember that relevant experience can take different forms, and need not be industry specific.

Though we were delighted to hear from contributors who had been offered jobs with their host companies after completing their internships, all internships do not result in permanent employment. Publishing is a tight-knit industry, however, and those who have had excellent interns, but are not in a position to hire, will recommend them to others.

Catriona finished up on a truly positive note – publishing is a supportive industry, and people do want to talk to you, and help you wherever possible.

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