The power of work experience

Working in media, you’re never far from someone on a work placement. My own career started with a few stints of work experience which undoubtedly helped me get my first paid job in journalism.

Since then I’ve worked with numerous young people, hoping their placement will do the same for them. Work experience has become so important in journalism that it’s almost impossible to get hired without having a few placements listed on your CV, kind of like an unofficial apprenticeship.

But how does it benefit an employer?

Having an extra pair of hands in the team for a couple of weeks is obviously a massive help in terms of workload. You can save up all the jobs that no-one wants to do and make someone else do them for a change, right? Unfortunately some employers do still think this way, but increasingly they’re seeing the benefits of offering a more rounded work placement.

I now work for the online youth charity YouthNet, managing a busy editorial team. We firmly believe that volunteers are just as valuable as paid staff, which is why we involve them in all aspects of our work. We’ve got a huge group of young volunteers taking part in online consultancy on ourwebsite, – they’ve helped shape the design, content and services we’re offering on the site. Other volunteers help to moderate the discussion boards, answer relationship questions and submit photographs to be used across our sites.

A typical day in the editorial team includes researching, updating and uploading content, changing images, monitoring the news and generating new ideas. We’ve found that with some basic training much of this can be done by a volunteer, freeing up our time to get on with other work and giving people on work experience an important insight into the other key activivites of an online journalist.

What makes it truly worthwhile

We find it incentive enough to offer work experience placements, but what makes it truly worthwhile is the diverse range of young people it brings us into contact with.

Our websites are aimed at 16-25 year olds, and while some of the staff here are in that bracket, many aren’t. This summer alone we’ve had volunteers who have just finished their GCSEs or A-levels, are halfway through their degree and others who have completely finished. Meeting young people at these different life stages gives us a better insight into the people we’re creating services for and brings us closer to their experiences. One had to go and collect his A-level results during his placement; seeing his nervousness and relief took us all back to the rollercoaster emotions young people experience at exam time.

Our best ideas have been generated from volunteers

Some of our best ideas have been generated from volunteers; after all, who knows what our audience wants to read about more than young people themselves? We always encourage volunteers to get something published while they’re here – something which is sorely (and somewhat ironically) missing from most journalism work experience placements. From opinion pieces bemoaning pointless protestors to a real account of living with a stammer, young volunteers write authentically and from the heart, and create content with real experiences our users can relate to. Feel free to read some of the blogs they’ve written about their placements and see what work experience might offer you.

Experience counts

As an employer, there’s nothing more satisfying than helping volunteers reach their goals. I often provide references for past volunteers, or recommend them to other people I know. Many of our volunteers have found paid work – both here and elsewhere – through making a good impression on their placement, so it’s well worth making the effort to stand out.

Hannah Jolliffe, YouthNet

Hannah’s career journey
Started three year musical theatre course… left after one year… English degree… work experience at Harpers & Queen magazine… work experience at Minx mag… paid work at Minx mag… part-time course in magazine journalism… charity street fundraiser… theatre reviewer for It’… Editorial Assistant on Junior magazine… Teeline shorthand qualification… promoted to Features Editor at Junior Magazine… travelled in Thailand for two months… self-employed as freelance journalist… employed as Journalist on at YouthNet… promoted to Editorial Manager at YouthNet… six-month sabbatical to travel Asia, Australia and New Zealand… back at YouthNet.