Dear Auntie Becca –
I really want to get into publishing but I’m finding my current work experience really boring! All I do all day is photocopy stuff and make teas and coffees. I feel like no one is appreciating my talents – are they taking advantage of me? I heard on TV lots of big companies just hire interns as slave labour!
Bored in Balham
(Thanks to Jemma Stern for the picture! )
Dear Bored in Balham,
Don’t give up! Life as an intern can be as exhilarating as it can be mind-numbing. One moment you’re face to face with your all time hero author and the next you’re photocopying eight-hundred newspaper clippings and you can’t remember if they’re meant to be in colour or black and white. We’ve all been there. And maybe that’s the point: we’ve all been there. Work experience is a necessary evil. Yes it’s often unpaid, and yes you might feel like you’re too qualified to be posted to the stationary cupboard, but it’s a great opportunity to meet new people, to get your name out there, and to show that you are enthusiastic about the industry.
Some of my best experiences have been working as interns. A week in a London agency for work experience turned into a month’s paid internship filling in for annual leave. Because I proved my capabilities in those first seven days, I was entrusted with all manner of secret documents, contracts and meetings – and I was still making the coffee. But coffee-making is an art in itself, and I don’t expect to lose those skills until my names on an office door and I have a PA to make that Starbucks run for me.
Sometimes as an intern it feels as though you are spending your hours grafting as free labour, but don’t forget: hundreds of students and young graduates send off their CVs for these positions. If you’re lucky enough to have your resume plucked from the heaving postbags, it means you’ve got potential, so make sure that your enthusiasm, willingness and energy makes you stand out from the crowd.
If eventually you think that maybe your tea making duties have been exhausted, don’t be scared to ask if there’s anything else you can help with, show interest, start-up conversations, show knowledge of the books you are working with and of authors that are hot on the scene. Make friends! The one thing I never expected of the work-experience treadmill was that I would come out the other side with a whole raft of friends that I hope will be around in 10 years’ time when I’ll have that office and the PA with the account at Starbucks….
In the meantime, coffee anyone?
(ed note from Sara OC: if you do feel as though you’re not getting enough out of your experience, try to talk to your supervising manager. Ask specifically for things to do: I’d like to read an agented submission; I’d like to see an editorial letter; can I see what a production schedule looks like?; are there any research projects you’d like done, etc. If that doesn’t help, perhaps talk to an HR person or even write a note of feedback to the manager after the internship is completed. Because it’s free, the departments you help out with have a duty to provide you with learning, a varied amount of activity and a bit of their time for explanation. And if they don’t, remember their name for when that office is yours…)