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‘How not to apply for an internship’ by Ian Wong

In this story, Ian Wong speaks of the mistakes he felt he made when applying for a Creative Access internship. Learning from his mistakes, he turned things around and secured a six month internship via Creative Access as an Editorial Intern at Orion Publishing Group.


I was less than two months away from graduating the first time I applied for a Creative Access internship. Having hardly pursued any professional work experience during my time at university, I’d realised one morning to my alarm that my CV was drier than the Sahara and I wasn’t that far from stepping out into the real world of careers and buzzwords like ‘networking’ and ‘synergy’. I scoured the Internet for vacancies and was promptly horrified by how under-prepared I was – experience? Don’t I need a job to get experience? Don’t I need experience to get a job?


In the midst of my terror I found the Creative Access website – a blinding light in the darkness. Getting a job in the UK can seem a little daunting to someone who, having only started living full-time in the UK five years earlier, has virtually no local “resources” to rely on. No doubt I felt that being Chinese was to my disadvantage: my dad had warned me that I’ll always be a “second-class citizen”.

Nonetheless, I’d always wanted to try my hand at an editorial role in publishing, having done a lot of informal proofreading for my friends’ essays and dissertations; the industry itself, however, seemed closed off and rather forbidding. Creative Access seemed like a lifeline, and so I cast my lot and sent an application for an editorial assistant internship advertised on the website.


I didn’t get that internship. I did get an interview, and Creative Access was incredibly supportive: I met Anoushka for my screening interview prior to the real thing and she gave me advice on how to present myself during an interview and talked me through my CV. In retrospect I was very naive about what to expect from the internship. In the year and a half that followed, however, I have worked as a tour guide, and then as a bookseller at Waterstones. Getting to work with books at last was incredible, but I still wanted to go behind the scenes. I knew I still wanted an editorial experience, to go backstage and to get to know the publishing process from the point of conception.

And so, back to Creative Access it was – and this time, I was prepared.


My journey suggests two things. The first is a flat-out repudiation of the criticism that Creative Access – and, by extension, positive action – allows BAME individuals to circumvent quality control and diminishes the oft-quoted ‘best person for the job’ principle. The first time I applied, I wasn’t exactly terrible but I was definitely nowhere near equipped enough to do have got the most out of that internship. My failure to secure the internship indicated as much.  


The second thing my journey has taught me is that sometimes the experience and skills you need have to be learnt elsewhere first.

The skills you need as an editor aren’t only found in publishing: pitching a potential acquisition to a team, for instance, is essentially public speaking; organising freelancers and keeping things on schedule is, at its heart, what every project manager does.

It’s useful if you’ve done something different, something unusual; I’ve been reliably informed that my stint as a tour guide, for example, helped set me apart from the other candidates. Make sure you know what makes you you, and what you’re about, and how your CV tells people that.


It’s a lesson I’m still learning, but in the words of the ancient Greek oracle, what really matters is this: know yourself!