Tag Archives: Work experience

How to get the most out of a work experience placement

Photo by Selina

Photo by Selina

I spotted a great post by Kettlemag.com the other day about how to get the best work experience in journalism – fantastic advice from Sian Elvin for up-and-coming journalists who don’t know where to begin.

It made me think about work experience and the importance of getting the most out of it while you have the opportunity because quite simply, it can completely change what you want to do with your life. I am a great example of this – I went to university where I studied English Literature and English Language and Communication thinking that I wanted to become a teacher. The summer before my final year at university, out of desperation from working at a terrible milkshake shop and card store, I wrote to the local paper and asked for work experience to save me from insanity and to have something to show for the summer.

Amazingly, they welcomed me in – I was the first person to be given the opportunity in several years because the previous editor didn’t allow it. Sheer luck? Or a great CV? I had previously done an extra course at university on perfecting your CV and highlighting your credentials, so I would like to think this is what secured me the position. I went along, smartly dressed and full of beans  for my first day at the paper. I was there for just five days, but in those five days, I wrote countless stories, worked my way through their picture tray, spoke to the public, interviewed, went out with photographers, went to court and inquests with another reporter, I was taken along to council meetings and all manner of other things. It gave me a wealth of experience and even led to me securing the front page story for that week. This incredible experience completely changed what I wanted to do with my life and career – deciding there and then that I wanted to go into journalism.

When I left, I was asked to take on a student writing column specifically about my life and adventures at university – I wrote this weekly column throughout my final year at university and loved it. I still get people, including the local MP, talking to me about it now several years on. I also was the paper’s first port of call when two reporters left their jobs quite suddenly and they found themselves short-staffed – they took me on with no qualifications and I worked there for the month before returning to university. It gave me a fantastic opportunity and helped me secure a job and training for when I finished university.

But it has become clear to me over my time working at the newspaper, when I have seen several work experience kids come in of all ages and experiences, that so many just do not have the confidence to make the most of this opportunity. Instead, many prefer to keep their heads down and struggle along instead of asking for help or guidance.

So here are my top tips for getting the most out of work experience:

  • Don’t be afraid – you are only hurting yourself by not being confident enough to ask if you are not sure, or to pipe up if you think of a good idea. Those around you will just think you don’t care or haven’t got the confidence to do the job.
  • Local is just as good as national or regional – don’t be put off by the thought of going for work experience at a local company, it can give you a much better experience where you can get stuck into a range of things while at nationals you might be left making tea instead of learning. Also, they will value your local knowledge – my knowledge of the area I have lived in all my life is greatly valued in an office with lots of workers who travel great distances to work.
  • Dress smartly and practically – don’t wear high heels if you are going to be running around all day and a short skirt is not appropriate.
  • Ask questions – very important! You are there to learn as much as possible by asking everybody questions about absolutely everything. If it is a busy office, perhaps keep a list of things you would like to know and ask if someone could talk you through them in a spare moment.
  • Don’t be rude – we had one girl in who tried to tell the editors how to do their jobs, needless to say she was not invited back.
  • Talk to everyone – for example, you may be in the editorial team but be sure to talk to people from different departments like photographic or advertising – there are lots of levels to offices and lots to learn from all members of staff, no matter how low or high up they are.
  • Don’t worry about getting stuck in the tea round – if you’re like me and don’t drink tea or coffee then the whole thing seems rather ridiculous. While it is nice to offer to make a brew for everyone, and in some establishments it will be expected, but don’t feel like you have to make one. However, it can be a great conversation starter with other departments.
  • Remember you are in a busy office/workspace – many offices work to tight deadlines and you have to remember that everyone around you has a hell of a lot more work to deal with, that looking after you adds to their workload. Don’t take this for granted and try to see if you can help ease their workload by running errands of taking on more – they will then have more time to help you or answer your questions.
  • Grab at every opportunity – always ask if you can do any more jobs whether it is writing more stories, calling people up, face-to-face interviews, going out with photographers or whatever happens in your line of work. A lot of the time the bosses will forget to send you out on stuff, but it will help you out and will show them how dedicated you are if you actively ask for things.
  • Learn as much about the company/their product(s)/their target market and anything else you can find out beforehand – it can really show you’re switched on if you can rattle off some of this stuff or apply it when in the office.
  • Take notes – copious amounts. Never arrive without a pen or notebook. These will help you remember things like computer login details, quirks of the systems, how to do things like saving stuff on to their systems and much more. It will also help if you are asking questions to note things down because it can all be a bit overwhelming and you don’t want to forget stuff.
  • When you finish your week/fortnight, be sure to ask for a meeting with the boss if you are not offered one – ask for feedback on your work over the week (this will help you hugely in future) and if there are any opportunities for further work with them either as freelance, jobs that are going or for further work experience/internships. Also, if you are in need of a reference, this can be useful for further work experience applications.

So there you have it – my top tips for making the most of a placement. Don’t waste the opportunity – they are few and far between in today’s job market and you really can’t afford to not take advantage of the situation. Just be sure to make it work for you as well – don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you aren’t getting much out of the week, just do it in such a way that you suggest things you could do to help them rather than saying it is rubbish.

