Making the Most of Your Work Experience

It’s that time of year again: long sun-drenched evenings, sausages sizzling on the barbecue, and half your staff trying to book annual leave. That’s why the summer months are the best time to try us if you’re looking to add some relevant and useful work experience to your CV – we’ve got one or two spare desks and we could do with an extra pair of hands in the office.

Work experience placements are not easy to come by: I would guess that for every place we offer we have about 10 hopeful students or graduates emailing in their CVs. (More about CVs later.) So if you do manage to land a sought-after slot, don’t blow it. Follow our advice to make the most of your time spent in the real working world. (We’re a PR, marketing and digital agency, but a lot of what follows is relevant to most workplaces.)

Sell yourself

It’s competitive out there, so you’ll need to stand out from the crowd if you want to be chosen for work experience. A formulaic email beginning ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is not going to cut it. Do your research: who’s the decision-maker? What’s his or her name, job role? What are their interests? Follow the right people on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, get a sense of their interests, maybe start a conversation online before you follow up with an email: “Dear Jez, hope you enjoyed the game last night! I was wondering…”

A rookie mistake that students and graduates are still making is forgetting to send in a CV. A friendly, thoughtful, well written email is a good start, but it’s irritating if we have to reply and ask for a CV to see what you’ve actually done with your life so far.

What have you got on your CV? If you haven’t written one because you’re faintly embarrassed about it then you need to beef it up. Of course, getting some work experience at Shooting Star would help, but then so would volunteering for a charity, adopting some interesting hobbies, joining some university clubs and generally getting some life experience. If your CV says: “In my spare time I enjoy listening to music and socialising with friends” you’re really not trying hard enough.

Be persistent

I’d be lying if I said we had rules and waiting lists and pecking orders when it comes to choosing people for work experience. Sometimes it’s a personal contact – someone’s daughter or nephew, someone who used to babysit for a colleague – and sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time. But mostly it’s a combination of a good CV and email and a lot of persistence. If you send one email and then sit back, you probably won’t get through the door. But if you use social media to make connection, fire off an email, talk to us on social and then give us a call, the chances are you’ll get in. PR people are persistent and don’t take no for an answer; if you want to work with us you should be too.

Decide what you want to achieve

What do you want to get out of your work experience? If it’s just a requirement of your course we can tell straight away – and it’s not a good idea to tell us this in your email. We want to work with people who are passionate about the industry, ambitious for their career and excited about our agency; if you’re just ticking a box so you can pass your second year this won’t be the place for you.

If however you want to learn the PR and marketing ropes in a real agency environment, make good contacts for the future or dip your toe in the water to see if the career’s for you, you’re in the right place.

Make a good impression

After we’ve had a work experience student in for a week there’s invariably an informal debrief in the office: we make a mental note of the good ones in case any opportunities come up in the future, and we silently put a black mark next to the names of the people we feel should never darken our doors again. So what’s the difference? How do you make the grade?

1          Be friendly. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to get a first in PR and journalism and can knock out a decent press release in half an hour – if you don’t speak to anyone all week we won’t remember you. Make an effort to engage positively with the rest of the team and our clients; your personality is as important in this career as your skill set. 

2          Be helpful. Making a round of teas is not beneath you. Everyone makes the tea in our agency, from the directors down to the interns, and if you offer to do it on day one everyone will think better of you for it.

3          Show initiative. It’s tricky in a new environment where you have no clue half the time what’s going on, but if you have a good idea, share it; if you can help on a task, volunteer to do it; roll up your sleeves and get stuck in with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

4          Don’t be late. And try your very best not to flake out after one day or send a text saying you’ve got a virus. It really won’t do you any favours in the future.

5.         A card and a box of chocolates to say thanks at the end of the week works wonders!

How’s your personal online PR?

Finally, a word on social media. In this day and age it’s inevitable that when we receive your email application we will check you out on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to see what you’re made of. Don’t shock us with tales of broken romance, alcohol abuse and military-strength swearing. From now on employers are going to judge you on your online persona, so you’d better keep it neat and tidy.

 If you’d like to apply for work experience at Shooting Star in Lincoln send a quirky and entertaining email – with your CV – to JA