Full-time unpaid roles and internship culture can be a pernicious facilitator in ripping off young people. When massive media companies offer work experience, many of us jump at the chance to expand our CV, whatever the cost. While one should balk at the idea of taking on a position that will leave you in long-lasting financial jeopardy, there are so many benefits to working for free. If you work smartly, choosing manageable placements or side projects, you could graduate with enough experience to land a job straight away.
If you attend university, not getting involved in student media is absolute madness. In my first year as an undergraduate I signed up to produce a radio show, and contributed to the fashion, features and music sections of the student-run lifestyle magazine. Honing your skills in well-equipped facilities in your spare time means that you can get ‘work experience’ while you study. At the end of the first year I applied and secured a place as Music Editor, which in turn lead to many amazing opportunities. While my spare time was filled by transcribing interviews and helping the design team, I finished my tenure with an array of celebrity interviews, a few festival trips, and some great contacts under my belt. Had I spent two years earning money I would have certainly had a cooler wardrobe, but ultimately nothing useful to show for it.
While no-one is suggesting that you surrender wages indefinitely, a few short-term placements at various companies can provide you with a few extra lines on your CV and can help you secure an interview for the places you really want to work at. I have interned at an agricultural college’s marketing office, a package design/advertising agency, and at a PR firm. While I can safely say that picking pictures of students holding baby ferrets for an animal management course prospectus was not the best way I have ever spent an afternoon, these three internships full of web research and basic activities taught me the importance of staying on your grind and completing the task at hand. At work, as in life, you aren’t always going to be handed free gig tickets, or your dream arty assignment. Sometimes you are there to watch and learn from the successful senior staff, in the hopes that you can follow in their footsteps.
If you have the required skills and relevant experience for a role, volunteering can act as the icing on the cake when it comes to standing out amidst a ton of other applicants. Having worked as the secretary for an inter-varsity event, I was able to demonstrate the ability to support a committee, complete administrative tasks, and assist in the smooth running of a large competition. These experiences gave me the edge in my graduate job interview, where my role as Editorial Assistant was expanded to include travel abroad in support of a team that run successful conferences. When you are willing to work for free you are showcasing a strong work ethic, and a willingness to dedicate your time to a project that is not your own. Remember, companies often want to hire a well-rounded individual, so a variety of experiences that broaden your own horizons can also translate to a varied skillset, making it more likely that you’ll land that paid job down the line.
Words by India Alicia
The UK's first Career & Lifestyle Magazine for women in the Creative and Media industries.