Have you got any work experience tips? Share them below.

Think you’ve sat your last exam? Think again…

Remember that feeling, like you were drowning in words and letters, like the pages were going to come alive in front of your very eyes and smother you with all the information you had yet to learn? That feeling of hopelessness and being so sure that you would fail? The constant cycle of fear of exams and relief when they were finished was how many of us spent the last five or six years through sixth form/college and then university. At that time, it was difficult to visualise a life outside of the cycle and to imagine actually going to work and finishing the day without homework and further reading…

Then, the end was in sight. That glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel made of books, it wasn’t just the reflection from your glasses, or yet another clock timing your essay writing. That glimmer was freedom! It was the realisation that there was a world outside of your studies and that you would soon be thrust into it and forced to find a real 9-5 job, to sign up to a pension plan and to make your own pack-up lunches. Wow. How exciting it was to think that after three years of studying for the privilege, you would finally be eligible for your dream job – or at least one at the bottom of the rung with hopes of making it to that dream job. It might sound sad, but after three years of studying, reading, writing essays, of partying hard and staying up late, I was ready to leave that world and move on to a real career. I had finally worked out that I wanted to be a journalist or to work in the media and I was eager to sink my teeth into a new and real challenge.

I was lucky, I had put the time and effort into extra work experience, unpaid positions, and had made the connections needed to secure me a job early on, but I hadn’t realised how much work was involved when one decides to become a journalist! The problem is, when you leave university, you just assume that you have written your last essay, scribbled madly in your last exam, made your final presentation and submitted your final piece of group work. But the shock comes when you realise it’s not the case. Now more than ever, with competition so high for jobs and everyone reaching incredible standards of training, it is important to keep ahead of the game by taking advantage of as many types of training as possible.

I have two friends who studied English with me at university and they are now elbow-deep in teacher training, creating learning resources and endless amounts of paperwork – they arrive at work two hours before the children arrive for school and continue to work for several hours after they leave, barely breaking for lunch, then carry on with more work in the evenings. They work harder now that ever before, and although it will all be worth it in the long run, I’m sure that both of them would love to be enjoying a 9-5 job which sees them focusing on the children rather than the paperwork.

As some of you may have already read on my About page, I chose to take the job offered to me and to enrol in my distance learning NTCJ Diploma in Journalism course rather than fork out the few thousand to study the 10-week course – it was cost-effective and meant I could work straight away rather than miss the job opportunity. My problem was the fact that after studying for three years and paying more than £10,000 for the privilege alongside mountains of extra work experience, I was still not qualified enough for the job! This was such a kick in the teeth. I had finally found the career I had longed for and I was finally given the chance to work full-time, but I was to be penalised in my wages for not having my NCTJ qualification. I understand that I journalism, there are aspects such as shorthand and law that you need to study in order to protect yourself as a writer – but it doesn’t take away from the fact that so many graduates are finding themselves still not qualified enough for the jobs they are applying for despite studying for a full three or four years!

It is a very unfair part of the education system, but even more so for those who managed to enrol on a journalism course that didn’t take them through all the necessary exams or to 100wph shorthand – that must be very disappointing – to finish a three-year journalism BA and still have to pay for the 10-week course.It just shows you, you really need to push yourself to get every advantage that is available to you to stand a chance in the big, wide, world.


In your 20’s and don’t know which way to turn?

I read this article and it just seemed so completely ridiculous that I just had to share it with you. Written by Madeleine Dodd for the Huffington Post, it was entitled – Are you having a mid-twenties crisis?

Just the title was enough to make me laugh. It describes the “under publicised beast” that is the mid-twenties crisis, less obvious that the well-known mid-life crisis but describes those who are suffering as panicking when they realise they are too old to win the X Factor and then making huge changes in their lives such as quitting their job, ending a relationship, doing a Masters or going travelling. Dodd links these choices to three big differences between our generation and the last:

1.We know too much about what everyone else is doing thanks to social media
2.We’re the first generation to be less wild than our parents who lived during Woodstock times
3.We know our real value and it comes in at under 20 grand a year

What an incredibly negative and disillusioned woman. Such a shame to have such a jaundiced view of the world we live in at such a young age. Fair enough, times are tough and employment-wise we do have it a lot worse that previous generations, we are constantly aware of everyone around us and what they are up to, and perhaps some of us are having less fun – but perhaps this is more to do with what some people do with themselves. As a bit of a social media nutter (comes with being a blogger, doesn’t it?) I am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Tumblr every day and am constantly seeing updates of what other people are doing and where they are in their lives. To be honest, my Facebook is packed full of three types of people – the ones who had kids/got married young, the ones who are still at university or are on gap years/travelling and the ones who have moved on to work, whether it is something they love or not. The only ones to be jealous of there are those travelling! Fair enough, if you haven’t got the job you want it can be hard to see how amazing some other people’s lives are, but chuck a bucket of salt over that and you might see a glimmer of reality when the ones with amazing jobs are having problems at home, work hideously long hours, actually get treated like crap in the office or their relationship broke up because the job moved them away. There is two sides to every story – Facebook sees the best side (or sometimes the very worst side) but there is always more to the tale.

