After getting feedback on interns and work experience people at various magazines/companies, there are five schoolboy errors that keep cropping up. Print them out and stick it on your wall. Or your forehead. Or your soul. Please. 

Looking and acting deeply uninterested 

This is surprising because, if you’ve taken the time to apply, then surely you’re up for doing the work experience. Problem is, some people look uninterested when they’re shy, or anxious or hungry; I once did an internship at The Sunday Times Magazine with another girl who was incredibly proactive while I sat in the corner wanting to cry because I was terrified. She got asked to stay on and I didn’t. If you’ve got a naturally indifferent face like me, there are things you can do – like asking friendly questions. Or offering to help someone with research. Or seeing if anyone wants a tea. 

Easier said than done, but a trick I used to use (and a trick I only figured out roughly 30,000 work experience placements later) was to ask people around me about how they got to where they did. Mainly because people love talking about themselves, so it’s a good ice breaker, and immediately makes you look more interested. Some good questions to ask are:

1. What’s the best [insert something relevant to their job] you’ve done? 

2. What’s the most useful thing for me to learn while I’m here? 

3. Where have you worked before? 

Go you. 

Another trick is to ask to be taught something. If you’re at a magazine, get the editorial assistant to show you how to ring in pictures. Ask if you can shadow the art editor for a bit, and see how the pages are laid up. All this makes you look proactive, and everyone loves the proactive work experience guy. 

Doing nothing. 

On my first few work experience placements I’d finish a job, panic and wait for someone to notice or ask how I’m getting on. This could take hours, but it was preferable to finishing and them not having work for me to do. Instead of following my crap 16-year-old-Stevie example, always say when you’ve finished a job and ask what else they’d like done. If they don’t need anything, ask if anyone else would like something done. If nobody needs anything, ask if they want a cup of tea. By the time you’ve made tea, something for you to do will probably have cropped up in the office. 

Pulling a sickie

Unless your arm has been ripped off by a lion/you have developed ebola, do not call in sick during a two week placement. The amount of feedback we get about work experience people being ill is unbelievable in the literal sense of the word. Nobody believes a sick intern, unless they throw up in the office. Twice. Of course it’s fine for the office staff, they don’t mind you being at home and you’re not going to get in trouble, but you’re certainly not going to get hired either. There are hundreds of unemployed young people clamouring for that placement, and the one who couldn’t stick out a cold will not be the one who impresses the most.

And the lateness thing is simple: just don’t do it. Aim to be early. Good. 

Being grumpy

Smile. Just smile loads. It’s a simple thing to do, and easy thing to fake, and it will stop us getting reports of “surly work experience people who didn’t look happy to be there at all”. The guys in the office are doing you a favour by letting you into their place of work, so be happy about it! Smile and say hello! Share a great news story you read in the Metro that morning! Laugh at their jokes! Don’t go overboard, obviously. Maniacal laughter and euphoric beaming can look a little odd. 

Being a diva 

Surprisingly, this crops up quite a lot: yes, you’re too intelligent to be making tea for employed people and yes, the world is a bloody unfair place at the moment, but this is an opportunity. Do any crappy tasks with a smile on your face and never go in expecting to be immediately handed exciting work to do – you have to earn this. If you make the tea, use it to chat to everyone in the office (see point one) then people will start giving you some jobs to do. If you do those jobs well, you’ll get more responsibility. If you complain about them, everyone will just want you to leave the office and never return. Which won’t get you any brownie points/a job. 

Put these five golden rules to good use while applying for our opportunities. Remember, it’s a small world and people talk – make sure they’re talking about how excellent you were. As opposed to how late, grumpy or uninterested…


If you liked this article, why not take a look at…