Work Experience

Wangle your way into work experience.

Since I was 15, and had my first work experience placement in London at a small dance magazine in Farringdon, I was continuously on the hunt for work experience. That was up until I was around 21 and set off to go travelling after having finished my NCTJ. Over the years, I guess I have learnt what to do, (and what not to do) when looking for work experience.

When I was in year 10 and looking for my week’s work experience at the end of the year, I…

  • Emailed all the big national magazines – Heat, OK, Glamour, blah..
  • Wrote out a standard email, and just changed the magazine title in each one
  • Didn’t follow it up if I didn’t hear back

I wish I could turn to my 15-year-old self now and tell myself how wrong I was doing it. None of these resulted in any work experience placements, until I finally realised that ‘generic’ emails really didn’t matter, 15-years-old is not the age to get work experience on the nationals, and emails sometimes just don’t work.

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I have completed quite a few work placements, and spoke to people, as well as reading about how to be successful in work experience. So I thought I would share:

  • SMALLER PUBLICATIONS: I wasn’t dead set on having to have experience on a national magazine, I just wanted to be at any magazine. I wanted to learn, see the daily workings in the media industry, and meet people who were doing exactly what I wanted to do! I targeted smaller magazines, that aren’t as well-known, but ones that I still knew of and liked. At one of my placements at a Sussex-based magazine I managed to get three features published in one issue of the magazine, such a proud moment!
  • WRITE A LETTER: Employers get hundreds of emails a day, press releases that they really don’t care less about, feature pitches, junk mail, and of course the odd work experience application. What they might not get is a letter addressed to themselves, with a cover letter and CV inside attached, asking for work experience. I might seem old-fashioned but to me, this is harder to ignore and shows initiative.
  • STAND OUT: On a whim one Sunday afternoon when I was in college, I decided to write a work experience letter to Cosmopolitan. I made it short but brief, attached my CV, put it in pink font and made it look fancy. No, I didn’t get a place there, but I did get a personalised letter back, hand-written from someone handling work experience to say they were fully booked, but to get in touch at a later date. Send your application in pink paper, or make your cover letter into a ‘feature article’. Do something so that when they open the envelope, they’re surprised by what they see.
  • FOLLOW UP: With an email or phone call. Don’t nag and do this every week. If you haven’t heard back from them in a couple of weeks, then give them a ring and explain that you had applied for work experience. I can’t stress enough how important it is, to not just apply and then forget about it if you haven’t heard back! It shows you really want it!
  • TAILOR YOUR APPLICATION: Rookie error if you forget to change ‘Cosmopolitan’ to ‘Glamour’ when you’re applying for work experience. Tailor each cover letter to that exact publication. What bits of the most recent magazine did you like, what was your favourite article, what are the best regular features, why do you feel you would fit in with this magazine? They will know full well if you have just used the same email to send to all the national magazines/newspapers.
  • DON’T WAIT AROUND FOR THEM: Work experience is increasingly being advertised now like jobs, on sites such Gorkana or on Twitter. Of course, these are prime opportunities to apply for work experience, but don’t just wait for these opportunities to come up. Find them yourself.
  • FIND THE RIGHT PERSON: Who is the person who deals with work experience? This is sometimes stated on the website or in the magazine, but if it is not, then sent it to the editorial assistant/editor’s PA. These are the sorts of jobs that they are likely to deal with, or if not they would be able to point you in the right direction. It might be brave sending it to the editor, but will they read it? With everything else they have to do?
  • USE YOUR CONTACTS: I had work experience at The Times whilst I was at university. This was because my ex-History teacher, who knew I wanted to get into journalism, contacted me to say his wife’s sister was the editor at The Times 2 features supplement. I applied for work experience the usual way, mentioning this contact, and I had an ‘in’ straight away. I was asked which dates I wanted to go as well! Sometimes it really is about who you know.

…Don’t give up!

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