Grad-22: On Trying to Find a First Job in Publishing in the UK

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

By Tim Inman, whitefox

Grad-22LONDON: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that literary quotations will become bastardized by overuse. And it is a sport beloved of literary nerds everywhere to spot mis-uses of ‘Catch-22.’ But I would argue that there is an experience common to many recent graduates, and especially those with a penchant for media, publishing or the arts, which genuinely warrants this label: finding a job.

The dilemma is a simple one. Without having prior experience you cannot find a job. Yet without finding a job you cannot gain experience. Without which, of course, you cannot find a job. Which is in a way impressive; I don’t think many envisage graduating university only to be blocked from further progression by logical paradox.

As the problem has worsened, three distinct routes for bypassing it seem to have emerged. The first should be familiar:

1. Good, old-fashioned Nepotism – gaining experience through your parents’ connections.

The second has emerged recently, and is what I will affectionately call:

2.Nepotism Plus – gaining experience through your parents’ bidding for internships via auction (yes, these do exist).

The third is the unpaid internship, which have proliferated wildly over the last few years. Since there seems to be an ever-growing portion of the web devoted to the debate around these, I don’t intend to get too much into questions of whether it is feasible or sustainable to expect young people to do boring tasks for free in the hope that it will help their future job prospects. But I will just point out two things.

Firstly, the expenses for a London-based internship (and, let’s face it, these things are always London-based) tend to just about cover a short bus and train journey within the city and a chicken salad sandwich at lunchtime (if you are lucky).

Secondly, one of the common arguments for unpaid internships is that they increase a candidate’s chances of going on to find paid work. However, National Association of Colleges data shows that only around 37% of students who gain experience on an unpaid internship go on to find work upon graduating. So:

3. Be proactive and, more importantly, lucky. And live in London. Preferably within Zone 2.

If these options are not open to you (your dad doesn’t play tennis with the editor of the Guardian or Marketing Director of Penguin; you live in Derby (or worse, Wales) then unfortunately your prospects for evading the above-identified vicious circle without effectively paying for the privilege of doing admin look slim.

For those sitting comfortably in their glass-fronted offices wondering what this has to do with them, it is worth noting that it is not just those individuals to whom, as a result of the aforementioned dilemma, the industry appears dauntingly impenetrable that are disadvantaged by this situation.

Rather, the industry is slowly being cut off from what is in effect its oxygen supply; those bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters who are the next generation of publishing specialists. These are the people that will be taking on the mantle of providing the strategy, services and expertise essential to ensure that good content continues to be made, and moreover, these are the people whose enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and digital literacy are exactly what the industry needs.

So assuming the dilemma is a real one, what can be done?

Well, if there is one thing that new models can do, it is to disrupt the status quo. You may have seen some of the well-publicised Kickstarter campaign currently running in order to support interns onto the first steps of the ladder, and there are an increasing number of innovative online groups providing support and guidance for all those frustrated twenty-somethings trying to find a foothold.

On whitefox’s part, we too have been thinking long and hard about how to find a way of using our own model to navigate between the horns of this particular dilemma. We may be unable to give each and every talented and promising graduate a job, but we are well connected.

We are a network of specialisms and skills for hire. We are 21st century publishing unbundled.

And if we were to sum up our single most central insight it is this: that what matters is not whether you hold a position or elaborate title in an established organization, but that you have skills that make a quantifiable difference to the written word.

Which is why we’ve started a program of workshops led by some of the best editors, designers, marketeers and digital experts across the business. We want the talented and blessedly salaried people from within the system to feed their experiences and practical skills directly to those who see their future supporting the content creators of tomorrow. Which we hope will be of more value than an unpaid stint of admin and another chicken salad sandwich.

Tim Inman is Communications Assistant at whitefox, the UK’s largest curated network of publishing specialists, providing bespoke publishing solutions to authors, brands, agents and publishers.
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Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.