How to make the most out of work experience as a trainee journalist

As anyone doing a NCTJ diploma knows, a trainee journalist needs a minimum of 10 days’ work experience to complete the course.

Finding companies willing to take you on at the last minute is difficult and organising placements sometimes takes a while.  Therefore, it is best to start looking and handing out CVs with covering letters as soon as possible.

The earlier you arrange placements, the more time you have to make the most of them.


The NCJT requires students to gain experience from at least two different companies. Variety shows versatility, it proves you can adapt to different environments and handle writing about any given topic, not just your personal interests. Organising only one placement for 10 days can be restricting and may be risky if you find you don’t enjoy it. If one placement doesn’t work out, a completely different one will. You may also gain a better idea of what type of job you would like at the end of your course.

Put what you learn in class into perspective

If you get work experience on a local paper you could get the opportunity to attend a council meeting or court hearing. These are good occasions to practice your shorthand and by shadowing a reporter you can see how they use their shorthand (or mobile phones if not in court) to record information. After the meeting or tribunal the reporter will take the opportunity to ask questions to various sources involved. Pay attention to who they speak to and the questions they ask and remember this real life situation for your public affairs, law and reporting exams.

Recycle material

If you’re ever stuck for ideas on what to write about, work experience placements are good sources of inspiration. Also any work you produce can be used for your portfolio. The time you spend in the office can save you a lot of time writing new articles later, especially when you have revision to do and deadlines to meet.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Talk to members of staff at your placements and ask them questions about their jobs. This will give you a good idea of what a future career could involve. Also many reporters are likely to have done the same course as you and would be happy to give advice.

Make contacts

Keep in touch with people you met on your placement, if you need more experience you will stand a better chance of getting it later on. You never know; if a placement went well and you made a good impression they may keep you in mind if a job vacancy came up in the future.


Don’t forget to ask someone to sign your work placement assessment sheet. A good reference from a company will definitely look good to any prospective employers.

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