As Editorial Assistant at a popular magazine, I receive an average of 15 applications a day from people wanting to carry out work experience in our office. Being a women’s magazine the vast majority of applicants are women aged anywhere between 15 and 35.
As someone who was once in the unenviable position of wanting to break into print media I do try my best to offer opportunities where I can. But I also feel that to offer people work experience with us if I know they are going to spend 90% of their time filing magazines, getting breakfast, transcribing and doing mailouts, is just not on.
Many of us started at the bottom of the ladder, making tea and sorting the post and acting as if we were over the moon to be doing so, yet I believe we do have a responsibility as an industry to make sure those on work experience get some real experience of life at a magazine. That might be by spending time on shoots, shadowing a journalist or sitting with the pictures team as they create a new page – however we do it, I now have a policy of not taking people on work experience unless I know we can offer some element of involvement in the creation of the magazine, however minor that may be.
Work experience can be a great way in, I was lucky enough to get my job after doing two week’s w/exp where I work currently. I do make a note of people who stand out, I will share my contacts so they can secure their next place and I may ask them to cover for me when I go away, so there’s no denying its a good way in.
I thought it might be useful to share some of the things I have learned from the applications I see every day, to share the good, bad and ugly in the hope it might give someone out there a chance to get into the industry.
1) Do your research – look at the website of the magazine/newspaper you want to work at as there will probably be instructions for how to apply. If not then the best route is to email the Editorial Assistant whose details will be on the masthead of the publication (generally at the top). I would suggest you email rather than call, Editorial Assistants get a LOT of phone calls and if they are efficient they will read and get back to your email when they have time.
2) Do not email multiple publications at once – each one will feel that you are not particularly loyal to their magazine and will also be less inclined to respond to a group email. We all know that you will be applying to lots of places but we still want you to make us feel special!
3) Within your email there are some key details to include. In the first paragraph put your age, when you are available (dates and for how long), specify if you are keen to be in a certain department (although be aware this may not work in your favour) and put a little about yourself, focus on how helpful you are and your awareness that you may need to do any type of job but are more than happy to do so. It is also good to include why you like the publication you are applying to, just a sentence will do.
4) Keep it short and check your spelling and grammar. It is so obvious to say, but we receive so many badly spelt and poorly written applications and even if people won’t be writing immediately it doesn’t show a genuine commitment to being a writer if you can’t actually write.
5) Other relevant information – It is fine to send a CV or covering letter although we are pressed for time so the likelihood at looking at attached documents is slim. Put the information listed above, and anything you feel is really relevant, in the body of your email so there’s no chance it will be ignored.
6) Chasing?! This is a tricky one, ideally your application will be acknowledged in some way but if it isn’t should you chase the contact or not? I would suggest sending an email seven days later (if you haven’t heard back) acknowledging how busy the person may be and gently checking they received your original email.
7) Don’t be downhearted – if you don’t get offered a work experience placement it could be for so many reasons, timing and a lack of places on offer being primary examples. Do try a number of places, milk your contacts (we expect to be asked for help by friends of friends) and don’t give up!
Finally…if you are lucky enough to secure a placement you need to realise how fortunate you are (and talented, of course!) This is a placement that hundreds of people would love and could be your one and only chance. Arrive ten minutes early, thank the Editorial Assistant when you arrive, bring a map of the area as you will likely be sent out and about (or a GPS phone), offer to get lunch and make tea. Accept every job with enthusiasm and a smile and you will not be forgotten.