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Sunday 20th October 2019

Work experience: is it who you know?

Work Experience
Applications, applications...

They say that’s it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. By networking you can find someone who knows someone else who used to work with John who has just opened a job position which would be perfect for you. If you were to go through the long, arduous application process you might not even get an interview. But go through John himself and bingo. It’s all about the personal touch.

I decided that I wanted to work in advertising/branding/marketing but had no experience in those fields so I wrote my music degree dissertation on ‘key trends used in UK television advertising’ as a way of demonstrating my interest in communications.

As advised by a family friend, I started the search for work experience by writing to twenty companies in my fields of interest. It may sound a bit old-school for a millennial but typing a letter and handwriting the envelope sounded like a good way to get a company’s attention and it was suggested that they would be less likely to throw away a letter than deleting an email. I was hopeful. After three weeks and no responses, I emailed the companies.

In the end I had written to, and then emailed, over 50 companies.

Some replied, thanking me for my interest and telling me that they had no work experience placements available. So, I started again. In the end I had written to, and then emailed, over 50 companies. I was eventually offered a work experience placement following a phone interview but they wanted me to start straight away which was not doable because of uni. So, I was back to the beginning. Granted I was applying to big companies but I was asking to work for free. Why was this so hard?!

I realised she was the CEO of a major London advertising company.

Bizarrely enough it was when I was temping in catering that something kind of (ish) happened on the work front. I was waitressing at a house party in Barnes; serving drinks and canapes and just generally living the dream. The hostess asked me what I wanted to do when I finish university, to which I replied, advertising. To my surprise, she worked in advertising. I didn’t really know what to say so we kind of left it there.

The event was successful. Everyone was very nice and the food looked great. The evening came to an end and the kind hostess gave me her business card and told me to call her because she could get me some work experience. Looking at the card I saw that, to my surprise, she was the CEO of a major London advertising company.

The evening came to an end and the kind hostess gave me her business card.

After a bit of Googling I also learned that she was very much an admired figure in the advertising and business world. Could this have been it? My ticket in?! If anyone could get me experience in a company, surely the CEO would be able to do it! Getting excited (Too excited. Jumping the gun.), I organised a phone conversation with her through her PA a week or so later. Still, she came with a promise of work experience at the company. She would be in contact with HR soon and they would contact me. Great! HR told me to fill out an application for work experience. So I did, and a month or so later I received a familiar kind of email. They thanked me for my interest in the company but informed me that I had been unsuccessful. I emailed the CEO lady and explained that I was not successful to which she informed me that apparently they don’t just take requests for work experience anymore, because of equal opportunities and all that, each person has to go through an official application process. Unsurprisingly disappointed, I had to let that ship sale. I’ll probably apply to their grad scheme (as I have done before) again and hope for the best.

One of the tips that the CEO lady gave me was that you have to be tenacious.

I have got work experience lined up since then. Not from contacting the companies at all but through family. Luckily, I am part of a very large family so networking is somewhat easier than most may find it. We have an annual family gathering recently, I was telling my family members what I was up to (with no intent to come out with anything other than a chat) and consequently came out with three separate offers to find me work experience. They did and it’s worked out great.

I guess that my advice for anyone looking for experience is to start early and use who you know (though be prepared that that sometimes just won’t work either!). One of the tips that the CEO lady gave me was that you have to be tenacious. Follow people up. Then follow them up again. If that doesn’t work then contact more people. Use whoever you have because someone will always know someone who knows someone who has a job or even work experience going. And it’s definitely worth it.

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Phoebe Burrows

Phoebe Burrows

Mouthy blogger

A recent music graduate, Phoebe is writing her way through her first job.

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