How to get work experience in magazines

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.


19 thoughts on “How to get work experience in magazines

  1. Jessica says:

    Great post Alex – particularly the last section. I simply cannot stand interns who, having put themselves up for these positions, whinge about getting the rubbish work to do once they’ve finished their two weeks. Having taken an internship not even as a fresh-faced grad but with two years ‘proper work’ behind me I cannot bare people who have this attitude and don’t make the most of being there. So good on you for doing it the right way.

    Anyway – you put it best yourself: “And if you’re going to grumble about being exploited, then sod off NOW. Five year olds in an Indian sweatshop are exploited.” < too right

  2. Siany says:

    “Five year olds in an Indian sweatshop are exploited. You are working for free. There is a difference.”

    This is fabulous. There’s a big difference between companies exploiting interns and doing work experience. It’s not always a fair balance and companies have a long way to go to improve, but, if you’re going to take on unpaid work, shut the hell up about being unpaid.

  3. Emma Cossey says:

    Fab piece! Some great advice there, and that last section really does ring true. I can’t stand people moaning about internships when they’re getting a great opportunity and valuable work experience.

    Sadly, I think university seems to be teaching a lot of graduates that they are ‘owed’ an amazing £25k job in their desired industry straight away, regardless of whether they have any work experience.

  4. Top Bird @ Wee Birdy says:

    Work experience is one of the best ways to get into mags – and if you’re good people really do take notice! Were you at Time Out when I was there? We had an excellent internship program running in the Shopping & Style dept. xx

    • Alexandra Sheppard says:

      I didn’t know you worked for Time Out! I was there for two weeks last August and spent most of my time doing stuff for the free student magazine that came out in September. Really, really enjoyed it but working in the Shopping & Style section would have been AMAZING! x

  5. Holly Jade says:


    What qualifications do you have?
    I’m really keen to get involved in magazine publifications but I really have no idea what I need.
    Any other helping hints?
    Your above information was just what I needed to hear, well done with being informative and helpful! ;)

    • Alexandra Sheppard says:

      Glad you found it so helpful! I don’t actually work for any magazine publications (I work online in social media and blogging), so I’m probably not the best person to ask. I also don’t have any qualifications higher than three A-Levels. But if I did want to go down the magazine publishing route, I would start with an internship. Working for free is far from ideal but, unless you’re especially well connected, I can’t think of any other way to get in. Yes, there are journalism courses, but having a qualification like that doesn’t guarantee a job unfortunately.

  6. Joe child says:

    Hey, thanks for the post! it really helped!
    but i was wondering if you know any magazine companies which take in under 18s???
    Thanks :)

    • Alexandra Sheppard says:

      Glad the post was useful! I don’t know of any magazines that take in under 18s, but some might do – it’s worth giving them a call before you send in your application. You might be lucky!

  7. Chantel Pargiter says:

    This is aa awesome post!
    I am 17, and I have applied and wrote to so many magazines for work experience but cannot get any because of my age, :( im young for my year, my birthday is in August so I am really struggling with the desicison as to whether get work expereince or got to university :S
    It sucks to be young for your year :(
    any advice would be great, thank youuuuu!! :)

    • Alexandra Sheppard says:

      Thanks! Glad that you enjoyed it.

      First of all, I should say that I’m not actually a journalist. After the work experience, I decided that it wasn’t for me. Just bear that in mind before you take my advice :-)

      I would certainly recommend that you go to university, if that’s what you were thinking of doing. Work experience at magazines is a) unpaid and b) only usually lasts for a few weeks at a time. It’s also pretty difficult to find. So go to university and do work experience at magazines during the summer holidays for a few weeks at a time, each year. This will allow you to build up contacts and decide whether or not this industry is for you. And you’ll also get a degree, which is essential for many jobs in the journalism industry.

  8. Kiri Gordon says:

    Thank you so much for your advice! I am just about to start my final year in English literature and creative writing at uni and was panic stricken at the idea that I am yet to have any magazine work experience and had no idea where to even start. Right I’m going to put my ‘getting serious’ spectacles on and start applying.

  9. D says:

    Hi, I love the advice! I’m looking for work experience in the summer holidays, evidently I probably won’t be able to find anything this year round – I’ve left it a tad late – but next year, hopefully!

    I’m just a bit apprehensive about the kind of magazines that I want to contact. More! for example, looks great in terms of experience, but I don’t have some intricate knowledge about reality t.v. and I’m decades behind on what’s happening on Eastenders. Do they expect you to know that stuff thoroughly beforehand? I mean I’m willing to learn and catch up – but I don’t want to be ridiculously out of my depth and look like I picked any magazine just for its title?

    I have my interests – I love music and technology for example – but I’m not heavily immersed in knowledge of all these upcoming, underground bands. Is this a problem?

    Great post though, thanks for the advice yet again ;)

  10. Ella says:

    I’m only 17 and doing A levels at the moment, but i’d like to do an internship next summer/year (when I will be 18) but I literally have no experience with magazines etc. apart from taking English Lit and Media…Should I still apply? I wouldn’t even mind just running back and forth taking coffees the whole time, I just want an insight into the industry.
    But this post was really helpful, thanks :)

  11. tracy says:

    Your advice was brilliant regarding internships. I am considering internships in the media as a career change. I believe.your right to let people know they should do their research. yes your right people shouldn’t complain about working for free, but that’s a first world problem. Complaints are encouraged too much.
    Internships are a masterclass for gaining insight into a new industry, it’s an opportunity worth taking of you get a placement.

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