Getting in the door

I am two days into a two month internship, so I don’t yet feel I can give my first impressions aside to say they are quite uplifting. However, watching friends go for interviews and land experience and internships of their own I do think I can talk about how to get your foot in and through the door.

You can never be too keen:

Really, I think this is very important; from your covering letter through to your first interview (if you have one) you must find a way to communicate a passion and engagement for your ‘subject’ area. This means a thorough knowledge of several areas:

  1. The publication you are applying to – what issues it is concentrating on, its current editorial line and its history
  2. The important discussions taking place within your industrymake sure you know what changes are underfoot and what the problems are – the best ideas solve problems
  3. Knowledge about your interviewerthis can give an indication of what questions they might ask and it impresses people when you are prepared
  4. General world knowledgeso that you can talk about a multitude of topics and communicate your personality – you can never have too many interests

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas:

Journalism is in such a state of flux; readerships are up and down and advertising revenue has been falling for years. As such, even established publications with internships are looking to try new approaches to content delivery, distribution and audience engagement. There is no reason it cannot be your idea.

This stands both before and during an internship; a good idea well-pitched may get you the opportunity in the first place or help you stand out when you are there. It is important to judge a good time to pitch ideas (once you have started) and remember that it doesn’t always need to be to the editor either.

You should always have some ideas in your pad; you never know when you are going to be asked to fill in for someone or if there is some down time for anything you want to write. You DO NOT want to be caught short and say you have nothing – you might not get asked again.


Learn to ask questions in a non intrusive fashion; if you can develop this skill you can ask lots of questions and learn significant amounts of useful information without annoying the people you are working with. You can see where the publication is struggling and where you might be able to innovate and make suggestions.

It is also how you will come across those useful nuggets of information that might be helpful when pitching an article as a freelancer or at another publication.

Work Ethic:

This is a very important one. Finding a balance is vital – and I am not over stating the issue. You are not being paid, but if you are ‘lucky’ you will be doing the work of a full-time employee (rather than making tea). In this situation you want to work hard and be keen to take on challenges. However, you are not being paid whilst the people you are working with are – its OK, even good to stay late or come early from time to time but don’t over do it.

Most internships do not have a job waiting at the end of them. Whilst I am a great believer in hard work and dedication there needs to be a prize at the end of the road; in most cases with an internship the prize is experience for your CV and maybe a reference. You must learn to judge the correct amount of input you should give.

Any questions – whack them in the comments


About Nick Petrie
Social Media & Campaigns Editor @TheTimes of London. Co-founder @Wannabehacks. Interested in communities, conversations, storytelling.

2 Responses to Getting in the door

  1. Glen Moutrie says:

    Having just spent two months interning at a bank, I can’t help but agree with this. I also feel this applies to just about every internship, and is very good advice that should be followed. I only wish I had read this before starting my own internship.

    I have some points to add myself to this (most of which have been picked up on in a more general sense in this post, but are issues that I have picked up from my own internship). For one, always have a notebook with you and write down everything you hear and learn so that way you have ideas. It shows you are keen, and it will help you keep track of those ideas.

    The second is that you should always be respectful but not fearful of your colleagues. Many of them will have been in the industry for many years and most if not all will be wiser and more knowledgeable than you. But don’t let that stop you from asking tough questions.

    As for the intern, I do have a question. From your perspective, what are the benefits and losses from entering journalism from a different industry as opposed to entering as a graduate? For instance changing from a government, banking, engineering or medical career to one as a journalist. Furthermore, what is the best way for someone to make that jump?

    Keep up the good work!

  2. The Intern says:

    Hey Glen,

    thanks for your input, – you have preempted my next post (out on Tuesday) – which includes a variety of advice on being an Newsroom Nomad – notebooks included.

    The respect point is bang on as well.

    With regards to your question, I don’t know of the best way to make the jump – I suspect a lot of people contribute ‘expert’ or ‘professional’ commentary to publications and then look to build on that.

    I do think it is a valid way to progress into journalism because you are writing from a position of authority and/or knowledge which is a great starting point.

    Know it is also a fantastic competitive advantage because you have niche, specialist knowledge that helps you provide content that others simply cannot.

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