Getting Creative Work Experience: A Guide

I am currently in the final year of my undergraduate degree, so a common question I get asked is, “What will you do afterwards?”

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I’ll get back to you on that | © Fox Broadcasting Company, via Giphy

Afterwards is this unnameable, feared slice of time, the Voldemort of the slices of times, if you will. It is the looming hour of potential stasis, of nowhere to go or nothing to do after attaining that degree. And it seems to be worse for humanities/arts students.

As you might have noticed, I study English Literature and Creative Writing at university (I’ve written/complained about it a *few* times). So the second-most common question I get asked is “Do you want to be a teacher?”

To be honest, a career in teaching has interested me before. But that is not because I’m studying English; I just like telling people what to do sharing what I know. The assumption is common, however, as many people seem to feel that English/creative writing students do not have many other career opportunities.

But the way I choose to see things is this: people are always in need of writers. No matter the field of study, company, or business, communication is a necessity and in my opinion, no one can do this better than people who study it. It might be that components of an English degree aren’t always practical, or geared towards practical work in the “real” world. That is where work experience comes in.

giphyOff you go | Via Giphy

After finishing my first year at university, I spent the most relaxing summer recovering from the trauma of having to basically re-learn how to write essays in university (yeah – it’s all different from school. NO ONE TELLS YOU). I returned to university that autumn to a bit of a shock. Many of my course mates had worked over the holidays. And not just coursework – actual work. Gaining actual experience.

My biggest accomplishment? Not falling asleep after eating a particularly heavy lunch.

Once I realised that the more practical aspects of my learning would come through work experience, I set about applying to internships by the time my second year rolled to an end, and this is an overview of what I learned.

1. Start early
Of course, it’s never too late in your student/graduate career to start thinking about work experience (or at least, that’s what I tell myself). But what I mean is, start early in the year. I got rejected from a publishing house twice because I didn’t contact them early enough and their spots filled up. So start working on your application as soon as possible; the more prompt you are, the more chance you have of getting a placement at the time and place you want.

giphy-3Don’t let this be you! | Via Giphy

2. Personalise a paragraph
Yes, people always recommend that you personalise each application to the job you’re applying to, and that is definitely a good idea. This does not necessarily mean that you have to re-write your application each time, however. If you’re applying to a similar position at multiple places, the most you need to change is one paragraph: why you’re interested in that particular company.

For instance, last summer I applied for multiple internships at varied publishing houses. In all my cover letters, I expressed an enthusiasm about literature and writing. What drastically changed from one to the other was that one paragraph, written after doing some research into each publishing house and finding areas that particularly stood out to me and made me want to work for them. I then connected these to my strengths to point out why I would be valuable to that particular publishing house.

3. Do your research
This connects to the point above: the more research you do, the better impression you will make. Find out the work they’ve done so you can express genuine enthusiasm for the parts that interest you; find out who’s in charge of recruitment so you can address them personally in your application; find out what their values are so you know if you’re a good match for them.

Spend your time on this so you don’t end up wasting it at a workplace that doesn’t work for you.

giphy-5.gifYou will thank yourself later! | ©C BS, via Giphy

4. Try different things
Work experience comes in many different forms, so if something seems interesting but irrelevant to your particular interests, don’t hesitate to give it a try anyway. I want to work in publishing but spent the majority of my university years working at the Arts Centre as a steward.

Will checking tickets directly help me be a writer? No. But will working in and leading a team, selling merchandise and providing customer service give me those “practical” skills needed in the “real” world? Yep.

5. Aim high
Don’t limit yourself by thinking, I’ll never get this job. Try your best and aim for your dream job, because what’s the worst that can happen?

Side note: I also got some good advice from a friend recently – if you see that a potential employer is taking a long time getting back to you, follow up. As long as you’ve waited a reasonable amount of time and you’re being courteous, again: what’s the worst that can happen?

Imagine the worst case scenario, realise it can’t be all that bad, and go for it!


I hope these little tips help – and if they don’t, I hope you enjoyed reading the post anyway! Let me know if you have any of your own advice on “real” work in the “real” world – my knowledge is very limited, as I’m just starting out. Thanks for giving my little blog a visit, and hopefully I will see you around!

Until next time!

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4 Comments on “Getting Creative Work Experience: A Guide

  1. I’d say make the most of your experience; ask for extra work if you end up with free time, ask lots of questions, find out what other roles involve, see if they have any upcoming vacancies and ask for career advice (if it isn’t stepping over any boundaries) – basically use the opportunity for all it’s worth. And don’t get disheartened if you get rejected – it takes a lot of rejections sometimes before you’re successful! 🙂

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Milly Schmidt

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