Making the most of work experience…

Posted on August 14, 2011


There are two types of unpaid work you might do before getting that first job in the media.

First “work experience” which you get to do at school. This is a chance to find out as much as you can about working in the media and use that information to decide if it’s a career you want to pursue.

Then there’s a “work placement” which you’d do during a college or university course. The aim here is to prove you can actually do the job and move towards paid work, probably as a freelancer at first.

So work experience is pretty general and if you’ve got a week lined up at a newspaper, radio or television station it’s worth spending some time moving around different areas of the business. Think variety and soak up as much as possible from the different departments. If your main interest is news try and get half a day working with the sales team, or a few hours down in engineering. Doing this will introduce you to jobs you didn’t know existed and you’ll understand how they fit together with the bit you’re really interested in.

At 16 I had no idea how much time a radio station Programme Director spent dealing with the Sponsorship and Promotions manager. I thought they’d be concentrating on deciding what music to play or listening to demo tapes. And I thought engineering meant sitting beside a soldering iron. It sometimes does, but it can also mean hanging out with Paul Weller or Coldplay.

To make the most of your time – you need to do some homework before you get there. Some of these places are short staffed and everyone’s tight for time. So showing you how the editing software or text processing system works gets in the way of their busy day. If you want to get really involved you’ve got to make it easy for them.

Find out in advance which computer systems they use. Could you go in on a weekend before your work experience and get some practice when it’s quieter? Is there an instruction manual on the internet you could look at? Or even an introductory video on You Tube? The more you know before you go the more you’ll be able to do while you’re there.

Newsrooms can be busy, noisy places where everyone seems a big personality. I’ve never been in a football dressing room but I reckon the atmosphere is similar and that’s a little intimidating for someone new.

So speak up and assert yourself and volunteer to do stuff. If you just sit quietly in the corner, you could be sitting there a long time! I’ve seen people spend 5 whole days reading newspapers, drinking tea or doing really dull jobs like inputing contact details into the computer.

Here’s a quick video explaining how to make sure this doesn’t happen to you…

I’ve seen some people get caught up in never ending work placements.

One guy spent 9 months, working every day unpaid at a radio station before they finally gave him a job. He was having fun, he was learning stuff, making contacts and getting experience but there comes a point where it’s just not fair.

So where do you draw the line?

The key is to agree a definite time frame before you start. So, if you’re at college and need to build some links in the industry to help you get a job when you finish then a week’s unpaid work placement is a great idea. Maybe even 2 weeks.

If they can’t take you for a week, maybe you can go in every Sunday for a month to get a feel for the place and show what you can do.

But before you start, agree an end.

And anything beyond that, you should be paid for. It might not be much, but there should be something. Don’t be taken advantage of.

If you’re good enough to do the work, you’re good enough to earn money for it.

I know it can be hard to walk away from something you enjoy and it feels like you’re closing a door you fought hard to open, but there’s nothing to be gained by selling yourself short.

Whatever you do..make sure you do this….

Work experience and work placements can be great opportunities. But it’s up to you to make them count.