Now more than ever, work experience is an invaluable way into a career in the arts. But whether it’s a Year Ten placement or the first step in a change of creative direction, there’s always tea to be made and people to get on with. So here’s how not to mess it up…
Unpaid work experience is not to be confused with unpaid internships. While the latter is a source of much contention, the former is less controversial: a brief stint of one or two weeks spent getting a taste of a particular industry. This is “work shadowing” rather than “work”; the overall benefit to you tends to be greater than it is to the company in question.
Right. Now we’ve got that cleared up, here are five big gaffes to avoid.
1. Not having a game plan
Drift mindlessly into your work experience and you’ll come out with a name to put on your CV. Do some preparation and you’ll also come out with hands-on knowledge of the business, a bunch of lovely new contacts and a cracking reference.
Swot up on the company beforehand so you march in armed with ideas about ways you can contribute and a good sense of who’s who. Target relevant people; ask them if you can grab a coffee and chat while you’re there. Take the chance to find out how they got to where they are now and see whether they could kindly look over your CV. Everyone remembers how tough it is starting out so they will probably be flattered you asked and happy to help.
2. Turning up late
Bowling in ten minutes after you were due to start is a very bad look indeed. Not quite as bad as having, “I can’t be arsed,” scrawled on your head in permanent marker – but frankly not far off. The same goes for incessantly checking your phone and looking pained and/or moaning when confronted with mundane tasks to do.
Maybe you’re only there for a week but you should treat that week every bit as seriously as you would the first week of a real job. And that means arriving 15 minutes early, leaving 15 minutes late, and completing every task, no matter how dull, with equal gusto.
3. Dressing inappropriately
Unless your work experience is with Haus of Gaga, save that super skimpy, eccentric get up for Saturday night raving. Play it smart on day one and then scope out the situation. You can always revise your sartorial strategy thereafter if it turns out the rest of the office is tottering around on vertiginous heels, clad in mankinis made from cabbages.
4. Talking too much
A tough one to judge in creative environments, where a certain amount of larking about is tolerated or even actively encouraged. However, beware that crucial line between being a laugh and being distracting. People have work to do. When their eyes start glazing over and their replies become monosyllabic, shut your gob.
5. Making absolutely no impression at all
You planned ahead with precision. You were at your desk at the crack of dawn every damn morning. Your outfit was impressively apt. You kept your yabbering to a minimum.
Jolly good – but who are you again?
The rapid turnover of not hugely dissimilar workies in many creative establishments makes it hard to stand out. But if you want to be on the radar when paid opportunities arise then standing out is a must. And it’s not enough to be efficient, personable and clever, you need to be memorable. The following two beverage-based tricks should help:
a) Always make tea. Everyone loves tea – it’s a good thing to be associated with.
b) Tag along to the pub. This is your golden ticket to networking in a more relaxed (inebriated) setting. Just don’t get shitfaced. You want to be remembered for your charming repartee not for the colour of your vomit.
Once your work experience is over, send a flurry of thank you emails to everyone you worked with. Add them on LinkedIn. Follow them on Twitter. Get in touch from time to time with a friendly reminder that you exist. That way you’ve done everything you can to ensure that next time they hear of an opportunity, the name that pops up will be yours!
Image: Spilt tea by Caro Wallison a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.
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