What a difference work experience makes

25 10 2012
One of the advantages of studying for NCTJ qualifications at Brighton Journalist Works is that we organise three weeks of work experience for our students. It takes the stress out of the search.
When students make sure they stand out from the crowd they regularly find themselves at the head of the pack while job–hunting.
We hear from three students whose performance while on work experience has paid dividends and helped them land the job of their dreams.
Ben Leo graduated in July, achieving the gold standard in all his NCTJ exams including 100wpm shorthand.
Now he is working at The Argus.
“Aside from being in the right place at the right time, I think I was offered a job at The Argus due to my pro-active attitude.
“When I was studying for my NCTJ exams at Brighton Journalist Works, I would try to regularly send the news editor as many news-worthy stories as possible.
“Some he liked, which were published. Some he didn’t. But the point was I had worked to make myself known to him and the other reporters in the office before I started my work experience.
“I spent  four days in the Argus offices and have been working there ever since. In my short time there, I’ve noticed that some of the other guys or girls who come in for work experience tend to wait to be spoken to or given something to do.
“In all honesty, I think the newsroom of a daily paper is busy enough without the staff having to care for and look after work experience people (as harsh as it sounds).
“My advice, whist not necessarily right or wrong, would be to come prepared with story ideas, get on with something worthwhile and try to bring something to the table.
“You only have a few days to make an impression and first impressions as they say, are key.
“Finally – it might sound weird but it also helps to be able to talk to people. And when I say that I mean looking people in the eye and showcasing some degree of social skills.
“It doesn’t mean you have to turn up at 8am acting like a big brother wannabe, just be you and just be genuine.  No employer wants to hire someone who stares at the ground all day and who doesn’t try to make an effort to fit in.
“I recognise I am very lucky in being able to work at The Argus despite my experience, or rather inexperience. For that I am extremely grateful to the relevant people for giving me the opportunity to prove myself – which I hope I am doing.”
Sarah Morgan impressed her colleagues during a work experience placement at Esquire. They encouraged her to apply for a job and now she works as  a sub-editor at Elle Decoration.
Here she explains how work experience placements helped her recognise the type of journalism she wanted to pursue.
“I did work experience at Esquire, The Argus and askamum.co.uk. They were my top three preferences and I’m so glad I got to experience three such different work environments.
“My placements helped me decide I wanted to go into magazine journalism and I learnt the differences between working for print and for online.
“I watched how the professionals worked and learnt about the dynamics in each editorial team, from who was responsible for what to how much everyone communicated.
“However well you do in reporting or production journalism, and however regularly you blog and tweet, the only way to judge if you want to (and are going to be able to) do it for a living is to give it a try for a couple of weeks.
“My work experience was invaluable because it gave me first-hand experiences to draw on in interviews and subbing tests, and it was a chance to practise and get feedback from the people you really want it from.
“A final point – no matter how much you hear it, a content management system (or CMS) for a monthly magazine or daily newspaper is NOT as easy to use as Wordpress or blogspot sites; the askamum one in particular was incredibly tricky to get my head round.
“You’re only going to get practice at using one by doing this kind of work experience, and it really does help.”
Becky Barnes is a reporter at the Bracknell Forest Standard. During her weeks work experience at The Argus Becky wrote numerous  stories and features.
Becky Barnes
One of the keys to her future success was making herself useful to the web editor by managing a live blog and Storify of a council meeting.
These skills learnt in class at Brighton Journalist Works put Becky ahead of the game.
She offers her tips on how to stand out.

” Although work experience is unpaid – I found it invaluable to get as much of it as possible and I am glad I had the chance to go to different places and see the way things work differently in each place.

“For my BJW work experience I spent three weeks at The Argus and found it useful that I had already built up a relationship with the team by submitting work during my time at BJW.
“I also arranged my own work experience so that I could use the Christmas break to get straight on it – take every opportunity!
“Work experience is a great way to see things from different points of view and you get out as much as you put in.
“Without work experience I wouldn’t have been able to get a job as it gave the opportunity to have work published and build a quality portfolio that set me in good stead for tough interview questions. I defy anyone to get a job without it!
“Also it’s the ideal opportunity to check journalism is definitely for you.
“Here are my top tips for work experience on a local paper:

1) Go in there with at least three story ideas a day, minimum.  Otherwise you’ll be stuck re-writing press releases and hardly get anything for your portfolio.

2) Be creative with where you look for stories, think outside the box. Ask your friends.  Follow up every potential lead.  Utilise Facebook and Twitter to search for stories and ask questions.

3) Be confident.  You might feel as though you’re in the way but you have to get through that and make yourself known.  If you have your own story ideas, ask the news editor or another reporter whether they think your ideas would make a good story.  Ask to sit in on conference.  Introduce yourself to everyone.  Remember their names.

4) If you don’t know ask.  Ask questions and listen to the answer so you don’t have to ask again.  Write it down so you don’t forget.

5) Take opportunities.  If another reporter is going to court, ask if you can go with them.  Listen out for news editors looking for someone to take a story and you may end up going to court on your own and getting a cracking piece for your portfolio.  Always answer the phone at every opportunity.  Smile when you talk and be confident and get the details right.

6) Get a copy of the style guide and use it before you ask silly questions.  If in doubt, look for an example in a recent copy of the paper.  For example: do they say Maureen Fisher, aged 50 or Maureen Fisher, 50, it’s quick and easy to find a story that will give you the answer.

7) It may sound obvious, but read the publication.  Get a feel for what stories they are doing at the moment and how you could develop those stories.  Even if the reporters are following something up, you can always ask the news editor if you can check your news nose is working by running past them what you think are the important follow ups.

8) Look at national press every day and think how a national figure or story can be localised.  The news team will be able to help you with advice on who to contact for local figures and statistics.

9) Ask for feedback.  Look at how your stories are tweaked and learn from it.  Write down everything you learn and take note of how they make any changes for house style.  If in doubt, ask for an explanation.

10) Smile, be polite and make tea.  It’s important to get your face known so make sure it’s for the right reasons.

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