As part of The Bookseller's new How to Rise in Your Career series of features, Harper Inspire's marketing and publicity manager Bengono Bessala – who first started working at the company as a trainee and is now a 2020 Rising Star – shares her top tips for securing a job after an internship.
Can you outline your career trajectory and how you ended up in your current role?
I got into publishing via the first HarperCollins BAME Training Scheme in 2016. This was opportunity to get find new members of staff from diverse backgrounds who had a passion for books. I was one of two people chosen from hundreds of applicants.
How did you hear about the HarperCollins BAME Training Scheme and can you share any insight into the application process?
My sister was actually the one to tell me about the traineeship! She saw it advertised on social media. Her exact words were: "Stop moaning about how much you love books. Apply for this job and get it." I followed her instructions, I applied and got it. The application process was fairly easy (in my opinion), because it was based on us showing our enthusiasm for books and for HarperCollins. For me that was a slamdunk – this was the company which publishes Chimamanda Ngozi-Adiche and the UK edition of The Alchemist. It really didn’t feel like an interview, because I spoke about my love for books, diversity and telling stories that reflected everyone. I was just so full of enthusiasm and excitement, that I truly think that my passion and different viewpoints got me the job.
What did you learn from your internship?
So much! The sky was the limit on what I was allowed to learn and who I was able to learn from, everyone was so open. The relationships I made in my first weeks are still key to me now. One of the most important things I learnt is that it takes everyone within your team to publish a book. What I mean by that is that it takes your finance team, your legal team, your production team, your physical, digital and international sales teams, your rights teams, PR, marketing and editorial to make a book work and to also make it a success. Never neglect your readers and booksellers is also the best piece of advice I was given.
I had a great manager who taught me to always ask questions, speak up and think outside of the box.
What is your opinion of internships generally as an entry route into a publishing career?
Internships that are paid are great. I was paid and I think that they should all be that way. I wouldn’t have been able to do an internship unpaid in London. Therefore, I don’t believe that it’s fair to ask an intern to work for free. This is such a great way into an industry (at any age)! I wasn’t a spring chicken when I started, and I’d come from having worked across several different industries. I cannot tell you how much getting into the industry this way armed me with tools that you don’t always get when you just get a job.
Can you talk about the transition from being an intern to getting the job? Were there any challenges along the way?
I got a permanent job eight weeks after starting my 12-month internship, so I went straight in at the deep end after my internship. I think my biggest challenge was just getting up to speed with the list and reading as much as I could very quickly. Other than that, the transition was fabulous because I had a great manager (the wonderful Tara Al Azzawi at 4th Estate and William Collins), who taught me to always ask questions, speak up and think outside of the box.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to turn their internship into a permanent job?
- Don’t be afraid to look around. I got a job in a different department to where I was undertaking my internship at the time.
- If, however you want to stay where you are, then be honest with your team. Tell them how much you enjoy working where you are and how you see your future being with team.
- Pitch ideas to your manager about upcoming books or projects that you would love to help with.