By Laren Tayyip
As the new Features Editor at The Founder, I thought I would introduce myself by sharing part of my summer holiday experience over the past few weeks. I’m going into my third year of studying English Literature at Royal Holloway and got involved earlier this year with the English Micro-placement scheme, run by the Careers Department. This was a great opportunity and I highly recommend getting involved in your second year. By going through the process, you are able to learn how to write a perfect CV, whilst also gaining interview skills for the future. However, there is no reason to wait until your second year – an even better way to start would be to use the Careers services in your first year to get ahead of the game by organising your own work experience. In hindsight, my two-week placement this summer was, although rewarding, probably pretty amusing to watch.
We have all watched Andy as Miranda Priestley’s new assistant in Devil Wears Prada. From waking up at 6am to collect crazy amounts of Starbucks coffee orders, to picking up skirts from Calvin Klein, it would be an understatement to say that Andy ran around like a headless chicken during most of the movie. What more could you want though? Isn’t working for a fashion magazine in a glossy metropolis living the dream? With the many struggles that Andy had to deal with came a trip to Paris for Fashion Week, fancy parties with famous designers and writers, and we can’t forget the Chanel boots, which left even Emily stunned. I have probably watched this movie a hundred times and will most likely watch it another hundred times too. However, on each occasion, my inexperienced self has watched in awe and hoped for a similar future. It wasn’t until my placement this summer with one of the most famous fashion and lifestyle publishers that left me looking in the mirror and thinking, have I become Andy?
This was ‘living the dream’ I thought. I would walk in and be the next top editor. Unfortunately, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I spent the next two weeks fetching breakfast, collecting coffee and photocopying. These might seem like normal tasks for an intern, but for me, it was a shock to the system. I slowly started to understand what Andy had to deal with. As reality kicked in, I realised that I was the lowest form of life in the office ecosystem. Although the circumstances were somewhat different, I felt like I was living in the movie. The top Director had an uncanny resemblance to Miranda Priestly with her Prada purse and grey hair. This was getting creepy. Every morning I was sent to an exclusive café in Mayfair to pick up her coffee, an Americano with extra hot milk. I wouldn’t dare forget the napkin, which had to be wrapped around the cup in case of an unfortunate spillage which would require having to go back. It was in my second week when, as usual, I had turned up to the café and placed my usual order, when the person serving looked at me with a puzzling expression. After a moment or two he asked me if I had ever watched Devil Wears Prada. He continued to tell me that my job and boss must be very similar to the movie. ‘Tell me about it’ was my response, as I let out a light-hearted giggle, whilst actually dying inside. No one quite seemed to understand the true difficulties of the job!
As if coffee wasn’t enough, I also had to run my boss’ personal errands too. This reminded me of the scene where Andy was being pulled through the streets of New York by Miranda’s dog, Patricia. I, on the other hand, was sent to many different jewellery shops and brands, including Links, to pick up her personal belongings, and to Snappysnaps to develop her holiday photos. This was a lot harder given that I barely knew central London. Let’s just say I was happy to make it back in one piece. I would also have to pay and collect the whole department’s breakfast orders every day. How hard could this be, right? Trust me, boy was it hard! Nine orders in total, five different sandwiches and four hot drinks. How could one person deal with all that at the start of each day? This was a typical Monday morning breakfast haul when the employees came to work hungover. After about two hours and multiple trips up and down, trying not to mix up the orders I collapsed in my chair ready for a break. This did not last long, however, as I was quickly sent to the photocopier to copy three magazines in their correct orders. I remember thinking I would never leave the building again. Stuck photocopying, each and every page of not just one or two, but three thick magazines. I would truly be stuck here for the rest of my life. These tasks made up my typical day and I would eagerly wait until 5.30pm so that I could collapse on the train home.
Visiting the mail room was a common task for me, and this I did three times a day. In one instance, I had to collect three Misguided and two Boohoo deliveries for the girls in my department. At least I could always tell when the sales had started. Using my little map which told me who sat where, I had to put the right parcel in the right tray. This very stressful event took a turn for the worst when I had by accident mixed up two parcels. In hindsight, my response of ‘the parcel probably flew to the wrong tray’ in my desperate attempts to laugh it off was not all that funny. I was hoping not to be given too much responsibility from that moment onwards, but it only got worse. To my luck, both of the boss’ PAs were sent on errands out of the office at the same time, which left me alone to be in charge of three different phones. How unlucky can one person get? This was the longest 30 minutes of my life. I sat on my desk staring at all three phones repeating to myself over and over again ‘please don’t ring’. I had no idea it was possible to sweat so much in just half an hour. Fortunately for me, the phones did not ring and it was the arrival of the PAs which allowed me to start breathing again. Don’t underestimate the art of being the voice that represents a company when first contacted by a customer on the phone – it’s tough!
Although my experience was not exactly how I imagined it would be, as I wasn’t serenaded with expensive designer gifts or given make overs in the beauty parlour, I still learnt a lot from my placement. It’s the little everyday people skills which carry the most importance and can make a huge difference. I think my skills may need some more practise though. As for the movie, I will never be able to watch it in the same way again. Instead, my own experience will loom large over me and continue to stress me out through every scene. The moral of the story here is, don’t be fooled by Hollywood movies like me. Dream big, but keep it realistic – no one will become the next top editor by just walking into the building.