Christine Fanthome outlines practical strategies for school and college leavers

Securing a job in the media is an ambition shared by significant numbers of young people. This inevitably results in a crowded and competitive arena. It can seem impossible to find an opening when too many applicants are chasing too few opportunities, and this can lead to disappointment and disillusionment. The key to success is to have a clear strategy for getting started based on solid preparation, a clear idea of what is involved and an understanding of the experience, skills and personal qualities which best support an application. This means getting focused, using research, gaining relevant experience and exploring all opportunities.

Getting focused

Many candidates undermine their own credibility in the first sentence of their application by declaring a burning ambition ‘to work in the media’ without giving any specific details. This conveys the impression that the applicant may be attracted by the perceived kudos of media work rather than the challenges of a particular job. It also suggests that limited background research has been done and that the individual has not considered what best matches their skills and talents. ‘Working in the media’ covers a wide spectrum of diverse opportunities and it is essential to focus on specific areas. This is not difficult as descriptions of different media jobs are listed on relevant websites (see below).

Using research

Employment applicants need to ensure they have a basic overview of the media industry, and understand the contribution of the particular organisation within it. Students who want to work in TV or radio need to familiarise themselves with the output of the various channels and production companies and ensure that they can comment on this at interview. Likewise, those interested in print journalism should be prepared to offer opinions and ideas on a range of local and national newspapers.

It can be very disappointing when students arrive for an interview and haven’t researched the company at all. For example when asked which programmes of ours they enjoy watching the most, they can’t name one!’ (Celia, TV producer)

It is also essential to have a realistic view of what the job entails and the key personal attributes that are required. Media work may involve long hours, weekend or shift work and operating under strict time pressures. Taking the trouble to research what is involved is essential if a candidate is to convince an employer that they are suited to it.

An idea of routes for career progression is also useful. Key personal requirements vary from job to job but generally include good communication and organisational skills, enthusiasm, determination to get on the first rung of the media ladder and willingness to carry out the most menial of tasks cheerfully.

We receive 3,000 applications for work in the media per year. Media employers look for candidates who demonstrate a real, well-informed interest in their industry. Stronger applicants have generally held work experience placements during holidays, can show knowledge of the industry through researching the trade press, and have insight into which of the many media sectors and roles they would be suitable for. Membership of trade associations, such as student branches of CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) or CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) will provide excellent networking opportunities for people looking to learn more about professions in media.’ (Wendy Duprey, Pathfinders Media Recruitment www.pathfindersrecruitment.com)

Gaining relevant experience

In a competitive environment such as media employment, hands-on experience can be vital and can provide a stepping stone to a first job. It is important to think laterally while looking for work experience, and aim for something that is realistic. Someone who wishes to work in radio, for example, might apply to large organisations such as the BBC for work experience, but may have more chance of success by investigating the opportunities available in local, community, student or hospital radio.

There can be a temptation to head towards London for work experience, but this can be costly and unsatisfying, and it is better to identify opportunities locally. Careers offices may have details of relevant organisations and there are also a number of publications that list potential employers. One of these is Contacts which is published each year by The Spotlight (www.spotlight.com). It includes details of UK film, radio, television and video production companies, theatre companies, publicity and press representatives and many other media-related organisations.

A new entrant would usually start their publishing career as an assistant – either in production, marketing, editorial, rights or sales – and then work their way up. Publishing is a very competitive industry which attracts hundreds of applicants, particularly graduates. When recruiting, I always look for applicants who have relevant work or general office experience. Many publishers take on work experience students during the holidays, so this is a good way of gaining some experience and building up your CV – and if you make a good impression, this can often lead to something more permanent.’ (Sally, publisher)

Exploring all opportunities

In order to identify potential opportunities, it is necessary to:

  • take note of advertisements in the national press (particularly the Monday Guardian; Press Gazette and Broadcast)
  • attend relevant careers fairs
  • make full use of internet resources which often supply useful tips and information as well as outlining training and employment opportunities.

Following a dream and having a bit of luck do play a part in getting a job in the media, but 90% of the process is down to sheer hard work. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth all the effort. Are your students ready and equipped to apply?

Internet resources

www.bbc.co.uk/jobs

www.channel4.com/4careers

www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk

www.itvjobs.com

www.skillset.org/careers

Dr Christine Fanthome worked in the television industry for 10 years. She is the author of Work Placements –  A Survival Guide for Students (2004, Palgrave).

First published in Learning for Life, November 2006

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