Working in media is becoming an ever more popular career choice for graduates, and competition is tough. UEA careers have organised the Working with Words: Creative Edge Conference on Saturday 8 February to help students discover what is needed to break into the industry. Graduates and employers from creative industries will be giving tips and insight into careers including advertising, marketing, public relations, journalism, film, television and more.

Ahead of the conference, we spoke to guest speaker and Let’s Knit magazine editorial assistant, Amy Adams, on her experiences.

How did you get your job?

I’m an editorial assistant at Let’s Knit magazine. I got my job by going to gorkana.com and searching through their journalist job vacancies (but beware, because it doesn’t filter out lengthy unpaid internships, which is a trap you don’t want to fall into). I basically applied to any paid editorial assistant or junior reporter roles I could find.

Once I had applied, I was asked to submit a short feature on jewellery fashion trends (something I knew very little about before that day!) and then come in for an interview early the next week. Luckily I learnt to knit when I was about 13, so I was able to talk about that in my interview. The magazine was also about to relaunch its website and start a blog, both of which I had experience in through Concrete and my own blog, so that really helped. Then I had a small proofreading test that lasted about ten minutes. That afternoon, they called and offered me the job – I started three days later! I’ve now been working there about eight months.

Did you have a lot of experience before you started applying for jobs?

I had a lot of experience as chief copy editor of Concrete with Harry in my second year, and then as editor-in-chief in my third year. When I first came to UEA, I wasn’t even considering journalism, so it’s always worth joining societies and seeing where they take you!

I also did work experience at a local publishing company, the only one I could find in Leicester, my hometown. I was writing about manufacturing trends, but I still learnt a lot about the way magazine publishing worked!

I then spent a week at my local newspaper and a marketing company, where I offered to write and proofread everything they did until they realised how useful I could be and offered temporary freelance work. It’s always worth trying the more unusual routes – national newspapers get hundreds of applications for work experience, but small local companies will need you more.

Finally, I spent time doing work experience at Archant Dialogue while I was in Norwich, which was invaluable in getting to know consumer magazines. I knew who to contact after coming to a journalism talk run by UEA Careers, and it was a great couple of weeks.

Did having work experience help you get your job?

It definitely helped. My interviewers barely asked about my degree – they were far more interested in everything I had been doing for Concrete and Archant. Like most people, my third year was very intense (I was generally working from around 11am to 11pm most days) but I loved everything that I was doing, so it was always worth it. I had a few interviews before I got my current job, and that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. My work experience also meant that I had a lot to talk about in those interviews.

How did coming to careers events help?

It was really useful to hear the stories of other people only a few years older than myself. Of course, it always felt like I could never possibly be in their place, but here I am a year later!

The focus on digital media that so many of the speakers emphasised really helped too – it made me more serious about learning WordPress properly and starting my own blog, both of which were key in getting my job at Let’s Knit.

How else did the careers centre help while you were at uni?

The personal sessions with Justine Mann were really helpful. I saw her in my first year when I was interested in book publishing, and she remembered me the next year when I came back as copy editor. She was always very helpful and it felt like she really cared about what I was doing. I’d definitely recommend making an appointment with your school’s counsellor if you have any worries about what you want to do after uni.

What advice would you give anyone wanting to start out in the media?

Get a blog (and use WordPress for it)! Learn more about social media management and online publishing tools. Of course, I can only really talk about magazines, but these are all things that are really important if publications want to stay relevant. And they may be things that you already have some basic understanding of – you’ll be amazed how valuable that instinctive knowledge is to some employers, and the more you can advance that knowledge, the better.

It’s okay to do unpaid work experience for a couple of weeks if you can afford it, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you. If you don’t live near the more obvious companies in London, find out what’s happening near to you. There’s a lot going on in Norwich, and it just takes the nerve to find out the right person to email, then ask them if you can come along one week.

Don’t feel put down by rejection, because it’s a competitive industry and you’d be very lucky to get the first job you applied for. Similarly, apply for as much as possible, in as wide an area as you can. If you hold out for a dream job and won’t settle for anything else, you’ll probably find yourself a little disappointed.

Be creative and approach companies that aren’t necessarily advertising. If no one will employ you, try going freelance for a while. And don’t give up – if you want something and you’re willing to work hard, then you’ll find a way to do just that.