Sunday, 18 August 2013

My top tips for work experience - getting a placement and getting the most out of one

As someone’s who’s spent the past five years squeezing in work placements and internships around uni and school (if you’re really keen and would like to see the full list of where I've worked, feel free to have a peruse of my LinkedIn page. It will probably be one of the most thrilling minutes of your life), I’m quite often asked for my advice both on getting work experience and what to do once you’re there. So, dear readers, I’ve decided to write up all my best tips into one handy blog post, and here it is.

Obviously I'm not suggesting I'm the perfect workie, just an experienced one. In fact, I think I've done 13 work placements over the years, predominantly in journalism, and it's safe to say I've learnt a lot as a result - not just about the industry, but about working life in general.

On a fashion shoot for more! mag
The way I see it, work experience should be about balance – the companies get some free labour, and the workies should get a valuable insight and learn as much as possible about the industry and company. Of course that’s not always the case. We hear so many stories of unpaid interns and exploitation of young people on work experience, yet work experience is also basically a necessity for getting a job these days. It's a tricky one.

In my opinion, long internships - for more than, say, a few weeks - really should be paid, but I also think unpaid work placements for a week or two are OK. If you're really lucky, you might get lunch or expenses covered, which is always nice.

The trouble is, for a lot of industries you need to go to London to do work placements, and if you don't live in London, what can ya do? As students, very few of us can afford to commute to and from London every day, but even paying for travel around London is seriously pricey. I'm very lucky in that I have some cousins and family friends who live in London, and so over the years I've crashed with them again and again, but I know that isn't an option for some people.

I absolutely love doing work experience - not because it might look good on my CV, but because I just really enjoy doing it. Because of my work placements, I've been lucky enough to do some incredible things.

Meeting Frances and Fredrik from Made In Chelsea
I love being in an office environment, meeting interesting people and learning more about whatever it may be. I'm lucky in that I know what I'm interested in, but quite frankly I feel spoilt for choice - there are too many companies I want to apply to for work placements and not enough time for me to do them!

Nowadays, it's not even that easy to get your first work placement, but once you get the ball rolling and have one or two placements on your CV, it gets a lots easier, trust me.

Excited about my first press pass!


1. Apply, apply, apply! Everyone asks me how I get all my work experience, but there's no secret - I just apply!

2. A lot of people are nervous about applying for placements and find it quite scary contacting companies, but it's honestly the only way to make things happen. You've just got to get stuck in and go for it! Don't be scared about emailing people - I know that's easier said than done though. And if you don't hear back after a while, call them up and ask, politely, if your application has been received.

3. I usually send my CV attached to a cover email - with a spot of online research, you can normally find out all the contact details you need. Ideally, you want to get a name as opposed to a generic 'Dear [insert name of company]', as that's much more personable.

4. I know it's tricky to sell yourself without sounding cocky, but try and let your CV blow your trumpet for you. In your cover letter or email I think the most important thing is to come across enthusiastic and say something about why you want to work at that company in particular, not a generic one.

5. Start small - if you want to get into journalism, for example, you're probably not going to walk into a placement at a national newspaper without any prior experience (a point backed up by Senior ITV News Producer, Roohi Hasan, in my interview with her), so start off applying to local places. Oh, and definitely get involved in any student media that you can - it's a great way to show you're genuinely interested and keen.

The snazzy Sky News office


1. So, you've got your placement (hoorah, congratulations!) and it's time to get ready. I always like to do some research beforehand so I'm clued up. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail and all that.

You know how in the interviews on The Apprentice, it's so embarrassing when the candidates don't know something about Lord Sugar or his company? Yeah, don't let that be you.

I'm not saying you should stalk everyone who works for the company, but it never hurts to have a quick google or peruse of the odd LinkedIn page. Do some background research of the company and it'll help you demonstrate your interest and understanding.

2. Plan your travel. This is particularly key if your placement is in London and you're not used to getting around by public transport. The last thing you want is to be stressed about being late, which brings me nicely on to...

3. Be early! Especially on the first day. You should leave yourself plenty of time to get there, as being late will NOT make a good first impression.

4. To make sure you're not late, get everything ready the night before. Make sure you have pens, a notepad, water, snacks (essential), and all your other bits and bobs ready, as you don't want a last minute panic if you can't find your Oyster card and need to leave in five minutes.

5. Plan your outfits. As I always have to go to London with a suitcase for the week or fortnight, I find it best to plan my outfits in advance as opposed to taking a suitcase full of separates. Make sure to find out the dress code beforehand too! You don't want to rock up in jeans if everyone else is in suits, or vice versa! If in doubt, err on the formal side though.

I think it's really important to wear something you feel comfortable and confident in, and your clothes really can affect how you feel and act. Dress smart, feel smart, be smart.


1. Be friendly and polite. It sounds like a no-brainer but I've heard tales of workies who just sit in the corner sulking. Don't be one of them. Smile, ask questions and be interested.

2. Don't expect every second to be scintillating. You'll undoubtedly have some tedious tasks to do, but that's always the case. You have to be prepared for that. As workies, we are at the bottom of the ladder, but hopefully having to do some menial jobs should be balanced by getting some good insights too.

3. That said, if you literally are just doing photocopies and making tea, and thus not getting as much out of your placement as you'd like to, have a polite word with whoever you're reporting to.

The chances are they'll be able to organise for you to talk to some people in other departments and if you go about it the right way, hopefully they'll admire your desire to make the most of your placement and won't be annoyed. Embrace the opportunity to ask colleagues how they got to where they are today.

4. Make yourself useful. Finished a task? Don't just sit there! Tell someone you've done it, and if they can't think of anything else for you to do, find something. Ask other people if there's anything you can help them with (politely, they'll all be busy), find some cupboards to organise, check the paper in the printer hasn't run out, or just offer to do a tea round.

5. Be enthusiastic and happy to do anything, even the most tedious tasks. And if you're not sure how to do something, don't be afraid to ask questions. The chances are your colleagues would prefer to answer your questions and ensure the job is done right than you keep schtum and do it all wrong.

6. Don't complain, take extra breaks or sit around playing on your phone or facebook. Basically, act professionally.

And so there you have it! My top tips for work experience. It's a great thing to do, and something I'd thoroughly encourage. Even if you don't love your work placement, that's still good because you can tick off something you don't want to do later in life.

I also try and keep in touch with contacts as best I can afterwards - if you don't already have a LinkedIn page, I'd recommend getting one. I'm no source of authority, but I think it's OK to request to connect with colleagues from work placements. I always do, but only the ones I've worked closely with or got to know well.

By doing work placements, you make contacts, get valuable experience and not only learn about the world of work but also about yourself. And it's fun! The world is our oyster, so just go for it!

Check out the careers tab to read about some of my previous work placements.

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