Being an intern, or on work experience is the shitty end of the stick when it comes to media careers, but I’m sure you won’t have to hold it for long. Just follow the 10 commandments of work placements and you’ll be fine.
How To Make A Success of Your Media Work Experience Placement
NO 1 – GO FOR WHAT LIGHTS YOUR FIRE
Only go for work experience on the kind of programmes/publications etc that you feel a genuine enthusiasm for. This may seem like wishful thinking when all you want is a job, but since you’ll be working for nowt you may as well aim to have fun while you’re doing it.
Princess Beatrice is apparently off to the affluence and fashion sections of the FT (well I guessed they covered affluence, but fashion? In the Financial Times? Maybe it’s how to make a thong out of a load of pound coins? Hopefully Bea will enlighten us)
NO 2 – SUCK UP TO EVERYBODY (EXCEPT THE STARS)
Whilst you’re on work experience, don’t make the mistake of just sucking up to the boss – suck up to everybody.
Be especially nice to the runners and researchers because when they leave they may recommend you to take over from them. They might be on the bottom rung, but it’s still a rung up from work experience, so watch, worship and learn.
The big exceptions to this are the stars – on no account suck up to them because they get that all the time anyway. Just treat anyone famous you meet like a normal person and you’ll do fine.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. I was once at lunch with the production crew of a programme I was producing. The presenter was regaling the assembled masses with the story of a dream he’d recently had which involved himself in sexual congress with the recently deceased Princess Diana. Just as he reached the crescendo of his story (“And, y’know, we were really fucking…like animals..we were really going for it”), I caught the eye of a pleasant, shy girl who had joined us for work experience. She looked like this was a shock it would take her a long time to recover from but at least she had the sense not to say a thing.
NO 3 – DO WHATEVER YOU’RE ASKED
When on work experience, never refuse to do anything, no matter how mundane or personally humiliating it might be. Once, at Anglia TV, we needed someone to dress up as the mascot of the local football team. There was no way any of us hired hands was dressing up as Captain Canary, so you can guess who did.
The costume consisted of a bright yellow body, designed to make the wearer look like a huge ping pong ball which had been dipped in custard. An unfortunate work experience bod was sent to put it on. He was away a long time. When he returned, the producer laughed uproariously at how ridiculous he looked then bollocked him for keeping everyone waiting.
It turned out that he’d had a bit of a mishap in the changing room, tripping over the huge, claw-like boots, then falling over like a beached Tellytubby. He’d had to drag himself over to a table and haul himself upright again, because he’d realised that no one was coming to help. This woeful tale got no sympathy. Then we noticed that the head part of Captain Canary’s costume whiffed a bit, to say the least. So we sprayed it with a dollop of Mr Sheen, plonked it on his head, and sent him out on to live TV.
Said workie was last heard of producing a prime time ITV show.
NO 4 BUT MAKE SURE YOU DO IT RIGHT
Ask questions about whatever you’re given to do if you’re not sure exactly what’s required. It’s much better to do this and get it right than be shy about it and cock up. That’s the fastest route to not being asked to do anything else.
NO 5 – DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY IF YOU’RE NOT TREATED WELL
My worst time on work experience was when I went to a BBC local radio station and found that they didn’t even have a spare chair for me to sit on – so I was told to stand in the corner of the newsroom.
After about 8 hours of this I was feeling rather faint, so I went home. The paid incumbents looked a bit surprised that I was leaving. A friend of mine spent a week in the same place and found it equally grim, although she did emerge with some well-toned calf muscles from standing up all day.
A common complaint amongst work experience detainees is that you get given very little to do. Don’t be surprised if you’re told to read the newspapers and get coffee – after a week you may be trusted with the photocopying. This is because your new workmates simply don’t know how talented and fabulous you are, and they’re usually too busy to try and find out. Remember that although this is a momentous event in your life – your big chance to make an impression – to them you’re just the latest in a long line of weekly slaves. Many media companies will have different people in on work experience every week, so that after a while the staff don’t tend to register the new faces or bother to be friendly to them.
NO 6 – DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT OUT OF THE EXPERIENCE
You’re likely to get more to do if you go somewhere smaller, especially outside London. But then again, even if you end up running the station, putting Radio Pisspot on your CV doesn’t quite have the same attention grabbing kudos as BBC Nine O Clock news. Do as many placements as you can at different places, or go back to the same place a lot so that they get so sick of the sight of you they have to give you a job.
NO 7 – IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START
Of course, all of this takes time, which is why it’s a good idea to start trying to get work experience as early as you can. That way, by the time you leave college you’ll have racked up a few things to put on your CV. And by being in a real media environment you’ll have an even better chance to decide whether or not you like it. This could save you a lot of time later if you eventually decide that there are easier and more lucrative ways to earn a living.
TV is a young business and entrants are likely to be in their early twenties. (Although I did once work with a fantastic researcher who was 67. But he was very much a one-off)
NO 8 – KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THE PEOPLE YOU’VE WORKED FOR
Send a thank you email to anyone who was particularly helpful. Follow them on Twitter, but only connect on Facebook if you got on particularly well and would genuinely consider yourself friends. Ask for feedback on what you did that was right and where you could have done better. Offer to come back and do better next time. Let them know how you’re getting on when you start getting paid work. With email there’s no excuse for not keeping in touch.
NO 9 – OFFER TO HELP OUT BUT DON’T GET IN PEOPLE’S WAY
You will get far more out of the placement if you use your initiative rather than waiting to be given things to do. Look around for anyone who seems to be particularly busy – could you make a few phone calls for them? Do a bit of research? Cup of tea? The more useful you make yourself the more useful you will be perceived to be.
NO 10 – IF IT DOESN’T WORK OUT IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD.
So you pissed off the producer, spilt tea over the presenter and sat on the office cat. We learn through the mistakes we make – “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” said Goethe, as he returned from a week’s work experience on his local paper.
How have you found life when you’ve been doing media work experience?
Find out more about hiring Joanne as your media career coach at this link