“Life of a Work Experience”
As a third year English Literature undergraduate I am quietly pleased with myself for so-called “getting ahead” and securing some work experience. English students all over will empathetically nod in understanding upon my mention of the low contact hours that my course requires, thus after impulsively deciding I wanted a career in PR I decided to set out to double check that my instinct was correct.
A year along and I’m currently in the midst of my week with John Blake, after putting my short PR stint on hold and deciding that publishing was “the one” due to my love of reading, writing and all things book (another nod from English students around).
Ultimately what I have learnt is that I am not going to leave University securely standing on the first step of that long imaginary ladder of a career path; trial and error it will be.
Despite my somewhat capricious attitude towards work, my time as “the work experience girl” has in fact been a necessary wake-up call and an insightful glimpse into London life, to say the least.
Commuting from Kent to Camden on the hour-and-a-half slow train to Charing Cross was a great way to wake up in the morning. Due to the bright May weather I had a spring in my step and the journey was stress free with a guaranteed seat and views of the Kentish countryside. On the route home, however, it was like watching your whole evening flash before your eyes and suddenly it was 8 o’clock and I had just two hours to fill before I needed to sleep ready to face my morning alarm at 5:50am.
The commute is draining; the tube is hot and full to the brim with busy commuters all in the same position. I constantly question why people rarely speak to each other. I’ve always wanted to be that person that enthusiastically starts a conversation with a simple “Where are you travelling to?” but unfortunately I’ve yet to pluck up the courage for fear of being rejected… (I’m working on this).
My top tips for dealing with a long commute?
- Invest in a kindle, iPad or a device whereby you can download your favourite TV show. So many people do this and it really does pass the time. Let’s be honest, if you’re a student you’re only going home to Netflix anyway so you may as well get started on the next episode of House of Cards.
- Read – May I suggest one of John Blake’s May releases, Without a Mother’s Love may have you a bit emotional in front of your fellow commuters, but Broadmoor would keep you entertained with Charlie Bronson’s unique stylistic flair that will have you laughing.
- Get Ahead – If like me you’re facing an hour-long commute, definitely get ahead with any work you have. Plan that next Uni assignment, update or refine your CV. If you’re prepared these things won’t require internet and will ensure the most productive use of your time.
- Don’t wear too many layers; a coat will suffice if you know you won’t be outdoors all day. It gets hot underground! Plus, aim to pack your bag/s as practically and as light as possible.
- One thing I will say is don’t sleep, as tempting as it is when do you ever really wake up from a power-nap feeling immediately refreshed? Usually it only serves to make you sleepier!
“The Tea Girl”
During the Easter of my second year at Uni I spent my time experiencing life in Camden at a cool, fun and quirky PR firm. Despite my first observations that every single person working there was 50% more confident and 90% cooler than I was, it turned out to be a great three weeks. (This outcome had nothing to do with the daily dose of free pick ‘n’ mix...)
Something I came to accept very quickly was that yes, it is exactly as “they” say it will be – everyone must experience their turn as the tea or coffee girl. (I won’t lie that I was not satisfied with every “great tea Lily” or “perfect cup of coffee” that passed my way. My enthusiasm towards this most mundane task should quite frankly allow me to put it on my CV).
Upon my third day I was given a great opportunity to assist the team with an important photoshoot, triggering endless coffee runs and the largest Pret order I have ever made (including an avocado wrap, specifically for one Britain’s Got Talent judge). I met “celebrities”, spent the day in the most gorgeous Mews in West London and bonus, got to leave early and enjoy the sunshine.
Thankfully my time at John Blake has been slightly less tea-and-coffee and I feel I’ve had a bigger opportunity to be creative: reading submissions, preparing tweets and writing blog-posts. However, facing up to the fact that you will probably spend a lot of time making tea as an intern and that you should try to do it with enthusiasm is a good start in learning the ropes when trying to find your feet in a company.
This leads me onto…
Surprisingly, despite the coffee and diet coke runs, I have been given a lot of responsibilities during my experience of the working world and learnt to be a lot more decisive and organised.
Being given a London address and told to not to be late gave me the perfect opportunity to put my London Underground skills to the test (with a little help from Google Maps) and tested my punctuality, thankfully to great success. I arrived on time and the advice I can offer for a situation like this is:
- Plan your journey the night before. This ensures you sleep better knowing your morning journey is figured out and saves time and 4G when arriving in the City.
- Nevertheless, it is definitely worth using up some of your 4G when you get to the searching for the address stage of the journey.
- Ask. It is always ok to ask someone for directions. Whether you ask an assistant in the station or someone working in a shop nearby, you will often find that people are more than willing to help you out.
Furthermore, more often than not the work experience girl/boy is given a recurring job to fulfil every day, such as sorting the newspapers or sending off the post. I always write things down in a notepad or notebook after they have been explained to me so as not to forget (even if it seems so simple it is surprising what slips your mind and you will be thankful for your helpful note that prevents you from having to keep asking the same questions!)
I have also spent a lot of the time on the phone. Something that companies often want to notice in a new intern is their phone manner and since you are reflecting the company you are working for you want it to be professional. However, it is so common for people to get nervous on the phone… I don’t understand why this is, but I know that I for one am guilty of it. The phone rings and unless I have a script in front of me that is bound to make me sound like a recorded message, then I freeze, stutter and forget everything I have been told to say. I feel like everyone in the room is listening and judging.
Chances are no one cares. Everyone in the room has to answer the phone daily and it really is something that improves with time and with familiarity. At John Blake it is a smaller office, when someone is on the phone it is obvious and the whole room can hear. Coming in as the new girl this was a little nerve wracking. However I soon came to realise that even if I messed up and forgot to ask for the contact’s name or message, nobody was going to hold it against me and everyone is willing to help you out.
My top tips for dealing with the irrational, yet dreaded phone anxiety:
- Keep a notepad near you and write down the phrase you have been asked to answer the phone with e.g. “Hello John Blake Publishing”. When that dreaded ringer goes off, you can glance at your notepad, take a second and then answer the call in a professional and prepared manner.
- Write down three bullet points when the phone goes off. This will remind you to ask for the contact’s name, phone number and message.
- Be confident. Remember that no one is analysing your calls or listening on the other end. In the worst case scenario remember that you will probably never meet the reciprocate (and even if you eventually do they are not going to remember your stumbling and stuttering phone call!)
- Don’t take it to heart. I had an awful experience calling a journalist when it happened to be their day off. I was told “Not to bother him again” and “Do you not realise I am trying to enjoy my time off?” As disheartening as it was I realised that I could not blame myself and there is no point dwelling. Get over it and come back more confident with the next call.
Despite the above, one of the most important things about work experience is the people that you meet. Talk, learn, engage and question. Do not be afraid to get to know them. There are the generic conversations: Which Uni did you go to? Where are you from? Etc. However, using the opportunity to rack their brains about the industry is a great chance to learn. Ask about their first jobs, how they moved up the ladder, why they chose this career. Everyone I have worked with has been open, kind and it has been the most valuable part of the experience. Plus, you never know, if the industry is the one for you establishing these relationships may become beneficial in the future.
So, my final words of advice:
- Be organised (buy a notebook!)
- Be enthusiastic (your tea and coffee skills are incomparable!)
- Despite the cost, choose a day or two where you do not prepare your own lunch and use it as a chance to get to know a colleague or fellow intern by suggesting you grab lunch together.
- Say yes to after work drinks! I regret that my commute prevented this when I had the chance and feel it would have been a great opportunity for people to get to know me, although, do not drink too much!
- Have fun – and if by the end of your experience you realise it really isn’t for you… think of the C.V!