If you have just graduated and are keen to gain experience, a work placement may seem the perfect way to start in the media industry.

But you need to be organised and aware of the pitfalls of working for free.

Follow our 10-point guide to help you make the most of your work experience placement.

1 If you are still a student, take full advantage of the extensive contacts, resources and experience of your university. Discuss your ideas with your course tutor and be honest about your strengths and your weaknesses; they will help you find a placement that suits your ability and your interests.

2 If you are already qualified, think carefully before committing yourself to a work experience placement. If you are a trained professional but are prepared to work for free, why should anyone else value your skills?

3 You will benefit the most from an established, structured placement, so investigate the publication throughly and find out exactly what it can offer. If you can, speak to previous students and find out how useful their placements were.

4 Set definite start and end dates, and do not over-commit. It will only take a few days to prove how good you are.

5 Arrange a meeting with the editor to set clear terms for the placement. If you are working for free, what exactly will they offer in return? For example, suggest that if they are pleased with your work, they will provide paid work when the placement is over.

6 To get the most useful experience you need to learn from a professional. Arrange to shadow an experienced journalist and watch how they work.

7 It’s a really bad idea to sign up for a work experience placement and work from home. A big part of work experience is learning how to work in a professional environment, so get out there!

8 If the company publishes your work, you should be paid - particularly if the publisher is commercial and will make money from your content. And don’t sign away your copyright! According to the NUJ, any work that you author - whether you were paid or not - is yours.

9 Ask for an appraisal at the end of the placement to discuss your best work and the the areas that you need to improve. Learn from those mistakes!

10 Be clear about what you want to learn and what you are prepared to do. Start your placement with enthusiasm and positivity - and enjoy it. After all, this is what you want to do, so have fun!

See also:

The National Union of Journalists offers help and advice on all aspects of employment as a journalist. Find out more at http://www.nuj.org.uk

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