The perpetual drama of no job without experience and no experience without a job is one that everyone goes through when starting a career. Getting your foot in the door somewhere is crucial and, if you are a student or school leaver, summer is the best time to start. Here are seven key pieces of advice on getting that placement.
Let's be totally honest here: as amazing as it would be to get a summer placement with the BBC or the Guardian or the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, it is highly unlikely. By all means apply, it shows initiative and ambition, but such organisations usually take on post-graduate interns or experienced trainees. You may be extraordinarily lucky or talented, but your realistic options or more locally based. So apply to the local paper, or local radio station, or local trade magazines. Do a bit of research into what's near to you and aim there.
Write a good letter and CV
A journalist's work life lives largely through email. Depending on the type of publication you are applying to, the recipient of your email will be receiving a constant stream of press releases, invitations, offers, requests and announcements to wade through – or ignore – and if an email isn't related to a story it is likely to get lost under the deluge. A letter, on the other hand, shows a personal touch and will sit on the editor's desk as a constant physical reminder.
@journalismnews A well-written, sincere letter worked for me. Ended up with two bright interns— Kewrious (@Kewrious) July 12, 2013
So be polite and personable but direct, explain why you want to work at the organisation, what you can contribute, why you want to be a journalist and what experience you have. Give an idea of a time-frame and what you want to gain. Make it easy for them, give them a reason to invite you in. It could even be just a few days a week if you need to work elsewhere to earn money.
Your CV should be concise, no more than two pages, detailing any relevant qualifications or experience. If you are yet to gain experience in the sector, you should be able to show that you have at least committed some time to the job already, even if that's just writing a blog or making YouTube videos.
Check out more advice on cover letters and CV writing from Journalism.co.uk here and here.
Have an online presence
Having some kind of online portfolio is a must. Make no mistake – an editor or prospective employer will want to see evidence that you are serious if they are going to give you a chance in their organisation and a blog is the easiest way to accomplish this. That doesn't mean your work needs to be groundbreaking exposés or perfect prose, but neither should it be a glorified diary. Write about your interests, whatever they are, and ask people for feedback.
More advice on blogging available here.
A clean online presence
Facebook is private, Twitter is public. That distinction can be easily forgotten when you are young but upon entering the world of work your Twitter history is a record of your online behaviour. You only need to look at the example of poor Paris Brown to see that. So start a new one if you feel it necessary and then use this to connect with people you admire or find interesting and local contacts who may be able to help. The vast majority of people on Twitter are friendly and will interact, you could even surprise your local editor with a sneaky evening tweet linking to some of your work. Don't push it though.
Follow these 100 top Twitter accounts for journalists
@journalismnews Don't just send out same CV every time. Tailor it to company you're applying to. Keep it to two pages. Why are you special?— Needling (@sharpsecret) July 12, 2013
Blanket coverage may seem like the easiest option but it will be obvious to those reading it if you don't make any distinctions or references to the organisation you are applying to.
Learn to use your contact network
There is no shame in asking for help, especially when you're young, so ask around and see who is in your extended contact network. Should you become a full-time journalist, your contacts will be everything – developing a good relationship with a good contact at one organisation can hold the key to the whole place. So ask friends, parents, parents' friends, friends' parents, teachers, anyone you can think of. They might know someone at your target publication who can give the editor a nudge and put your letter on his or her desk.
Persistence is a must for any journalist – you're not going to get a story or interview if you ask once and give up when you don't get a reply. The same holds true for when you are looking for work experience.
@journalismnews persistence. When a local paper didn't reply to my email, I went to the office and asked to see the news editor— Arjun Kharpal (@ArjunKharpal) July 12, 2013
@journalismnews Persist! Remember that you sometimes have to create your own opportunities- don't wait for things to come to you.— Sir Mellsworth (@MissBox) July 12, 2013
Editors can be incredibly busy so a letter from a hopeful student may easily slip down their list of priorities. Send the letter, then make a call, then turn up at the office. But if you are going to be more direct, make sure you get the timing right – call a bit before lunch at a daily, a Tuesday for a weekly and the start of the month at a monthly. You will be interrupting their work; make sure it's at a time when they are not rushed.
If you already have a place lined up then congratulations are in order. Have a look at these pointers on how to make the most out of your time on the placement but don't let any unscrupulous employers take advantage of you. See this two-part feature on not getting exploited on work experience, and these NUJ and Skillset guidelines on best practice for work experience.