How to win at Work Experience - Making the most of Media Placements

by - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Having graduated with a first class degree in Music Journalism in July 2014, I think I’m now fairly qualified to say that three years of study, however innovative, exciting and ultimately useful, are not the entire answer when it comes to getting a media job. I also know that degrees are demanding things, and when the summer months or christmas holidays roll round, it’s tempting to see the break as time to binge-eat, watch endless TV on demand and talk A LOT about getting a part time job, but somehow never quite coming round to it.

The fact of the matter is, as much as I love Jeremy Kyle, he’s not going to score that dream job for you. You have to do it yourself, and in the media worlds especially, it’s simply not enough anymore to just know the theory. You have to nail the practical too, and the easiest way to do that is through holiday work experience , where time is at your disposal and you can prep for the next academic year by putting your skills into practice.

As far as media work experience goes, there are several types. First, you have your bog standard ‘Devil Wears Prada’ placement, where you slog away for free and gain no further knowledge than how many shoes are in the sample closet. These type of placements are fine – we’ve all been there, it’s the easiest way to get behind the scenes at your favourite magazine/radio station and there is still potential to impress by being proactive. However (and this is the brave bit) you must know your worth. One week’s unpaid work experience at a top magazine in exchange for some insight and advice is one thing, but it’s quite another to be kept on a skivvy for months on end. Be courteous, grateful and willing to assist, but don’t be a pushover. If a company have said that they'll pay you, make sure they do. Sure, it's a little embarassing, but knowing your worth from the very off is so, so important.

The second kind is what I like to call ‘The Silent Study’. This is very common at magazine and editorial placements, where the staff are so busy that you’re essentially left to your own devices. It’s easy to be put off by these placements, but actually, they’re a bit of a test in themselves. No journalist I have ever met has been purposely mean or rude to an intern; they’re just incredibly busy people who often don’t have the time to sugar coat it for us newbies. Nobody ever got anywhere in medialand by being shy, so break the silence, ask a question or two and use the downtime to brainstorm ideas, research the company or offer to do the tea run, you can actually prove yourself to be worthy of their attention. This worked for me back in my first year, where I took a placement at a popular national music monthly. Whilst I was initially terrified of each and every staff member and felt like every time I asked for work I was being a major pest, by the end of the week they were grateful for my enthusiasm and even took the time to sit me down and do a full critique of my writing, with loads of advice and tips. I kept these contacts over the years and even now those writers say the same thing to me – ‘we’re so glad you kept hassling us.’ These placements are all about what you make it, so be assertive.

Lastly, there is the dream placement. You know the kind – applied months in advance, never thought you’d get it but suddenly, there you are, within sniffing distance of your dream job where you’re thrown straight into work. I was lucky enough to have this kind of experience earlier this year when I spent five weeks in the digital department of NME. I don’t need to tell any aspiring Music Journalist that this was all kinds of awesome, and it was all because I’d applied regularly and kept in touch. Sure, it took six years on their waiting list to finally get my moment, but so worth it. I spent every day writing, researching and editing real copy for the NME website. By the end of it I had a portfolio of published work, had begun to forge working relationships with writers I had admired from afar for years and endeavour to send them snippets of my work from time to time. But how did I get that lucky? Three simple P’s: Perseverance, Personality and Politeness. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as being a nuisance as long as you are unfailingly polite and pick your moments, so give it a go – even your favourite writer or presenter was in your position once.

Everybody knows the media industry is a competitive one. But that is why it is more important than ever to take time when researching a placement, go in with confidence and never, ever be afraid to say yes. Part of the reason I have the job that I have now is because they liked the variety of my CV and my 'can do' attitude. It's as simple as that - just go do it!

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