Work experience in the media – The Devil really does wear Prada

As every student is made well aware of on a daily basis, internships and work experience places are proving increasingly crucial to opening doors and opportunities in later life and with 50,000 mor

As every student is made well aware of on a daily basis, internships and work experience places are proving increasingly crucial to opening doors and opportunities in later life and with 50,000 more graduates than in 2007, competition is fiercer than ever. With one in three entry-level jobs being taken by graduates who have already carried out work experience placements and internships at that particular company, it is clear that it’s time to start climbing the arduous ladder.

I do however question whether companies offer these ludicrously sought after placements to ardent employees simply in return for slave labour with no further prospects or whether work experience provides an insight into the ‘wonderful world of work.’ Besides, many people maintain the view that the best intern and work experience opportunities in fields like politics, finance and the media are going disproportionately to those who are already privileged and well connected.

As I am sure you have guessed from me writing this feature, I want to enter the viscously competitive world of journalism and the media and anyone in my position knows the work experience application drill. One must dedicate at least four hours to sending out ‘generic’ and overly zealous covering letters to every newspaper and magazine under the sun. It is also crucial to ensure that you have appropriately edited the name of the company in each mail (an embarrassing error made by one of my friends when writing to Elle magazine explaining how she would ‘love to undertake work experience for Cosmo’; pretty awkward.) Then, one must await their fate.

Subsequently, an incoming email immediately lights up but after four years in ‘the work experience game’ I am never naïve enough to get my hopes up. This is outcome number one, one which I have come to refer to as ‘why did you even bother?’ and usually comes from a prestigious magazine like Vogue informing you that your meticulous effort of an email has ‘bounced’ because the recipient’s inbox is full. That is, ‘full’ of thousands of pitiful, neglected emails just like yours for spaces that have already been filled by journalist’s brother’s-girlfriend’s-17 year old-sister who have no clue what they want to do in life but are quite fond of the idea of sitting at a desk and gossiping about celebrities in their school half-term.

If your email doesn’t ‘bounce’ then you may be confronted with outcome number two: a reply informing you that your recipient is ‘out of office and will reply to you upon their return’ (cue a slight lift in your hopes) ‘…but if you are emailing regarding work experience, there are no available placements until the year 3000.’ Great.

I have, however, occasionally been lucky enough to experience outcome number three: an offer of a weeks work experience which literally feels like Christmas and your birthday all at once until you realise that after spending thousands of pounds on a degree you are jumping for joy at the prospect of working for free; weird. This week can evolve into one of two situations. Either five days of pure boredom in an office full of 50-somethings who perceive you as nothing more than an inconvenient good-for-nothing hopeful whose only purpose is clearing out old newspapers or making tea. You then proceed to stare at a computer screen until your eyes psychically ache, read the most obscure news articles about flying cats and use the spare time ‘constructively’ to delete over 1,000 junk emails whilst pondering all the people you could stalk on facebook if only you weren’t surrounded by prying eyes.

Or, your week could evolve into an extremely worthwhile and enjoyable experience with people who are genuinely grateful of your free labour and sincere interest in your chosen field. I was lucky enough to experience this warm and welcoming reception at Now magazine. The office was super-swanky with a grand reception hall adorned with marble floors serving as the perfect catwalk for the 30-something’s in their Louboutin court shoes armed with Blackberry in one had and skinny latte in the other. Celebutante gossip flew around the office all day long and luckily I was seated near the editor listening in for all the latest on Chez and Ash’s relationship whilst nonchalantly carrying out my assigned research on the potentially more controversial and far more cerebral papal visit. My week culminated in an interview with Drew Barrymore and Justin Long followed by ‘question time’, better known in the media world as shameless stalking and a firing of questions at The Saturdays.

Upon my departure I wrote a standard thank you card with a cheeky ‘I hope to see you again soon’ line and on I went, only to be replaced by another hopeful intern a week later. The whole week was uncannily similar to a scene from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and the yummy mummies always arrived late to the office, but made up for it by leaving even earlier. This was the moment when I decided that I most definitely wanted to write slander about tinsel-town and get paid for doing it.

In today’s incredibly competitive labour market, work experience matters more than ever when it comes to securing that first climb up the networking ladder and it really is crucial to get your hands on some even if it means making tea for snooty old men.

One crucial thing I have learnt from work experience is that when/more to the point IF I land a journalism job, I will spare a thought for the bright-eyed, over dressed young faces in my office plonked next to the photocopier with fear and confusion in their eyes. Been there, done that, time to do it all again, for free.