Being the least experienced person in the room

An insight into my placement at Britain’s leading current affairs magazine

They say if you’re ever the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room. Replace “smartest” with most experienced and I think it holds some truth. That said, it certainly wasn’t the case when I did two weeks of work experience at Prospect Magazine.

Apart from a few local newsroom placements, this was my first taste of life inside a publishing house. I had gone from listening in on Zoom meetings in my bedroom to an office in Westminster, surrounded by a plethora of knowledge.

For anyone at the start of their career, entering a room full of experienced individuals is bound to be a daunting concept – but as soon as I walked through the door, I instantly felt at ease. The team never once made me feel like I had no place being there, and consistently praised every task I completed, however insignificant it seemed.

Feeling useful is something I never realised I hadn’t felt before I felt it there. Sometimes on a short placement, you can feel like you’re in the way – like people are spending more time teaching you than it’s worth. I had no idea what to expect when I walked in on the first day, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

Fact-checking and proofreading rapidly became a big part of my day, two things I’d never done before I got there. Being asked to check such esteemed writers’ work can naturally trigger imposter syndrome. I mean, would you ask a Sunday-league footballer to judge Neymar’s footwork on the pitch?

I would say I have an eye for detail, but I’d always put that down to my mum (a speech and language therapist) drilling grammar rules into me from a young age. Was I qualified to pick up the mistakes of an editor?

In fact, I learned very quickly that even people in a different realm to you in terms of experience need a second pair of eyes. This may seem obvious but in such a competitive industry, it’s easy to feel out of your depth. Learning this was like learning that Julia Roberts has bad hair days too. And just like everyone at Prospect, she’s no less brilliant.

In terms of the work overall, every task was fulfilling in some way. Even something as simple as opening the deputy editor’s parcels – often new books fresh from print – was enjoyable.

The idea that you’re learning about something as soon as it comes out makes you feel like you know something other people don’t. It’s a nice feeling when so often as an aspiring writer – especially one who hasn’t made it into a newsroom yet – you feel like everyone’s always one or two steps ahead of you.

In a world where the people you meet are a gateway to opportunity, I found the people in the office to be particularly inspiring. Hearing how people got to where they are today was interesting to say the least, as each one was completely different.

There’s often no set path to a job in a creative industry, which can come with its fair share of panic and thinking on your feet. When the path isn’t clear, it becomes difficult to know if you’re going the right way. Chats by the coffee machine with people who have “been there” were exactly the encouraging reminder I needed.

I’ll admit, mid-way through my journalism diploma, I’d become disillusioned with the path I was on. My time at Prospect has changed that; it has resurrected my flailing passion for what I want to do.

As my first time working in an office in London, I may be putting a rose-tinted spin on things. But for me, this was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. I hope, for the sake of preserving my current state of infatuation, it is only the beginning.

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