How To Get Work Experience
February 16, 2018
In 2017 I gave a talk at The University of Salford. This is what I shared …
What I did wrong. What I did right. What annoys me. What will annoy you.
Here’s my story …
When I started secondary school I loved to write, perform and create but it never seemed to have an end goal. I didn’t know anybody that worked in creative media and it wasn’t until university that I made the decision to actually study Film & Television Production. Up to that point it was hobby based and suddenly when I finished school, things started to get real.
So what did I do WRONG?
You have to learn that this gig is not a solo act. You need to be able to work well with others because you can be the best filmmaker in the world but if you can’t communicate effectively you are going to struggle. It took me a few years to really understand what that meant. It’s easy to blame others for why a project is not coming together. It’s much harder to learn how to get the best out of the entire team.
Another hurdle was not being prepared. I got offered an amazing opportunity with BBC drama but at the time I did not have a driver’s license and it cost me dearly. They gave the job to somebody else.
What did I do RIGHT?
Most university students make a handful of projects in a single term or even a single year. I didn’t study media at college and that made me hungry for filmmaking. I used every opportunity I had to make films. My advice is be proactive because the content I made during university was the content that got me work experience, an internship, job opportunities and a national short film award.
I got some great advice when I graduated. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you want to do. It’s actually quite difficult interviewing someone who is vague and “happy to do anything”. When somebody tells you they are passionate about directing (as I did), it gives you an insight into who they are and what will motivate them.
In the past year, Captive North has offered more than two dozen work placements for students. Of that number, six students have received paid opportunities. If you are a student or a graduate, ask yourself these three questions.
1. Have you had a work placement?
2. Did it last longer than a week? Did it last longer than a month?
3. Did you receive any paid opportunities after your work placement?
This brings me onto What ANNOYS me.
Captive North receives dozens of emails every month from students and graduates. Unfortunately, many of them go about asking for opportunities the wrong way.
I have some email examples that I would like to share with you.
My name is Andy and I have recently just completed my degree.
I was just wondering, and hoping, whether there are any job opportunities that may help me get started in my career.
I am recent graduate from X University where I studied Television and Radio and received a 2:1. I was just wondering if the were any jobs which needed doing as I am happy to work unpaid as I would love the experience to grow my knowledge of the industry and get some hands on experience, I am also happy to travel round as I have my own car so travelling is no problem.
Hope to hear from you soon.
My name is Robert and I have recently graduated from the X University with a 1st in TV & Radio Production. I’m contacting Captive North because I am looking to a start a career in the industry doing anything I can. I have just completed an editing placement at X. However, I am not just interested in editing, I have a passion for all aspects of production.
I find your work inspiring and it’s incredible high quality is something that gets me very excited. Therefore, I would love any opportunity to be a part of anything.
I wanted to send you my CV and some examples of my work, and also let you know that I am eager to get involved in anything.
Please consider me for any opportunities,
None of these applicants received a work placement. That might seem harsh and I know that I probably wrote emails worse than this when I was a student. However …
1. Address your email to a person. Most companies have an About Us page or a LinkedIn profile. Avoid writing ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.
2. A degree, previous work experience, and a driver’s license are all good things. Include them but don’t rely on them.
3. Make sure you include a CV and examples of your work. Nine times out of ten it will be your portfolio that intrigues people. If a cinematographer sends me an awesome showreel, I am probably going to ring them and find out how much they charge.
4. Tell me about your core skill. Better still, offer value! A student animator sent me a personalised animation of our company logo. It showed skill and initiative.
5. Check your emails for spelling mistakes.
6. Get a good balance between patience and persistence.
7. Once you have your foot in the door, make cakes. Most people in the office like cakes.
8. Learn from your mistakes.
9. Keep doing it. Practise makes perfect.
10. Failing all of that. Make your own opportunities.
When I receive a well written email from a work experience applicant I usually reply by giving them a challenge. This is the interesting bit. I might reply to ten out of thirty applicants. On average only one out of those ten complete the challenge I set them. That means that approximately 3% of applicants get to the interview stage. From my experience, getting in front of someone gives you the best chance of success.
Then in the interview I check to see if that individual can be professional, sociable, and innovative. They don’t have to be an extrovert but having a positive attitude, doing more than expected, being reliable and responsible are all great qualities to have.
What will ANNOY you?
Sometimes you are going to get lucky and sometimes you are not. For example, you might ring up a company and they tell you now isn’t a good time. Or you send them an email and you don’t get a response. It’s frustrating.
Sending a good email does not guarantee anything. Timing is also a factor. Some weeks, video production teams are very busy on shoots or handling a big project. Other days they are wishing for somebody to offer an extra hand.
Please avoid saying to a company, “My college says I need two weeks of work experience on these dates”. It screams desperation opposed to passion.
How do you judge whether now is a good time to contact a company?
Websites are rarely updated that often but social media is a useful tool. A lot of companies will post at least once a day on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. These platforms are good for spying as well as a good way to start small talk.
Get on their radar by liking their page and adding positive comments. Do the same on Linkedin. Then start sharing your ideas and your content with them but make sure it’s relevant.
At all times, focus on getting that face-to-face time. Don’t cold call them asking for an opportunity. Just give them a reason to meet you.
I hope you found this useful.