How to get work experience placements

I recently did a post, explaining why gaining work experience placements are so important. Following on from that, I thought it might be useful to offer some tips and advice on how to get work experience placements.

I studied Advertising at Southampton Solent University and during my three years at Uni, only a handful of my classmates went looking for work placements. Some never thought to or couldn’t be bothered, but others seemed like they wanted to, but didn’t know how to, or where to even begin. So I’m hoping this blog post may help those of you who are in that boat. So we’ll start off nice and broad:

How to get work experience placements at ad agencies

For starters, I want you in no way to think this is a ‘how to guide’ on how to get work experience placements. As I’m sure you can probably figure out, it doesn’t work like that. What I am going to cover however, are some tips on how to better your chances at gaining work experience at your dream agency and some advice from my own learning curve.

Research

First things first. Research. I don’t think I can stress that enough. Make a list of the agencies you would most like to work at and learn everything you can about them. What’s their style? What are their most famous or most iconic adverts? Are they more of a traditional agency, or can they be quite controversial? Who are their key members of staff? Who is it you’re emailing? This may seem like common sense to some of you, but I think you’d be surprised by how many people jump straight into the deep end when it comes to looking for work experience, then feel disheartened when nothing comes their way. You only get as much out, as you put in – and let that be something you remember when you are actually on placement.

Baby steps

My first load of advice would be to start small – look for work experience (usually about two weeks long). Don’t jump right in looking for a graduate scheme or an internship (which tend to last from anything between one to six months or more). Competition for these opportunities is ridiculously high and if this is likely to be your first time at an agency, where you have no real creative background, or honed skills to work from, chances are you’re going to be disappointed.

Two week long work experience opportunities tend to be a little less sought after and you have less to lose. The vast majority of internships or graduate schemes, result in a full time job to those worthy enough. Another reason why it’s not worth applying for one of these if you haven’t left University yet.

The email

So you know everything there is to know about the agencies and you know who it is you’re emailing – at the very least you have enough research to thrive on if it’s a generic hello@agency.co.uk email. So what do you actually need to say?

First of all, introduce yourself. Say who you are, your age and what you’re studying. Make sure you flatter the agency. Tell them why you want to work there, what’s your favourite piece of client work they’ve done and why. If anything it shows them you’ve done your research and you pay attention.

Discuss what you’d like to get out of work experience with them. It shows them you’re keen, willing to work hard and put the effort in. Alongside this, discuss what it is you could bring to them, what skills or knowledge do you have?

Remember to include your CV and maybe something that tells them a bit more about you. Whether that’s attaching some samples of work (if you’re going for a creative role), or maybe you have a blog where you post about relevant topics. This isn’t vital (though the CV is) but it helps. It shows you’re passionate and willing to put in the time and effort to do something in your spare time.

Persistence

My general rule of thumb is if you haven’t heard back within one week (unless a closing date is stated), send a little follow up email. The worst thing you can do when first trying to get into this industry is give up. You need to prove that you’re worth their time and how badly you want the opportunity. Until you get yourself that elusive first interview, the only way you can really do this is through persistence. Don’t be a nuisance though, just show your keen. Keep your follow up emails to weekly or fortnightly.

If it turns out you’re unsuccessful on this particular account, try to get more information. Ask why you didn’t get it. Is there anything you could improve on? Again it all just shows you’re keen. Take on their feedback and try again in 6 months time. While at my second year of Uni, I spent 10 months chasing up a placement I desperately wanted. Based on my passion and persistence alone I got offered the placement without having a single interview.

Priorities

I’m going to end with one last tip and that is don’t expect to be paid and don’t be put off if you’re not offered any pay. Some agencies don’t, it’s completely discretionary. But all I can say is if you’re given an opportunity at an agency, you would be a fool to turn it down based on pay alone. If you’re travelling to London or staying there, yes it can be expensive (I spent about £35 a day getting to London on my work placements) but an average work experience placement only lasts about two weeks and I think you’ll find the insight you gain and the name you get to add to your CV are so much more valuable than those two weeks of train fare ever would have been over your summer. If you do a good enough job you may get paid at the end as a little well done, this has happened to me before.

I hope this has been useful to some of you looking to make your first bold move into the industry. Do you have any work experience tips or advice? If so feel free to add them in the comments section, or follow me on Twitter. Thanks everyone!

Image courtesy of JWT.