Diary of a publishing intern: preparing for a sandwich year

ach September, many students go through the exciting but daunting process of enrolling into university. Meanwhile, the next wave of students are beginning to think about which open days they want to attend, and what they want from university. If you’re already thinking about your future career, it is at this point that most of the preparation, or at least thought, for work placements should be done. For some of us, our career plans first begin at university open days, and sometimes even earlier. It was certainly true for me that the English Literature open day was where it all began, months before I was accepted into university. My first choice was the University of Surrey, which offered all students a placement year.

At the UCAS day, these placement years were strongly recommended by lecturers, and I was even told that one girl went to New York on a publishing placement. This idea of working abroad then became an aspiration of mine. In hindsight, I should have posed questions about whether the university offered her this place or if she found it herself, how many people applied, and at the very least whether the English course had a lot of work opportunities and connections for its students. To help other students thinking about a placement year, I have compiled a list of potential questions that you could ask on open days, and questions I wished I had asked at the time.

• How have former students secured their work experience placements?

I think it’s important to find out how other students secured their placements, because they may have had their own connections or it may have been a university connection, or they have simply applied through a company’s website. Also, they may be able to give you any useful tips or information about applying to the placement they’ve been on, or offer just a general insight about placements.

• Does the department have any connections with any companies in the industry?

I definitely should have asked this question. If you’re pinning your hopes on a specific industry, then it is best to find out whether the university can offer you anything. This way you’ll know in advance whether you need to find your own placement.

• Are there any career events scheduled for my industry?

Any careers events could potentially be a helping hand to getting a placement. For example, they may have company representatives there or just useful advice for a securing a placement in your desired industry.

• What sort of help will I get with my CV and applying for work experience?

It is good to get professionals to look at your CV, as it will be crucial to whether you get a placement interview or not. For instance, you can take your CV to your personal tutor or careers advisor.

The above are just a few examples of what I’d recommend you ask your lecturers and other students on UCAS or open days. Unfortunately, this didn’t occur to me at the time, and I didn’t find out until later that because my university department was very new, it didn’t have connections with placements overseas or locally in publishing. If I had asked at the UCAS day then I would have been far better off later on, as I would have known that I needed to be proactive in finding a placement.

I was accepted to the University of Surrey, and within the first few weeks of the first semester, my work placement meeting with my careers advisor was booked. I was still wondering what she would offer me, and I was hoping that it would be something exciting in publishing. Instead, I found out about the harsh, competitive reality of the industry and that there was nothing on offer. Clearly, in hindsight, I should have done my own research and preparation before I met my careers advisor. Below are some tips of how you can prepare beforehand:

• Research the industry you would like a career in.

• Have a look at the university’s career website and services.

• Talk to students who have already been on a placement year.

• Have a look at the resources on offer – attend any university careers events or workshops, and use online sources such as Rate My Placement.

• Start networking – ask lecturers, friends or relatives whether they know anyone in the industry, and utilise networking sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

At the very least you should prepare questions. Here are some examples:

• Do you have any connections with professional companies?

• How should I approach a potential employer?

• What are publishing companies looking for in an undergraduate?

• I want to do a year-long placement – where do I start?

• Do you have any resources that will be useful to me?

• Do you have any advice for formatting my CV to apply for placements?

After meeting with my careers advisor, I was left with the daunting

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