Should you apply for Penguin Random House’s #TheScheme17? Yes! Here’s why…

The beginning of 2016 prompted a lot of career-related soul-searching, leading me to the conclusion that my current career is no longer for me and, instead, I want to work in the world of books. In the aftermath of this epiphany, I came across a tweet from @PRHCareersUK announcing the launch of #TheScheme16. Curiosity drove me to check it out, and then to apply.

Astonishingly, I made it to the final round. There were over 1,300 applicants to round one, and somehow the team at PRH whittled it down to 20 for the final selection round. That means that those of us invited to that final stage were one of less than 1.5% of the people who started the Scheme16 journey! Although I wasn’t one of the four to be given a golden ticket training scheme place, it was still the best thing I did in 2016.

If you’re wondering whether you should apply, the answer is YES, you should! I want to tell you about the experience, what I learned from it, and what made it have such a huge impact on my year. In order to not bombard you with everything in one post (it would be too long), I’m posting about round one now and will dedicate subsequent posts to round two and round three.

The selection process

The selection process takes place over three gruelling rounds. The PRH team know how tough the tasks they set are, but they make them tough so that they can learn about your personal attributes. In a selection process which ignores background, education, previous career experience, and requires no experience of the publishing world, it seems like the most practical way for your personal qualities to be identified and tested.

Round One – The written application

This took the form of a series of questions, asking about your perception of the publishing industry and why you want to work within it, to convince someone else in just 100 words why they should read your favourite book, what accomplishment in your life you are most proud of and how you made it happen, and what you think will be the next big thing in publishing. It was exhausting writing the answers to these questions and then editing them down to the tight word limits. I think I made eight or nine drafts before I was happy enough to click ‘submit’. When I read back my final draft of these questions now, I feel really proud of the quality of my writing – I get that “Did I really write that? Wow…” feeling.

Tips for your written answers:

  • Read the questions and the guidance notes really closely. Just like writing an essay for school, the answer to what you should write about is contained within the question.
  • Research: Read up on the job role the Scheme is offering training for. Last year it was for Editors, this year it is for Publicity roles. Find out what attributes these roles need. Read the posts from people working in the relevant area, and the previous successful applicants on the Scheme’s Tumblr blog . Use this research to create a list of bullet points of personal attributes that make a person ideal for the role, and try to include them in each of your answers. Try to show as many of these as possible within each of your answers, so far as they are relevant to answering the question, and try to make sure you’ve hit all of them at least once across the total of all the answers. Read the PRH team’s feedback on the round one applications last year.
  • Be truthful: don’t claim to be a fictional version of yourself, carefully tailored to be exactly what you think they want you to be. Don’t claim to have done things you haven’t. Aside from the fact that you will quickly be ‘found-out’, it won’t help you. Instead, think of the things you have done, and attributes that you do have that fit the key elements your research and the questions tell you they are looking for. (For example, I wasn’t at all ‘industry aware’ when I applied for the Scheme and consequently had no idea what might realistically be ‘the next big thing’ in publishing. Instead of trying to fake an industry awareness that I didn’t have, I tapped into an idea I had had years ago for immersive e-books. This idea drew on expertise from my current job role, so I was able to describe a book product that I could talk about knowledgeably, and had a rough idea of how it could be made. I did some research on immersive technologies in mainstream media, and was able to make connections to immersive trends in video gaming, and illustrate why I thought it was only a matter of time until this technology found its way into film, and then books. Instead of blagging my way through, I found a way to harness what I did know.)
  • Respect the word-limit. In all professional pursuits, you have to work to a brief. This includes not submitting 500 words of writing (however brilliantly written) when you’ve been asked to supply 250. Respecting the word limit shows that you can respect the parameters of a brief.
  • Be concise. This is tricky but does wonders for the impact of your writing. It is possible to get a surprising amount of information into just a couple of hundred words. Edit, edit, edit. Look at that sentence. Is there any way you can cut a word out and not lose the meaning, clarity, or grammar? Is there a way to reword it, lowering the word-count and still convey the same meaning with the same clarity and impact?
  • Be clear. This is not the time to raid the thesaurus for impressive looking, rarely used, long words. In all professional pursuits, you need to convey your ideas and communicate effectively. By writing with clarity, using the language that best conveys your message (keep it simple!), you show that you are an effective communicator. It also shows that your thoughts and ideas are clear to you, making those thoughts and ideas a hundred times more valuable, and ensuring that the people reading your writing are more likely to take you and your ideas seriously.
  • Be you. This might be the hardest bit. It’s tempting to be extremely formal, not allowing any of your personality to shine through, when writing something that will be assessed. Whilst all of the above tips should be honoured, use them with your voice. I started my written answers by writing exactly as I would speak if someone asked me that question on the street and needed to produce an answer on the spot. Then I edited, edited, edited, until I found conciseness and clarity, and had cut out all of the information the question wasn’t asking for.
  • Proofread. If you’re applying for a job in publishing, it is embarrassing to send your application full of typos and glaring grammatical errors. Almost all publishing job descriptions include the words “high attention to detail”. If you haven’t proofread, you have failed to show that you can give meticulous attention to detail.
  • Listen. Hear your written answers out loud. Get a friend, colleague, family member, etc. to first read the question to you, and then read your answer back to you. Too embarrassed to do this? I was. I made use of my laptop’s text-to-speech function (found most often in the accessibility settings) to have my answers read back to me. At the point when I thought “damn, that sounds good”, I knew I was ready to send my application. Hearing the question out loud can help you identify nuance that you missed when you read it. Hearing your answers out loud can show you where you’re not making as much sense as you thought, where you’ve been too wordy, or simply where you’ve made a typo that you didn’t spot because you’ve looked at the words for too long to see what is written rather than what you thought you wrote. This text-to-speech trick is one I have kept using, ever since the Scheme, for every piece of writing that has to be perfect.

