Creative careers — getting your foot in the door

Work placements that you undertake as a student can give you a big helping hand into a career when you graduate. We’ve put together some advice on finding the right one for you.

07 Mar 2018


Many of the courses offered at UCA have units dedicated to industry placements built into the course, usually in the second term of your second or third year.

However, even if it isn’t an obligatory part of the course, we really recommend and support students getting as much work experience as they can before they graduate.

There are many benefits to industry placements, such as building your skills, networking, job opportunities, insider knowledge and industry contacts.

On average, around 60% of interns receive a job offer after their placement. This is especially applicable in the creative industries, as trust and word of mouth are huge factors in getting work. As networking and contacts are so important, a lot of hires happen through recommendations, so if you have some experience working somewhere, it’s likely they’ll hire you again — or recommend you to someone else.

Here’s how to look for the best placement for you, how to apply and some good habits to take up when you get there.

The four factors

When you start thinking about undertaking work experience, there are four main factors that you’ll need to either think about, brush up on or prepare before you get going:

Factor 1: Self-awareness

The first thing you need to think about is yourself: what are your strengths, you interests, your priorities and your goals? What direction do you want your career to head in?

It’s best to think about what’s important to you, too. What do you want out of the work? Do you want to improve your creativity, learn how to use your skills, make sure that you have a good work/life balance, get a financial reward?

Not all placement opportunities will tick all of the boxes so you need to know what you’re looking for.

Factor 2: Development

Now, you need to think really about which skills you want to focus on. Think carefully about what you’re learning in your course so far, and what direction you want your career to head in. Will this job opportunity give you the opportunity to get qualifications you could benefit from?

A handy way to figure these out if you’re not sure is to analyse your career goals. Take a pen to paper and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you want to bring to the world?
  • What career goals do you have?
  • What do you need to realise these goals?
  • What skills could you develop that would help you?
  • In particular, who could help you develop these skills?

Once you answer these, you should have a good idea of what you need, and what you’re looking for.

Factor 3: Opportunity awareness

Once you know what you’re looking for in a placement, you should start searching for what’s out there. There are many places that you can look for internships and possibilities, including:

  • Tradeshows
  • Events
  • Friends and family contacts
  • Visiting lecturers
  • Online websites
  • Trade journals
  • Other students and alumni
  • Registers of professionals and directories.

Make sure you keep the task of looking for a placement forefront in your mind at every event you go to, and at any talk or lecture that happens on campus. Networking is an incredibly powerful tool which can help put you in touch with the perfect work placement opportunity.

Factor 4: Self-promotion

Lastly, you need to be ready to self-promote yourself and your work.

Make sure you have a web presence — whether it’s social media such as Facebook or Instagram, or a dedicated website. Include a portfolio of your work, and make sure your up-to-date CV is easily accessible.

Take advantage of services like LinkedIn which help you to connect and make contacts with people in the industry.

A few websites you can use to start your search:

Applying for your placement

While some placements might have an application form online, most of the time if you find a company or brand that you’d like to work for, you will need to contact them independently and ask to work for them.

In these cases, you will need to write a letter (or email) to them, asking for the work.

Your letter is one of the most important parts of the communication with the company — it’s your chance to make a good first impression, and you need to make sure that they read it and answer. When you’re composing your letter:

  • Always make sure it’s addressed to a named person (not ‘to whom it may concern…’)
  • Don’t make it too long — one side of A4, about 4 paragraphs should be plenty
  • Make sure you attach your CV, and point them towards your showreel, website, portfolio, etc.

For the four paragraphs of the letter, we suggest:

  1. Why you’re writing, when you’re available and how long for, what degree and course you are doing and where
  2. Why you want to work for them: mention specific things about the company, their products, their values or their style
  3. What you can offer: what skills and training you have and what ideas you’ve come up with (this is a good time to link to your work)
  4. Sign-off (something like ‘I look forward to hearing from you soon’).

It’s important to remember that there are a lot of advantages for the employer, as well as you. Try and refer to or address these where you can — they’ll be benefitting from innovation and new ideas, you’ll be more hands on deck for getting the job done, and they’ll have the opportunity to recruit and find new talent.

Once you have the placement

When you go into the workplace, it’s important to make sure that you get everything out of the experience that you can. Take a notebook and planning out the following:

  • Decide what you want to get from it (skills, experience, work on a certain project)
  • Develop a set of clear objectives that you can work towards
  • Identify exactly what you want to develop in your own existing skillset
  • Let the company know what you can do and what your objectives are while you’re there
  • Keep track of all the projects and work you undertake while you’re there.

By keeping a notebook with all of this information in it with you each day, you can make sure that you’re getting exactly what you want out of the work that you’re doing, and make sure that you can remember all the benefits and experience you gain along the way.

Find out more about the support we can offer you through our Career & Employability Department on the UCA website.