I gave a talk to Warwick students last night, as part of the careers service’s ‘Working in publishing and online publishing’ event. I talked a bit about my personal experience of working at ArtsProfessional, and gave the best advice I had to give. While I don’t pretend to be an expert (I was slightly perturbed by 150 earnest students taking notes as I talked!), I have spent a lot of time thinking about publishing, the blurring boundaries between paper and digital, and the place that I and other young people can hold in a rapidly-changing world. I didn’t make predictions about where publishing is going, because people smarter than me have done so – and the short answer is that no-one really has a clue anyway. Anyway, I thought more people than were in a lecture theatre in Coventry last night might find some of what I had to say useful, so here it is. Bear in mind that they are just notes, and that I was much more eloquent and hilarious in the flesh.


Build up a portfolio: You’re more likely to get a work placement once you have a portfolio to show people. Do you blog/review/write anywhere? A blog is your online portfolio, so think about design, check spelling/grammar and remember anyone could be reading it. Remember that NOTHING ON THE INTERNET EVER GOES AWAY. EVER. Would you be comfortable with a potential employer seeing your posts? You need to balance posting regularly (once a week, minimum) with not waffling – post when you have something to say. The more you write the easier it gets – try having opinions on news stories, commenting/reviewing whatever you’re readings, expanding on a side-note from your most recent essay…

Start job-hunting early: This is the best advice I can give you. You’ll be revising for your exams, then taking your finals and wanting a break, but by the start of the summer most things will have gone. If you wait until after your exams, it’s only going to get more competitive. It’s frustrating and can be depressing – many places don’t acknowledge applications – but applying early shows that you’re keen, that you can balance tasks and that you’re thinking ahead. Think about your CV – what can you put on it that’s relevant to the job in question and shows you off to your best advantage? This may sounds obvious, but I’ve seen some pretty terrible CVs since I started working at AP – spellcheck it, proof read it, get a friend you trust to proof read it. Make sure that you tweak your CV with each applicatio, so that it’s as relevant as possible. A good way to go about it is to take each point in the person specification and address it in your CV or cover letter: e.g. If the person spec asks for someone highly-organised, specifically say that you are extremely organised, and give one concise, concrete example of something the proves you are. Ditto motivated, a self-starter etc. Think about what each point actually means – they tend to be heavy on buzz words – and address it accordingly. For example, highly-organised might mean able to keep several balls in the air (particularly in an administrative role, which a lot of entry-level jobs are) or it might mean an ability to unfailingly hit deadlines (in an editorial assistant role, for example).

Learn from others: Formal training isn’t essential, but it can be useful and can show that you are serious. There’s always more to learn, and a course or two to sharpen your skills and technique is always a good thing. Look for personal recommendations before choosing because there are thousands.

Think about whether you want to go into publishing or online publishing, because they are very different: Traditional publishing is a shrinking field, and jobs are scarce and getting scarcer. Online publishing, on the other hand, is growing rapidly. However, there is still a prestige to working in trad publishing that is lacking in the online world, and a lot of online stuff lacks the quality control of paper-publishing: no space constraints can mean editing is sloppy and the writing is poor. Not always, obviously, there are lots of great websites, online magazines, online news services etc, but most reputable publishers try to do both – they will have a digital side to whatever else they do. Publishing needs skills such as a good eye for prose, editing/proofing skills, the ability to hit deadlines, etc, whereas online publishing often requires HTML coding, familiarity with social media etc as well.

N.B. Some of this draws on thoughts from being on a Guardian Careers panel on arts journalism. The full transcript is here and a summary can be found here. If anyone wishes to talk about any of this further, or has any questions, I can be reached on: contact@eleanorturney.co.uk or Tweet me @eleanorturney If you agree with anything I’ve said, or wish to develop the debate, please comment below.

One Comment

  1. Rich A says:

    Great advice, El.

    The second point about starting early is crucial in almost any industry, and is probably the biggest mistake a lot my peers made once their university life came to an end. So many people finished their finals and thought “right, I’ve earned a rest” or “time to party!” and subsequently missed the boat. The people I know who managed to find a relevant job in the Class of ’08 got their act together at least 6 months before graduating.

    Hopefully your 150 note-takers will have the inside track now that you’ve schooled ‘em :) x

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