One thing I noticed when I decided to get work experience in magazines was the sheer lack of information telling you how. As someone who had zero contacts I had to secure an internship the old-fashioned way – emailing dozens of magazines and crossing my fingers that at least a couple would say yes.
Through many hours of googling I was able to put together bits and pieces of information – how to contact magazines, who to contact and what to expect when you get there – but it was far from easy. So here’s the stuff I wish I’d known before I applied for my internships. (If you’re interested you can read about my five weeks at more!, Shortlist and Time Out here.)
N.B. This is what I did. It worked for me, but it’s by no means the only way to secure an internship.
N.N.B This information applies to magazines only. I didn’t try applying to newspapers as it’s rare they take on anyone who a) isn’t a graduate or b) on a Journalism course.
Some things you should know before you start…
- You’ll need to start applying at least a year in advance. Don’t send any now and expect to get a placement at Heat or GQ. It just won’t happen.
- The more flexible you are with your dates, the better chance you’ll have of getting a placement.
- Virtually all magazines will ask you to intern at their London office, so make sure you have somewhere to stay or can afford to commute.
- You definitely won’t get paid. If you’re very lucky you’ll get expenses. So start saving! Working for free feels so much worse when you don’t have any savings to fall back on. I learnt that the hard way.
- It’s unlikely that magazines will take on anyone under 18 due to Health & Safety gubbins.
Still reading? Excellent. Here are the next steps…
1. Start making a list of the magazines you wouldn’t mind interning for. I applied for eight.
2. For each of your chosen magazines, find out who the best person to contact will be. Check out the Job Vacancies page that most magazine websites have and you’ll usually find a small section detailing how to apply for work experience.
No such page? Then buy a copy of the magazine and check the staff list (usually on the last page) and find the Editorial Assistant – they’ll be the best person to contact.
3. Write your application. This should be a short and sweet email explaining that you’d like to intern at their publication. A few tips:
- Don’t forget to state your availability dates.
- I attached my CV to every email I sent. To be honest, I’m not sure that it made a difference but it certainly didn’t hurt my chances.
- Treat it like a job application. So use a formal tone and perform a spellcheck before hitting send. And please make sure you’ve spelt the recipient’s name correctly. It’s just polite.
- If the magazine asks you to attach two pieces of your writing, then attach two pieces of your writing. Following basic instruction, innit.
4. Send your emails! Now wait between 20 minutes and a few weeks for a response.
5. Got an acceptance? Yay! Send an email confirming your place! Then perform a celebratory dance around your laptop and tell your ENTIRE family.
6. Take out a subscription to the magazine(s) you’ll be interning at. Get to know the writing tone and style, and what type of articles they feature. Understanding this puts you in a good position to pitch features once you get there.
When you get there…
Fantastic experience as they are, magazine internships aren’t especially glamorous. They’re pretty hard work – and unpaid work at that. By doing a placement you’re losing out on paid employment, so your internship will be costing you money.
Keeping this in mind, the best tip I can give you is make the most out of your time there. So don’t sit there twiddling your thumbs – ASK FOR WORK. If you don’t understand something, then for heaven’s sake PLEASE ask someone who does so you don’t cock it up.
And if you’re going to grumble about being exploited, then sod off NOW. Five year olds in an Indian sweatshop are exploited. You are working for free. There is a difference. You’ll be gaining so much out of a magazine internship, and staff are incredibly grateful for the extra help. I may not have been paid for my two weeks at Time Out but I did have work published, a lovely thank you card and amazing references.
I hope I haven’t succeeded in putting you off, because internships are an invaluable way of learning about the magazine industry. And the feeling of seeing your work in an actual magazine is pretty amazing.