Whilst I was living in Sydney over the past year, I managed to organise some work experience/a short term internship with ELLE fashion magazine, and I learnt a few things I feel others may be able to benefit from.
You may be reading this and wondering why a man would want to work at a women’s fashion magazine, and I have two answers to this; firstly, I didn’t actually realise that ELLE was an exclusively female fashion mag (very ignorant I know) which leads to my second answer: I just knew it was very prestigious and well known, and any work experience is better than none.
It’s probably good to start by explaining how I scored work experience at ELLE, when in the words of their cultural editor they ‘don’t take workies’. A man I met at a club invited me to a high profile event with Qatar Airways (I know, an awful company), but Kylie Minogue was performing so I couldn’t exactly say no. There were a bunch of people on my table, including the Italian Ambassador to Australia, and Laura, who worked for ELLE. Qatar was running an event where if your business card was pulled from a jar you won two free first class tickets to anywhere in the world. Had I realised this when I came into the event I would have brought a business card! Damn. Laura’s business card was pulled, and I saw that it said ELLE, and then I knew that I needed to speak to her. ELLE is ELLE, and even my oblivious mind recognised that she worked for a serious magazine. Champagne was being served all night, so I was kind of drunk, but I went over to speak to her and we hit it off right away. I ended up insinuating that I wanted to work in journalism and she suggested working with her at ELLE and gave me her business card. 3 months later and I actually started.
My time there was a lot better than expected. The rest of my friends at university were enjoying time off (I say enjoying, it was actually study leave), and I chose to go and work 9-5. I was really dreading it actually, but in reality it was really fun. I thought I would end up getting tons of coffee, doing lots of photocopying and other jobs that no one else wanted to do, and this is what workies would traditionally do, according to Laura. However, given my “initiative” and “pragmatism”, I was actually allowed to do things for the magazine and website! (see here, and here, and here).
This taught me a few things – to get ahead, you actually have to be useful and helpful. On my last day, Laura and I went for coffee where we talked about my time there. She said that interns are only offered jobs if they show initiative and independence. She told me that so many people want to work for ELLE because it’s ELLE, or it’s perceived as glamourous, but not because they want to work in the industry. She said if you can show that you have a genuine, rather than superficial, interest, then you’re more likely to get hired.
Working at a fashion magazine is not like Ugly Betty or The Devil Wears Prada. In reality, it’s quite plain – just another open office, with a fashionable theme. I was very aware that I had to dress well; it was smart-casual, but still very fashionable (read: I wore lots of turtlenecks and trench coats). They actually asked me what sort of work I would like to do, and given I know relatively little about women’s fashion, I chose to work around my gender. I had to come up with ideas which were applicable to both men and women, and the bosslady who I (awfully), can’t remember the name of, thought this was a really cool idea. I found fashion which men would traditionally wear, and looked at ways this could be orientated towards women.
I can really see myself working for a magazine in the future (probably a men’s mag though). I loved how staff were able to take initiative and basically do what they want. Given the monthly publishing cycle, they have to work tirelessly to produce a magazine on time – many are worked on concurrently, months in advance. However, it must be really satisfying to see the magazine completed and read by 135, 000 people.
There is a lot of emphasis on the necessity of work experience in order to get a job, and I have found then that the best way to do this is to throw yourself out there. I hate talking to strangers, but I knew that to get this great opportunity, I would have to speak to someone. In the end, the staff at ELLE Australia loved me (well, they said they did) and I was told to get in contact with the company upon my return to Australia, to put this experience on my CV, and to get in touch if I needed any contacts in the UK. Because of this, I really emphasise looking for every opportunity – Laura said find the contents page of any magazine and email your CV to everyone, and ask that if they are not the right person, that they pass your information on to someone else. It will take time, but persistence is key, and maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll catch an editor on a good day.