It’s suddenly occurred to me that I never wrote a blog post about my recent work experience placement. A massive mishap on my behalf, that I will blame on the fact that I’ve just finished my final year at university, and so have been preoccupied with stress and terror. Maybe I’ll dedicate my next blog post to graduand stress and terror.
Well, I count myself very fortunate to have done a work experience placement on the Fashion desk at The Times. With no information on their website about wannabe-work-experiencees (should be a word, if it’s not), I bit the bullet and rang up – which I will ALWAYS recommend to people from now on, as you can instantly find out what work experience, if any, they offer, and the direct email address of who to contact. Unlike with emails, someone on the phone can hardly ignore you (unless they’re super ballsy and ignore all social etiquette – unlikely.)
I secured a four week placement over the Easter holidays (last March-April), which I was then kindly allowed to reduce to two weeks at the last minute (university exams were unexpectedly brought forwards). This was sort of heart-wrenching, as it was my first big-name placement. But, as the lovely lady I worked with at The Times said, some things are more important. The silver lining was that it made for a slightly cheaper placement – which, in retrospect, has helped my already spiralling financial situation.
I’ll split this post into three sections, which are hopefully insightful and the kind of things that other, wannabe-work-experiencees want to hear.
Firstly I should state, I did not have to make one single cup of tea. I offered many times, and each time was kindly told that they were fine, thanks. Occasionally I fetched lunches for people from Waitrose – but only after insisting I was already on my way there (not a lie), and so it was no inconvenience. At no point did I feel like an intern-come-servant. Which I was grateful for.
Here are some of the things I got to do:
Newspaper reviews – I flicked through the pages of each newspaper every morning, looked for relevant stories, and helpfully (I hope) outlined them in an email for the three main people I worked for.
Clothes returns – A LOT of clothes returns. Three days in the fashion store, organising and sending to the relevant PR companies, and praying that everything arrived correctly in the right place. Particularly the items that cost more than a year’s rent.
Opening post – I LOVE post! And they got a LOT of it. Press day invites, show invites, beauty samples, collection catalogues, lots of little gifts…it’s an easy job, but a good excuse to talk to people when you give them their daily forest of deliveries.
Contacting PRs – Lots of sample and reference requests. Easy to do, I found out, as PR companies WANT to be contacted asking for things (I guess it’s, like, their job or something? Aha. I was naïve). So much free stuff! Which was a big part of my next task…
‘Beauty Jury’ – This is a segment they run in which products are tested, by us. Which meant I got to take a lot of beauty products home, for free! (‘Which one would you like to test?’ ‘Can I take the £70 product, please?’) Also very good as I got to write little snippets of review that got published. Hooray! The written word.
Article research – The BEST bit. I got to write bios on child stars, do LOTS of research on the Queen and her wardrobe in preparation for the Diamond Jubilee, and help the Deputy Editor research some of the articles she was writing – including trying to get quotes from interesting people (which I finally managed to secure via an email interview – and this definitely gave me office-cred.)
Lovely. Not Devils-Wear-Prada-y. Helpful, busy, hard-working, funny. And in being down to earth, and not ‘fashion-daaahling’ types, I wanted to impress them even more.
THE PRACTICALITY (£££)
If you, too, are a normal young person who is not being funded by parents and has no part-time, high-paying job, this is a major concern that many work experience articles ignore, I feel. There is nothing wrong with parents funding your unpaid placements, if they can and wish – but it’s a privileged situation that few can afford. Unpaid placements in themselves are debated – be wary of unpaid internships that are long-term and essentially treat you as an extra pair of work hands. There is a difference between gaining privileged insight into a professional field (for the most time, I expect, work experiences are a burden for the permanent workers), and a company cheekily avoiding the minimum-wage law. Hopefully the crack-down on this is in full swing, although I’m a leetle bit pessimistic.
However, this is what I did: I managed to wangle a place to stay in London. This was through the kindness of a friend, who lives not-quite-central, but close to a tube station, and so a fairly simple commute. I paid her a bit for each week to cover bills, etc, and her and her housemates kindly let me take over their living room. Commuting from home would have cost me £500 for a month, I found out, and so this kindness was invaluable to me. Living out of a suitcase isn’t ideal, but on the other hand I knew that if I was asked to stay late or come in early, I could instantly and wholeheartedly agree. So, a massive plus, and I got to experience Landan a bit more.
Things to consider – the cost of daily commuting (nearly always cheapest by Oyster card, but still adds up), plus lunches. If you can bear to take in a packed lunch, do (not wanting to sound snobby, but the days I took in a squashed, clingfilm-wrapped peanut butter sarnie, I DID feel less professional). Otherwise it’s another £5 a day on top of £5-10 for tube travel. Which, for two weeks, is at least £100, plus regular grocery shopping. I did not take this into account. My poor overdraft was at its tethers.
Another crucial thing to consider – ‘expenses’. Many places offer expenses in place of real pay. Whether you get these expenses is up to you. I will honestly admit that I didn’t ask for my rumoured £5-a-day travel expenses. I was only there a short time; I didn’t want to sour my few precious days by asking for an amount of money that paled in comparison to how much I was spending overall. This kind of attitude probably doesn’t help the whole exploited-intern situation – but I liked the people I worked with, and I made a good impression. Perhaps if it was more money, I would have bothered to have the professional, mature conversation. As it was, I decided to hedge my bets on not being remembered for asking for dinner money. A gamble, and a loss, but the lesser of the two evils (is how I’m justifying this cowardice).
OVERALL, a brilliant first-big-name placement. I never expected it to go as smoothly as it did, and at the end I was asked to return (as an intern, still, of course), which made my week. My top three tips:
Be polite/friendly: Talk to your colleagues/bosses so they know what you’re like. Don’t expect to be best friends, but show that you’re not an ogre either.
Ask questions: They really appreciate it, and it could save your life (probably). There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Bit of my Pa’s wisdom for you there.
Do everything well: Simple, but if you’re conscientious with all the little tasks, it will really show.