Here are a few things I’ve learned from my various journalism internships over the years. My experiences are mainly based on fashion, beauty and lifestyle journalism but my advice can apply to most areas of journalism.
Think about who you’re addressing
It starts pre-placement. First you need to get that all important interview before the actual work experience slot. ‘Sir/Madam’ will be ignored as will ‘Dear (name of publication).’ Know the right person to contact and address them directly- do some research and you will be able to find who the person is. And don’t forget to do something original with the subject line- think how many emails will be titled ‘Application for Work Experience.’ Be different! Stand out!
Know the brand
Going to a magazine? Read as many issues as you can get your hands on and find your favourite writers. Do they have a website? A Twitter feed? An app? Check them.
Change your view
A common mistake people make about unpaid internships is the assumption that they are ‘working for free.’ View internships as free training rather than free labour.
No one is forcing you to be an intern- YOU applied to be one. So be grateful you were chosen and look as if you want to be there. You don’t want to be remembered for being a misery guts!
Initiative gets you far
Don’t rely on being spoon-fed. You’ll learn things quicker and earn more respect by doing things yourself. However, if you are really unsure of something, it’s better to ask rather than suffer, by doing something wrong and knocking your confidence.
Approach all tasks as though they were really exciting. Not everything you do will be: some of it will seem dull, but you’re more likely to do the exciting stuff if you approach everything professionally.
Not all internships are paid so if you can’t afford to work for free now then you’re best off leaving it until you can. If you can’t rely on savings or financial help from your family, it’s a good idea to take time out to work (think bar/retail/temping jobs) and save up to support yourself when interning at a later stage.
There may be times when you haven’t got any placements or work experience lined up. It may be worth working part-time, taking a course at your local college or volunteering to keep you occupied (and your CV fresh) in the meantime.
Get as much experience as possible
You’ve probably heard it countless times but it really is important to get as much experience as you can. Each experience will develop your skills and knowledge, introduce you to new contacts and keep your mind focused on what you want to do.
Be clear on what you want and what you can offer and negotiate with the employer so that you both gain. If you feel that you are being taken advantage of, pull your employer aside and politely air your concerns.
Notice and absorb the discipline and protocol of the workplace- what to wear, how people are addressed, how the phone is answered. Show the employer that you can fit into the workplace!
Reflect and review
Think carefully about what you are learning and record it somewhere, so that you can refer to your experience in job applications. My diary and notebook have been my best friends on past internships- I’ve written down tasks, key dates, phone numbers and even how colleagues like their tea! Also, be sure to keep a record of your contacts. This is crucial in journalism and could land you a job in the future. Keep in contact with past contacts.
Offer to make tea/coffee- you’ll be surprised at how appreciative people will be as they might be too busy to make it themselves! It will also give you a chance to talk to other people in the office.
Put your ideas out there
Pitch ideas and don’t be downhearted if they are rejected. Keep coming up with more until you understand what the employers are looking for. Keep pitching your ideas after you leave to your contacts: this can lead to you writing for on the publication of a freelance basis and will add to your portfolio.
Make your own opportunities
Turn less interesting tasks into opportunities. For example, if you asked to go through the week’s papers to find relevant stories for writers to follow up on, you can learn what makes a good story for the magazine. Equally sorting through the post means you can get an insight into what readers think.
Talk to your colleagues
During quiet periods, take a chance to ask staff you get in with how they got into journalism and see if they have any advice for you.
It’s not all glitz and glamour
You will have to do tasks that are far from glamorous, even in a glossy industry such as fashion. I’ve had to interview and photograph (grumpy) commuters on their style in the pouring rain. I’ve had to hold up lighting equipment for hours on end, fetch lunch orders for a 30-strong crew, assist film crews at 2am in the snow, run errands for actors whilst filming on location, transcribe endless interviews, source props, organise messy wardrobes and so much more. Just get on with whatever you’ve been asked to do…and do it well!
After your internship…
Send a follow-up email to say thank you and that you would like them to bear you in mind for future placements or job vacancies. If there is someone you got on well with, stay in touch, and drop them a line every few months to let them know that you are still interested in working for them. This will remind them that you are out there if a job comes up. Email the features editor with any feature ideas you might have. If you have proved yourself during your first placement and they like your ideas, you might get commissioned to write your first big feature.
Journalism can be one of the most rewarding and challenging of careers, but competition is fierce. To succeed, you will need to show a high level of commitment, enthusiasm, initiative and determination. Work hard, have faith in yourself and most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP.