Photo by Selina

Photo by Selina

I spotted a great post by 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 every different type of story going, spoke to the public, interviewed, went out with photographers, went to court, inquests and council meetings with another reporter. 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 I certainly never have. 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.