“It wasn’t just another unpaid internship – they were serious about bringing new people into the fold and helping to meaningfully shape their careers”
Meet Alex, one of four finalists who joined us on The Scheme 2016. He shares his experiences of The Scheme 2016 application process, and tells us what he found most surprising about working in publishing.
Hello, Alex, tell us a bit about where you’re from, your background and what your role is here at Penguin Random House?
I’m from Oxford originally, but fled all the way to St Andrews for university, where I studied History (for anyone wondering if they need an English Lit degree, I don’t even have an English A-Level! The downside is that people keep shaming me for not having read Jane Eyre.) I gravitated towards publishing pretty early, did a couple of internships here and there, and then got a job… in a tech startup. I swiftly corrected that error, and ended up on the Scheme and working for the fiction side of Ebury, though I’ll have moved to Penguin Press by the time you read this. I’m essentially an editorial assistant, which is what it sounds like: some editing, some assisting. I do a lot of copywriting, book research, liaising with production, proof checking & collation, and, of course, emailing. So much emailing. Our list is divided between contemporary women’s fiction, supermarket-aimed family sagas, and a crossover-targeted sci-fi and fantasy imprint – the latter is definitely more my natural territory, but I’ve definitely developed a soft spot for the sagas…
You made it through The Scheme 2016 to become one of our final four. What made you apply in the first place?
Well, I was applying to anything and everything in publishing at the time… but the Scheme was uniquely attractive, not just because it was Penguin (but, y’know, it was Penguin!) but also because it was clear from the website that the Scheme was squarely aimed at breaking the door of publishing open and attracting people who don’t already work in publishing. They wanted new blood, and it wasn’t just another unpaid internship – they were serious about bringing new people into the fold and helping to meaningfully shape their careers.
What was the best thing about The Scheme?
How exhaustive it was, without a doubt. You ever come out of a job interview feeling like there’s no way anyone could actually know how well-suited you are to that job? The Scheme was completely different. After the written application, the video application, and the four tasks we had on the assessment day itself, I think we all felt like we’d had our capabilities and potential assessed properly. They covered a wide array of different skills and scenarios, all of which have since come up in my job on a regular basis – it’s about as far from a one-size-fits-all interview as you can get. If you were trying to design the perfect recruitment process, both for recruiters and candidates, the Scheme wouldn’t be far off.
What was most challenging about The Scheme?
The flipside of it being so exhaustive was that it was also exhausting! Seriously. Four hour-long tasks in one day with plenty of breaks doesn’t sound like much, but the jelly babies on hand in every assessment room were 100% essential to keep energy levels up. I had my copy editing/copywriting task last, and my brain was barely working by that point. That, plus the recorded video interview; everyone who’s taken one agrees that you feel like you’re making an idiot out of yourself, even if you’re not, so better just reconcile yourself to that now…
What did you learn from taking part in The Scheme?
The biggest thing was simple: when in doubt, just give it a go. I was one of the late signups to the Scheme, having only heard about it at the last moment, and I put off recording my video interview until about an hour before the deadline because I was so sure I wasn’t going to make it through. I guess I learned that I’m an idiot? When in doubt, channel your inner Shia Labeouf and just do it.
What one piece of advice you wish you’d been given when you started looking for a career in publishing?
To be honest, I knew what I was letting myself in for – there aren’t a lot of jobs in publishing, and there are dozens of worthy applicants for every job opening. I think having got my foot in the door can sometimes make me lose sight of just how lucky I’ve been to get here, which is why I wake up every morning to My Shot from Hamilton – it’s fantastic to work in such a passion-driven, exciting, creative industry, and it’s easy to forget just how good it is compared to the outside world. So, in short, the advice I was given but need to remind myself of every now and again: you need luck to break into publishing in the first place, but once you’re there, don’t forget how great it is that you get to make books for a living.
What’s been your biggest surprise about working in publishing?
Probably how much responsibility for the most visible parts of a book can fall to people at a relatively low level. Things like writing copy and coming up with shout lines are collective efforts, but if the ideas you bring to the table are good, that’s much more important than your job title.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone deciding whether or not to apply for The Scheme?
You’re ready; you’re capable; you’ve got a shot. No exceptions. You’ll regret it if you don’t at least try.