Students approach me typically 6 times a year looking for work experience. It’s not much, but enough for a self employed illustrator. I’m still flattered but over nearly 30 years I’ve collected some advice for both sides, the student and the company.
If for instance, illustration is your thing.
Then I suggest getting some of your illustrations together in a book or folio to showcase people your skills and your interests. I suggest between 6 -12 examples is enough. If you have more, edit it down to show the best examples with variety, showing that you’re flexible with your skillset. The last thing anyone wants to do, is look at 42 different illustrations of Manga characters drawn in colour crayons. So try to make it fresh and quality.
Look for companies that are local if you can, although I’ve had students from Oxford stay over in Derby for work experience. If you do go afar, think about the cost of commuting and if needed accommodation. But local is the best, and perhaps in the future a possible employer. How to impress. Getting off your backside and doing the hard work of contacting and initiating work experience is probably doubling your success rate. I’m always impressed when a student takes the initiative to find work / experience… It shows core skills that every company wants in it’s team. Relying on your Mum to call on your behalf isn’t going to cut it.
Contact your potentials in a direct way.
The most effective way I’ve found, is to write a letter and follow up with a phone call… Now some might email, but a written letter, is far more likely to be read. If your handwriting isn’t great, then write it as an email, but print it off and post it… it really does make a difference.
So before you start, ask about the sort of things that you’ll be able to do… this will help motivate the company to sit down and think of a schedule, and give them chance to structure an interesting and educational experience. But don’t stop there…. make a list of things you would like to do, or schedule a rough aim for each day. That way, you’ll have some form of purpose that you can request while there.
I recommend a meeting before you start the work experience, this can be a really great opportunity to find out more about the company, making sure that they and you are suitable for the work experience. It can be a bit like an interview too, so great practice… and in a way, it’s like having an interview for a job that isn’t available… yet!
You’re normally there for a limited time, so make the most of it, and don’t be shy. Ask questions and learn. Often companies will delegate another member of the company to be your mentor while on work experience. I’ve seen this a lot, especially in large companies. It can be a bit of a dead-end situation, where you’re given tasks to do, or simply asked to observe…. boring!
And remember that the person selected to look after you, might have their own work load to do too. And that will take priority over you. Remember to communicate with the people you work with. My very first work experience student would finish what was asked, and simply stare at the computer screen, not letting me know he was done…. for ages… Use common sense !
Work experience isn’t just about learning skills like how to use a photocopier… it’s about studio etiquette in the office and behaviour in the boardroom. Write a review of the experience afterwards, it’s a positive process that will give you an understanding of what you’ve learnt and share it with the company, so they can study the feedback.
Remember to enjoy the time on work experience and remember every placement is different, so try a few places.
Good luck ! And please share this link for others you think might benefit from my advice.
Olivia Roberts: first year Foundation student. 2016
Pavan Singh: Year 11 Student. 2015
Rachel Mason: Graduate 2011
Maeve Joyce: Graduate 2009
Author: Adrian Cartwright illustrator.
Pavan Singh Year 11
“As part of my AS level I was required to go out and gain some work experience relating to my interests and subjects I'm taking. I was very fond of the idea of illustration and managed to get a place with Adrian Cartwright at Planet Illustration for a week. Before my week of work experience I had little to no understanding as to how to tackle a commission or what software would be suitable for the job. Nor did I know the legal and financial side to being a freelance illustrator. During the week Adrian taught me all those things along with giving me a live project to work on and allowing me to sit in with him during a meeting with a client. He was also able to help me create a stronger portfolio and ideas as to what to include. I was there from Monday to Friday working from 10AM to 4PM in his office. The structure of each day was quite similar as for the first two hours we had a one-to-one where he would talk me through each of the steps involved with a job (such as the brief, the scamp and the commission itself) . Then we would have a lunch break for around an hour before getting into the practical work until 4. The day could be quite tiring sometimes as the work involved a lot of thought and understanding for each job. The main parts of the work experience which I enjoyed were; the one-to-ones as I learnt so much from them, seeing an actual meeting with a client take place, being in a creative environment and witnessing a project being completed start to finish. I didn't feel like there were any bad part to the work experience either." By Pavan Singh 2015
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