How to get work experience at a magazine

Work experience student
© Erlser | Dreamstime

If you’ve ever envisioned yourself as Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, you probably already know that a position in the glossy magazine industry is a job a million girls (and a few boys) would kill for. Publishing is such a competitive industry and it’s hard to know how to get your foot in the door.

Work experience works best

People already working in the industry say the best way to get a job in magazines is to do unpaid work experience – and lots of it. Amanda Taylor, editor of Total Girl magazine, worked her way to the top of the publishing pile with perseverance, a journalism degree and work experience.

‘Publishing is a notoriously difficult industry to get into, but I was very determined to become a journalist. I did a week’s worth of work experience with my local newspaper in Year 10, and I stayed in touch with the editor of the paper throughout high school. The day I finished my HSC he offered me a job as a journalist for the paper. I also started a journalism degree. In my final semester at uni, I did a three-week internship with a tween girl’s magazine, and I fell in love with the magazine industry’, says Amanda.

Amanda’s not the only one who got a foot in the publishing door via work experience. Advertising coordinator for Cosmopolitan magazine, Jordana Rooz, landed her job after 18 months of work experience at ACP. She discovered that carrying out day-to-day duties could at times be tedious, but making industry contacts through work experience was crucial to landing a permanent gig in publishing.

‘None of my work experience was paid – even though I wrote several stories and often went in more than one day per week. Sometimes I wanted to give up – I just didn’t think that I was getting anywhere. But now that I have a job at Cosmo I look back and realise just how important that work experience was. People do notice that you put in time and effort and will reward you in turn’, says Jordana.

Who can apply for work experience?

If you’re keen to take on some work experience of your own, there are a few things you need to do to get started. Different magazines have different policies when it comes to work experience and internships. If you’re still at school, most magazines, like Total Girl, offer week-long work experience positions, where you can get an insight into the teamwork that is required to make a publication run smoothly. Some magazines allow university students to apply for internships that last a whole semester. Magazines will take a number of school work experience people (though not all at once) but take only four to six interns per year.

How to apply for work experience

Magazines like Cosmopolitan and Girlfriend recruit interns and work experience candidates online, which is convenient for them and for you, but also means that lots of people will be applying for the same positions, and you need to make a real impression through your application.

As the editor of Total Girl, Amanda Taylor sorts through all the magazine’s work experience applications and chooses the few who will get an inside peek into the magazine’s offices. She says that the best way to get noticed is to act professionally.

‘When applying for an internship position or a job, you should always apply formally, with a professional cover letter, a copy of your resume (keep it brief – around two pages) and an example of any published work you may have. You should always remember to proofread your cover letter and resume – if you’re applying to be a writer and you say that you have superior spelling and grammar skills, make sure you back it up with a resume that is mistake-free!’ Amanda said.

If you set up your email address a long time ago and it sounds offensive or inappropriate, set up a new account using your name in the address that you can include on formal applications. Have someone else proofread your application before you send it off. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback if you get a knock-back, but do it in a polite manner – remember that publishers receive hundreds of applications and narrowing them down to a few select candidates can be a difficult task.

What to expect

If you have been lucky enough to be invited to carry out work experience at a magazine, the fun and the hard work is about to begin. Be aware that Vogue isn’t going to ask you to write a fashion exposé on the first day of your internship. Nor are they going to ask you to interview Kate Hudson or Jessica Alba. Work experience positions allow you to get to know the people in the office, and gives them time to build up trust in you. Show them that you can carry out simple tasks quickly and efficiently, and they will give you a chance to do greater things.

You can be prepared for a day on the job if you know what to expect. While different magazines assign different jobs to their interns, all interns can expect that work experience will involve a lot of odd jobs and running around.

Stephanie Dalzell, a final year journalism student at UTS, has done a long stint in work experience positions in magazines across Sydney.

‘I did a five-month internship at Girlfriend magazine working as an online features writer. I also did a couple of weeks of work experience at NW, TV Week, Take 5 and Marie Claire’, she said.

‘It wasn’t very Devil Wears Prada-ish, despite what I had previously anticipated.’

Jordana Rooz also learnt that internships aren’t all about glamorous photo shoots.

‘I spent an entire day opening envelopes to draw a competition winner – my hands have never been the same. Then there was the mountain of photocopying!’

Make a good impression

While your work experience stint might involve mundane tasks, you can turn them into positives to impress the publishing team. If you’re making coffee for the staff, you get a chance to say hello and introduce yourself when you deliver it, and photocopying gives you plenty of time to see the magazine. Stephanie Dalzell says that enthusiasm is the key to making a good impression.

‘I was told to do absolutely anything and everything I could, and I think they appreciate keenness. As long as you don’t hover. They hate hovering!’ she said.

Enjoy yourself

Remember, short-term work experience positions won’t always give you an accurate insight into everything that goes into the production of a magazine, but you’ll get a small glimpse into the world of publishing and you can decide whether or not you’d like to return. The most important thing to remember is to have fun. Be yourself and soak up as much information on the job as you possibly can!


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