Perspective

It is important to remember that this is a ‘game of numbers’. I remember reading last year that in 2015 when PRH launch the Scheme, there were around 800 applicants for round one. Last year there were over 1,300 applicants to round one. This year there will likely be even more. Only 50 people out of those 1,300-plus people were invited to take part in round two – that’s 3.5%, 3.5 out of 100 odds of getting to round two, regardless of how amazing your round one application is. If you don’t make it through, don’t despair – you can’t win anything unless you take part – and if you’re like me you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing just by having done it – it will still have been a worthwhile experience. If you do make it through, congratulations! But don’t relax too much – round two is scary!

What I got out of it

Immediately after I submitted my answers for round one, I felt good – not about my chances of getting past the first stage – but instead, felt proud that I had done it. I had seen an opportunity to kick-start my career change, and I had seized it. I never expected to get beyond round one. I had been given a real boost of confidence in my own writing ability just by going through the process of writing my application. I showed my parents a copy of my application after I submitted it; my Mum’s voice on the phone was full of pride. I felt both humbled and elated. I took this burst of confidence and started applying for entry-level publishing jobs, started this book review blog, filled a notebook with lists of things to do and look into in order to make a career change plan and to start putting the pieces in place to execute it.

By the end of the whole selection process I had made several really important life decisions:

  1. I really want to work in publishing.
  2. More than that, I really want to work in the editorial side of publishing.
  3. To start a part-time degree with the OU in English Language and Literature. Not because I feel I need one to succeed, but (as someone who doesn’t have a degree) to prove to myself that I can do it.
  4. To start the Publishing Training Centre’s Basic Proofreading course and, once completed, to launch a freelance proofreading business.
  5. That I really don’t want to stay in my current career forever, or for even another 10 years, however much I might love it, because I am no longer in love with it.

So, why should you apply for #TheScheme17? Because it’s the only way to have a chance to win once of those four training positions and get a golden ticket entry into your dream career. Because, even if you don’t win, you will learn a lot about yourself, your real aspirations, and what skills you need to learn in order to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you’d love to be. Because every journey is made up of thousands of steps, made one at a time; every jumper knitted is made up of thousands of little stitches, made one loop at a time; and every book every that has ever been written is made up of thousands of words, written one at a time. At some point, you have to put on your shoes, pick up your knitting needles, and actually put pen to paper. You have to actually do something to make your aspirations possible.

Good luck to everyone who decides to apply! Let me know in the comments box below if you are applying, what’s driving you to give it a go, and what aspirations you are working towards.

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