Working for Sweet Cherry as an Editorial Assistant has been a great learning experience. I find myself completing a variety of tasks on a daily basis: I read manuscript submissions, have a role in different stages of the editing process, attend book launches and update the publishing schedule, to name but a few. I frequently discuss the editorial approach with Cecilia so we can be well-coordinated and consistent with our projects. I also work with Elena in production to check over texts before they are sent to print.
Throughout my time at university I was determined to get a First. I didn’t know what career I wanted but I would have that First. I still took part in extracurricular activities though, but because I enjoyed doing them, not to fill my CV. You have to have an interest in what you’re spending your time on. Some of these included writing for the student newspaper, being an international student buddy, and completing an optional module in Mandarin. During my studies I was a regular competitor in university swimming competitions. In case you’re interested, I still got my First and I even got an MA. The important things to remember are time management and not to overload yourself. Recognise your limits and don’t go over them. There’s no point in working four jobs to gain experience if you’re so burned out by the end of it you can’t do your university work, or you end up sleeping for days.
Never forget that with an arts degree, you can do anything; you just need to know how to sell it. Focus on your transferable skills and knowledge, and try not to limit yourself because of what you studied. I still get people asking me if I’m going to be a history teacher. I have no intention of going down that road, (though I have, of course, the greatest respect for those who do) but it’s often the only thing people assume you can do with a History degree.
After my MA I still wasn’t sure what to do, so I won a place on a scholarship programme with the British Council, allowing me to go to China to learn Mandarin. This enabled me to boost my CV and my language skills, both of which are essential when job hunting. Plus, I got to go and live in China, almost for free, which was amazing! Foreign travel or study isn’t essential, but it does signal to an employer your willingness to expand your horizons and learn from other countries’ ways of doing things.
Looking for work is a job in itself and the only way to achieve your goals is determination. When I came back to the UK I worked in McDonald’s for 18 months so I could build up work experience. In those 18 months I learned so much, both about myself and about other people. It makes you look at work with a completely different outlook when you know you need that job or you can’t pay rent. Never think that you’re above something, or that it isn’t valuable. All work experience is good experience. People said to me repeatedly, ‘it’s easier to find a job when you have a job’, and they’re right, even if you are sick of hearing it. Proving you can be responsible, turn up for work on time and follow instructions from your superiors is actually quite important, even if all it feels like you’re doing is selling people hamburgers and destroying your brain cells. Don’t get me wrong, it was not smooth sailing, and I had days where I questioned my life choices, but just remember, you’re not alone.
In my free time, I volunteered anywhere and everywhere, constantly looking for opportunities to further my skill set. I made contacts through this with people who gave me enormous support in my search for a job. Two of the most valuable places I volunteered at were the council and with my local paper, working as an editor. I also continued learning Mandarin in evening classes, mostly because I enjoy it. It’s important to have some downtime. I appreciate that learning Mandarin might not be everyone’s idea of downtime, but the idea behind it is: have a break!
You absolutely need to prove to your potential employer that you are proactive and determined. Take part in a wide variety of activities to show that you can successfully achieve different goals. I think for me, as someone who wasn’t totally certain about their future career, keeping my options open was essential. A good friend of mine told me that a study proved women will only apply for a job if she can tick off 90% of the person specification. A man will apply if he can tick 60%. It’s all about how you sell yourself. Take that 60% and prove that you are special, that you are worth taking on, that you will contribute something to the team.
I probably found cover letters the hardest part of job applications, because they can’t be too long but you want to show off how much you can do. They’re not impossible though. Be concise. Go through the list and make sure you give an example of how you meet every single essential requirement. If there’s room, go through the desirables. Make sure your letter makes sense and is easy to read. Always ask someone else to read it. Employers receive hundreds of these things, if you can’t write well they aren’t going to read it.
My final piece of advice of how to get a job in publishing is: be patient. There are dark days ahead of you, but push through and keep trying. There’s no shame in rejection, but learn from it and move on. After interviews, I used to take time out to relax and the next day I would sit down and think about how it went. I found I had so much adrenaline going through my system that that worked best for me. But everyone works differently. Which leads me on to my final, final piece of advice: you do you.
Good luck, and don’t fluff it up.