All work and no pay

Photography: thinkpublic

I started work experience 6 years before I expect my career to begin, and it’s going to be worth it.
The ‘Summer of Placements’ is what I’ll probably refer to the current holiday period as when my classmates ask me what I got up to when we all get back to university in October.
I’m just in the middle of a week with a PR company in Coventry, which is very enlightening to in respects to looking at the media from the other side. Similar to journalism in many ways, I’m really enjoying the placement, though it’s definitely not as buzzy as a newsroom, except for the continuous ring of phones.
My previous placement with a local newspaper was brilliant too, adding to my journalism skills and getting some desperately needed experience in a newsroom. The colleagues I worked with – like at the PR company – were all friendly and welcoming, and keen to share their stories and experience.
Their advice is: experience, experience, experience. Luckily, this is something I’ve already been lapping up.
Before the summer holidays are over, I’ll have a week with a publishing company, working for an MP’s researcher, and worked for two months full-time back home… but I probably will still be miles away from getting a job later on in life.
I might just have completed my first year at university, but I have to start building my career already. The contacts I am making and the skills I am developing are going to be absolutely vital for my (hopeful) career in the media.
Seeing as it was my first year (for which my marks do not contribute towards my final grade) I took the opportunity to get stuck into as many things as possible, for both enjoyment and CV building.
I’ve joined and progressed up the ranks of the students’ newspaper, gained two new jobs, done some volunteering, participated in and ran a political activism campaign and next year I have won an elected position at the Students’ Union and will be helping run the press relations for the largest student-run festival in the world. Don’t worry, I do go out clubbing and to the pub occasionally too.
Phew. A bit much for aged 19?
Nope. When I’m not out and about, sleeping or holding down three jobs, I’m blogging, reading newspapers, books, emailing and writing applications to get more placements and updating my CV.
It’s a bit depressing that it’s how I’m spending my holiday, especially since it took months to get anywhere, I’m not getting paid, and it means I get to spend limited time doing the things I really want to do.
I want a job I love, and I’m determined to do whatever I can to get it. It’s not easy to get someone to read your emails, answer your phone calls or for you to get a word in edgeways. It’s taken a good four months to secure this valuable office time, but I hope the results pay off when I graduate. With few responses up until recently, I was almost crying with desperation until I finally got some emails back.
This isn’t something new either, my first work experience placement was with a cafe in my local town when I was 15, cooking, waitressing and serving customers. My first job was even earlier at 14; a village paper-round (which didn’t even put me off the Sunday newspapers, despite their weight) and I also secured a part-time coffee shop job at 16, which I still have.
The current job climate is mixed, according to which report or newspaper article you’re looking at. But a job in the media is never going to be easy to get, and I have to make sure I’m a cut above the rest by the time I start applying for jobs.
A degree isn’t enough to land you a job anymore, and with £9000 fees on the horizon, more and more people will be looking to work experience, placements and extra curricular activities to boost their CV and the value of their degree, years before they even start applying for jobs.
My History and Politics degree shows good researching and writing skills and a good knowledge of current affairs, so-called “transferable skills”. But what I’m not going to show with it is how well I can communicate with others, lead and be part of a team, my determination, passion, financial knowledge and language skills. Work experience, outside activities and placements will do this, and that’s what I want to show to employers when I sit down at my first graduate interview.
Finding placements and finding them time for extra activities as well as your degree isn’t easy, and it’s definitely stressful. However, it’s almost always worth it, even if it means you figure out where you don’t want to work. Of course, I’m not so naive to expect that this will mean a job magically appears for me the day after graduation, but in my view, all experience is good experience, which will put me on the right path.
Did I mention I wrote this on my lunch break?
… I really need a nap.

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Filed under Journalism, Media, Universities, Work Experience

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