Almost everyone does more than one internship before they find a permanent job. In the six years I’ve been managing the Internship Programme at Profile Books the number of placements I see on prospective intern CVs has gone up. In 2012, it was one or two. The average now (before they even get interviewed for our internship) is four. Most of these are for placements of less than one month – many of them only one or two weeks. You might not think something so short-term could provide any useful training. But even a one-week placement somewhere can be valuable if you go in with a plan.
- Think about what you want to get from your time BEFORE you start
This means more than just knowing which department you want to work in. Look at the adverts for your ideal job, check out the required skills and use your internships to pick up the ones you’re missing. Are your Excel skills a bit rusty? Never had a chance to play around with Biblio? Photoshop and InDesign courses beyond your budget? A one-week placement is more than long enough to get to grips with the dreaded Excel mail merge or become familiar with the basics of Biblio. A month gives you the chance to follow along with You Tube tutorials and master the basics of InDesign and Photoshop.
Make yourself a list of key skills and work your way through it. Treat every internship, no matter how short, as a chance to check something off that list.
2. Questions, questions, questions
One of the first things I tell Profile interns is that the only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask me. Internships are about learning, and though I’ve seen your CV, I have no idea what you don’t know. I expect you to ask questions. I WANT you to ask questions.
Ask questions about work you’ve been asked to do. Ask questions about work other people are doing. Ask questions about aspects of publishing you don’t understand. Then, ask follow-up questions.
If you are applying for jobs while on an internship (and you should!), talk to people doing that role. Ask them to spare twenty minutes over coffee for a chat about what they did before they got a job and what to expect once you land one.
Ask someone more senior in the department to sit down with you and discuss what skills they look for in someone applying for an entry level role. Check their suggestions against your list.
3. Investigate the connections
This goes hand in hand with asking questions. At Profile, the internship is a little bit of everything all the time. Elsewhere (especially at bigger houses) you might be working with a single department in isolation. Remember that Publicity is not an island. Editors don’t sell books by magic. Find out how different departments work together, how they rely on one another. If nothing else, you’ll know where to go when deadlines loom and problems seem insurmountable. And who knows – you might find some love for an area of publishing you hadn’t even considered.
4. Ask for the good stuff
You can get through an internship doing little more than printing press releases, checking indexes, and sorting the post, but that’s not going to give you anything much to talk about at your next interview. Speak to people doing the job you want and ask if there are any projects you can help with. Put your best effort in to that task and ask for another. The most successful interns we’ve had have been able to talk at interview about how experiences from their previous placements directly related to the job they are applying for.
5. Keep in touch
When you leave, make sure someone has your contact details. If you’ve impressed us, yours will be one of the first names we think of when we hear about job openings.
Alia McKellar is the Office Manager at Profile Books and has managed the Internship Programme there since 2012. She rages about unpaid placements on Twitter as @AliaMcK.