Figures were released recently that showed just how bad unemployment has become over the last year. It is not just young people who are out of work but they are the ones struggling to make their mark on the career ladder. Many are staying at home with parents longer simply because they cannot afford to leave home.
In this unstable economic climate, many people are having to work for free just to fill the gaps in their CVs and keep learning new skills in the hope that this will make them more likely to find employment.
In May 2010, I quit my job to pursue a career in publishing and so began my time as a work experience person, or "workie" as we are often known. For anyone considering this as a long-term option, I hope you find the following helpful.
And may I just say an enormous thank you to all those who helped me as a workie - from the fantastic people I met at each company to my long-suffering friends and family who put up with my mood swings.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
As many young people will no doubt attest to, not many people go to university knowing what career they want. I never really knew what I wanted to do for a career. I studied American Studies and Spanish because it interested me. I got to learn a language and debate international relations, film and history. I spent time living abroad, meeting people and learning about new cultures.
When I returned home after university, I fell into a sales/admin job because they were looking for a Spanish speaker, but after a couple of years there I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I quit and did a CELTA teaching course only to be told that it was really difficult to find work in the UK teaching foreign languages and I would have to move abroad (something I was not prepared to do). So I fell into another job which was only meant to be a few weeks temporary work while I found something permanent. Over a year later, I was still there.
At the ripe old age of 27 I took a look at my life and realised I wasn’t happy. I was floating along in a job where the people were lovely, the pay was just about liveable and the job was so easy I could do it with my eyes closed. I wanted to go out there and find my dream job – but there was one small hiccup – I didn’t know what that dream job was.
So when I made the decision to go down the workie career path, I had savings. I spoke to people, I did my research and learned that many people did it for 4-6 months before finding work. I planned for about eight just to be sure. I knew that getting into publishing was not going to be all that easy, but if I didn’t do it then, I never would - so I lined up my first work experience placement and was off.
My first placement was above and beyond what I had imagined. As a first glimpse into book publishing, it was eye-opening. The team, all women, were so kind and helpful and answered any strange questions I had with a smile. I was even assigned someone who would take me to lunch one day to have a good old natter about what I was looking for and see if there was anything they could do to help. I spent most of the first week dealing with mailshots, sending books to reviewers and getting far too many papercuts in the process.
In week two of this placement, something magical happened. They saw potential in me and realised I could be utilized in other areas too. A massive author was about to release his new book and competitions needed to be coordinated with bloggers and online reviewers to coincide with the release. As well as working on this, I was invited to an event to hear the author speak and also went to a small book launch for a foreign author. This was also when I discovered the best perk of being a workie… free books.
On my last day, the HR woman who coordinated placements asked me what I thought about what I’d done and how it had gone. She asked if there was a particular department I wanted to work in and I told her editorial. Within a few days she had lined up a placement for me. And then the fun really started...
FROM WORKIE TO TEMP
FROM WORKIE TO TEMP
After only two work experience placements, the HR woman approached me and asked if I’d be interested in doing some holiday cover. Paid work in publishing! You can imagine how long it took me to mull that over. And it was when I started doing the temp work that I really saw what was involved. You feel like you’re learning lots when you’re a workie but only when I became a temp did I realise just how much work goes into the role I wanted. I was no longer sitting on the sidelines doing the work other people didn’t have time for; I was doing the job. I was suddenly thrown in at the deep end, dealing with Editors, Authors, customers and people in every other department in the building. I was coordinating meetings between Editorial, Publicity, Production. The most eye-opening part though was getting to read manuscripts.
I suspect any agent or editor will tell you that reading manuscripts is the most time-consuming part of the job – but it’s also the most vital. To find that hidden gem among the pile that will reach a massive audience, sell in the thousands, perhaps millions, is so important. As a workie, you will often be asked to read from the slushpile, but as a temp you are reading from the solicited manuscripts (those sent over from agents) so there's a lot of pressure on you to understand not just what's well written but what sells.
One fortnight led to another and another and before I knew it I had temped for most of the departments in the building. The money coming in also allowed me to relax. I didn’t feel bad if I treated myself to a £4 lunch from M&S every once in a while and bought new clothes occasionally – something I hadn’t done in months.