So I know I’m still not quite there with my ol’ Journo dream but I don’t think it matters where you are in your life with your education/career, you’re constantly learning and adapting so without further ado, here are some of my little pearls of wisdom for journalism students and graduates, old and new.
Intern, Intern, Intern!
Yes, most of you are probably sick to death of your lecturers and advice columns telling you to intern but as we know, experience goes a long, long way. I know that many of you at university now are having to put ridonculous amounts for your tuition fees and so the thought of slaving away for free or the minimum wage is not a welcome-with-arms-wide-open one but trust me, employers are more likely to look at intern-magnet Maggie with her 2:1 than no-experience Eva with her 1st. You may have a 1st (go you!) but all it tells employers is that you can do what is asked of you to the point of perfection for your degree but you need to think and be a little bit outside the box. No way am I saying that you should just ditch your lectures because you’ve got a full-on 9-5 two month internship with NME (tempting- I know) because at the end of the day, you still need to get those little letters after your name. It’s all about finding the right balance between work and play.
Many of you find it easier to intern and get work placements during vacation periods, which means you don’t have to race out of your Monday lecture come 5pm, because you need to get to a press event etc, however holidays mean that there is far more competition to compete with to snap up those internships. If you’re super-duper organised, do contact places in advance (especially high-end publications) and get your placements sorted before the next term has even begun. Another huge tip when applying for internships is to tailor your emails and cover letters to that company. Find out who you need to specifically contact and do your research!! Say what you think you will gain from working with XYZ as well as why you think you’re Super-Duper Intern of the Year etc. Companies despise Dear Sir/Madam/Whom it may concern and copy-paste type cover letters- sending “I would love to work for GQ magazine…” to Grazia isn’t going to impress them! Yes, I know it takes a lot more time and effort but it’s worth it for the good of your career!
Like me, if you have a part-time job while at university or post-graduation, it can also be a nightmare juggling work commitments with studying and interning but it can be done, you just have to find your inner Super Girl/Guy
and burn the candle at both ends. It’s handy if a company can be flexible so that you can get the most out of your experiences without it disrupting your day to day life and you’re still a helpful asset to them. I worked for my local newspaper on/off throughout the summer and Christmas break of my second year and luckily the Senior Reporter was so on the ball that she knew exactly what days I would be in and planned things for me to do, whether it be going out and about with the other reporters or conducting telephone interviews and dealing with press releases in the office. Working from home or remotely can also be useful for getting some work experience, although it’s not as fun but I did a lot of PR work and research for the now defunct My Retail Heaven around my studies and I still got to attend fashion events.
Going down the freelance route is also mega handy albeit some might say a more risky business in the current climate, but if you’re willing to put the work in, it can certainly pay off! A benefit of freelancing can also mean payment but make sure that once you’ve got the thumbs-up from the editor for your piece to be commissioned that you formally agree to a fee. Large media organisations will more than likely have their own contracts and procedures for fees but make sure you get into the habit of typing up invoices for your work and keeping tabs on it all, especially if you are raking in the commissions. This, my fellow journos, is where Excel becomes extremely useful! Yes I know that formulas and journalists do not necessarily go well together (High-five to all of you English Lit geeks) but a basic sheet with the publication, title of the piece and the fee earned will be more than enough to make sure you’re not losing out on payments and will allow you to keep track of your monthly earnings. It’s also a nice little aid for your portfolio if you can’t organise it as you go along.
Again this was something that was drummed into me while at university. From the moment you start getting your work published, build up a portfolio. Not only is it sometimes a requirement of your degree to hand in a portfolio but it’s an absolute essential when applying for internships and jobs. Always turn up to an interview with your portfolio to hand even if you are not told explicitly to bring one. Showing it to your potential employer at an interview will not only show your initiative but you’ve also got proof of all your work to date. A simple hard-back folder with plastic wallets from WH Smith or Rymans Stationary will more than suffice (unless you’re going for a more creative role perhaps) so find the time to organise your clippings and articles neatly. If a lot of your work has been published online, use screenshots to slot in as a hard copy and add links to your online CV or blog…which leads me nicely to my next tip.
Start a blog or website
Of course this was going to be one of my pearls of advice, it’d be silly not to include it! Like I’ve mentioned before, I started blogging as a sort of social hobby while I was in Sixth Form, I wasn’t really into MySpace or Piczo (remember that?!) and I wanted a more creative platform beyond the realms of the School Newspaper to let off some teenage angst. A web module was part of my course at City and from our first year, we had to create and keep up an all-singing or dancing blog. I had already created an early version of Essex & The City using another domain so it was fairly easy for me to get stuck into. The blogging scene had exploded massively by the time I graduated and I felt that it was a good platform for me to keep writing and be creative, especially because I worked full-time for a year in retail and it was hard to fit long-term placements around it.
I know a lot of the blogosphere is over-saturated with fashion, beauty and style blogs but find a niche in what you’re interested in; I follow music, fitness, swimming and baking blogs as well as fashion ones. If you’re not feeling confident about having your own site, write for others (like Yuppee Magazine) in the meantime and get as much of your work out there as possible! I also include my blog url on my CV and at every interview I’ve ever had, I’ve been asked about it. Make sure you’re blog-savvy though; be professional, know the law when it comes to copyright and defamation with content and don’t put anything on there (or social media in fact!) that you wouldn’t want your potential boss to see. Delete those drunken photos in a trolley now!
One of my lecturers at City University always placed emphasis on having a contacts book, not only for interviews but also other journos, PRs, your uni mates etc, because you never know when they might come in handy. Aaaaand if you’re missing that all-important bit of information for an article, you’ve got contacts to hand. Everyone meets so many people along their way through their education and their career and obviously it’s extremely useful when it comes to internships, looking for work and even social events. You can always use your contacts to be introduced to others and you never know, if you scratch their back, they might even scratch yours.
Keep in Touch
Always keep in touch with your contacts too, drop them a line and ask them how they’re doing etc. Again, not only with your internship affiliates but also your uni mates too, especially in the first few months after graduating, when most of you are in the same boat, trying not to capsize through the choppy waters of the real world. With social media and business platforms like LinkedIn, there’s no excuse!
Be prepared to suck it up, especially when the post-graduation buzz has died down and reality slowly comes crashing down on you. Ouch, yes, I’m not going to sugar-coat it, I was absolutely terrified when I graduated because I started uni in 2008 when the economy crashed and although I’d thought at the time “Everything will be fiiiiiiine by the time I graduate…” Nah huh.
Jobs are scarce and the media industry is competitive which can feel like two massive obstacles but try not to let it dishearten you, even though I know it’s hard. Frustration is a feeling that I think most of us graduates post 2008 know all too well but seize opportunities, even if they’re not directly related to what you really want to do. As I’ve said a gazillion times before, we can’t all live on nothing so if you have to work more hours at your bar job, so be it. When I worked at LK Bennett, I had the opportunity of working at the Press Office for a couple of weeks and being surrounded by gorgeous clothes and accessories in general, gave me inspiration for my blog posts. Make the most of everything because you never know where it may lead…
Always be nice!
And last but not least, be nice! Be polite, be professional, be prepared to work hard and don’t give up if things don’t go to plan. Some people are lucky and Plan A works for them while the majority of us take little diversions off our intended path but you live and you learn. If anything, the little diversions I’ve had to take post-uni have given me ounces of inspiration for blog posts (yes, rants from time to time) and they’ve made me even more determined. Different experiences colour your life and you’ll eventually discover one that outshines the others.
Good luck! x