As for point two, I think someone needs to get out more. Being wild is not about having money from said job or going off and taking copious amounts of illegal substances or dancing in fields naked. It’s about finding your passion and your love and blowing off some steam by giving into it completely every now and again. For me, it is going to see live music including DJs or heading to festivals. And I think if people really knew what a night out was like with me, they would realise this generation are wild enough, in fact if anyone tried walking around Boomtown Fair 2013, they would realise what wild really is!

Finally, we all know our worth and it comes in at under £20,000 a year? Okay, I understand it is very demoralising to come out of university and be forced to work in a job that you don’t like or that you think you are better than. I understand that I have been very lucky in securing such a good job and training to accompany it, but a lot of work also went into securing that. People really need to stop moaning about the recession and employment market, there are countless jobs out there that don’t have people to fill them because others are being too picky about what they want to do.

I have never been under the impression that I would walk out of university and into a job in journalism – I studied English and didn’t have my NCTJ – and I didn’t. I was unemployed for six months but in the two years before me finding my current job, I had done copious amounts of work experience where I impressed by getting front pages in my first week, I had filled in for the company when they were short staffed and contributed a weekly column – all my own organising and forcefulness but it worked in the long run.

Much as I love my job, I have realised that perhaps straight journalism is not for me and perhaps I would prefer online/broadcast or magazine work instead – most of all I would like to try different things but in the meantime I am making sure I am fully trained so that I have the journalism qualification for the future. After realising this, I managed to work it so that I was managing the website and entertainment section of the newspaper to help broaden my experience. I also started volunteering to write for a festival review website for free in order to gain more experience. I have since been made editor which is great experience and will look fantastic on my CV.

Knowing your value is not about how much you are earning – god knows that some of the most valuable people out there are the volunteers and those at the bottom of the heap who work endless hours to perfect things so others at the top can take the credit. It is more about making the most of your talents – by going beyond the call of duty both at your own job by making yourself invaluable, and at extra-curricular activities such as blogging/writing/volunteering/work experience that could benefit you in the long run by giving you extra experience. Sure you might not walk into a producer job at 23, but you’ll have a wealth of skills and although you might be working in a job you hate (back in retail after university is a killer) but you’ll be doing something outside of this that you love and that could lead to bigger things in the long run.

Put simply, the world has changed since our parents’ day and that may not be a good thing in every way, but it isn’t all bad. There are plenty of opportunities for those who are just starting out in their industries – just look at the countless people who have started up their own companies. They have been able to do so because the lack of jobs in their desired area has been lacking forcing them to create positions, and the low interest rates have given them the capital needed. Win-win. And the use of social media has only helped to develop this by offering free marketing and advertising of products to customers.

This is me at my graduation, full of hope and excitement for what would come next career-wise. I left university without a job lined-up but I wasn’t afraid of what was to come. I used the time off between university and starting work as time to relax after my hard work towards exams and to research jobs and journalism training. It helped me decide to start a distance-learning course instead of spending the huge amount of money on in-house courses, which worked in my favour because another journalist left the paper suddenly and they called on me instantly. I was clearly within their minds after all my hard work and it paid off. Patience is everything and a negative attitude helps no-one.

And since when was quitting your job, going travelling or breaking up with a long-term boyfriend seen as flighty or as signs of a mid-twenties crisis? Surely your twenties is the perfect time to start afresh, you have no real commitments and nothing to tie you down. It is a common time to break up couples if their careers or travel fantasies pull them in different directions, it’s the time to find new love and fall head-over-hells for the wrong people. It’s also the perfect opportunity to try out as many different types of work as possible to gain experience and use jobs as a chance to travel, move away and gain independence. As for going travelling, when you’ve just spent nearly 20 years in education and firmly under your parents’ wing, a taste of freedom at university can give you the desire to see the world and get out there. To experience it all for yourself, and with difficulties finding the right job, why not work  in retail, save some dollar and head out to Thailand to find yourself?

What do you think about life in your twenties? Are you having a bit of a crisis, or do you feel like you’re got it together?


My first piece as editor of This Festival Feeling

My first article as editor

My first article as editor

Check it out guys! Here is a snapshot of my first published article as editor of This Festival Feeling – not only did I conduct the interview, come up with the questions and write up the final piece, but I also had the opportunity to edit the piece, format it and deal with pictures for the site. It was great to see both sides to the job and I was really pleased with the interview. If you would like to read the piece in full, click the picture above.

I am now officially the editor of the website and will oversee all writings and work, edit pieces and upload them to the website. I will still have the opportunity to write but will have the power to come up with strong editorial ideas and to lead the team. It is a great opportunity and I am really looking forward to the year ahead of leading a team on this project. It will help to give me the experience of an editor position with the focus on something I love – festivals. It is also an opportunity to have access to festivals in a way that I haven’t previously. I have a feeling 2014 is going to be a good year.

We are looking for other members of the editorial team – if you love to write and are looking for some extra work experience and a way of getting your writing published in exchange for free tickets to festivals – drop me a line below and I’ll point you in the right direction.

I’d also love any feedback on my article, again, leave any comments below – I look forward to reading them.