June 17, 2015
It’s been nearly a month since I started my editorial internship at NYLON Singapore. Along the way I’ve had numerous questions as to how I managed to land this coveted spot. No, it’s not like The Devil Wears Prada (though Anne Hathaway’s name, my name and her character’s name all start with A).
Applying for an internship (especially if it’s at a place you’re passionate about) can be a very tedious, daunting, and confusing experience. I remember hunching over my laptop for hours scouring the Internet for any trace of direction as to how to even start (it all started with the Google search, “How to apply for a magazine internship”) and I also remember incessantly checking my emails the moment I woke up the days following my application (you learn to be patient). I wished there was a complete step-by-step manual to tell me what to do – something practical, not just the vague, “Be confident!” – but I didn’t find any. You may have a clear goal as to which company you want to work for, or you may be wanting that internship just to try the waters in the field. Whichever category you fall into, I’m here to spill all my secrets to help you land your own dream internship in the competitive world of magazine publishing. By Angelene Wong.
1. Do Your Research
While places like Jobstreet.com, InternSG.com and Indeed.com.sg may not show you what exactly what you want, it’s a good place to start looking. Bookmark all the possibilities and note down contacts. Most companies list the skills they are looking for in a potential employee so take note of those to work into your resumé and portfolio later.
See if you have any remote connections to people in the company. It could be your mother’s best friend’s niece’s husband’s dog’s groomer’s client – if you can find a connection, use it to get contacts and perhaps a reference. Of course, be gracious about it and return the favour in the future.
Know what you are applying for and who is in charge. Look at the masthead of the magazine (the page where they list who the editor, writers, designers, etc. are). This is your lead. Usually magazines will provide an email for you to write in, but you should dig deeper. Use those names and do a Google search – yes, be a bit of a creep. You may even find their individual emails on their Facebook or LinkedIn pages. It doesn’t hurt to know the backgrounds of the current staff. You will probably find a brief outline of their career history on LinkedIn and this will give you a rough idea as to what kind of employees the company hires. Don’t be discouraged if you feel your own list of work experience is short or non-existent. We all start somewhere.
Online job listings are not exhaustive. The last intern opening I saw on Facebook for NYLON Singapore was from 2011 before I applied, but from the description I learnt what they looked for in an intern and there was also an email provided, so I sent in my application anyway.
2. Build Your Portfolio
Take Relevant Courses
Even if you have no formal job experience, try to build your portfolio from things you do in school. Take electives related to the the job you want, and try to keep the skills you learn varied. While I did not make it into Wee Kim Wee School of Communications (and went to major in English Literature instead), I applied for a minor in communications so that I could still pick up reporting, writing, and visual communication skills. The great thing about electives is they let you experiment and figure what you like and don’t like. You should add your work (e.g. writing pieces, design or photography works) into your portfolio.
Take Short Courses
If you’re at a point where your school doesn’t offer relevant courses, there are several tertiary institutions that offer short courses. Lasalle School of the Arts offers short courses in design. I took a two-week short course at London College of Fashion for Fashion Styling and Media and in those were some intense two weeks. Short courses really throw you into the deep end. I was constantly thinking about my coursework – on the train to school, during meals, before I slept – but at the end you achieve something you thought you couldn’t have before (in two short weeks!), and that’s the beauty of it.
Look for Freelance Work
What’s better than getting paid to write? Write for your school’s newsletter or find job openings on Jobstreet.com.sg or Indeed.com.sg. Many small companies usually look for freelance writers on these platforms and freelance would mean you can do it alongside your school work. Writing for school events may not be your idea of hardcore fashion reporting, but take it as good practice to get your words out there. I used to get $80 per 400 words when I wrote for one of my school’s newsletters – not too shabby. Though, I started out writing for free. At the beginning, don’t be too averse to the idea of doing things without recompense. At least you get a substantial portfolio of published work. However, after having substance in there, you should move on to places that pay – because you’re worth it.
3. Putting Together Your “Application Package”
The Do’s and Don’ts of Your Resumé
- Include your contact details (full name, contact number, email, address if you live close to your work place – some companies take it into consideration)
- State your current education standing (where you are currently enrolled in or where you last graduated from) and your GPA.
- Keep it to one page – only include significant work experience, no need for the two days you gave out flyers at the mall.
- Follow a template. Many templates are easily accessible online.
- Write in point form.
- Use a standard font like Times New Roman or Arial. Some employers are more receptive to serif fonts (those whose letters have the kink, like Times New Roman and Cambria) while others like sans serif fonts (without the kinks, like Arial and Helvetica). Serif fonts give a more formal feel, while sans serif fonts are perceived to be easier to read. Most employers of big companies prefer serif fonts because your document seems more “official”.
- Be fancy, unless you are applying for a graphic design position, which, in that case, knock yourself out.
- Write lengthy sentences.
Your cover letter is an extension of your resumé and gives your future boss a taste of your amazing personality. Use it to make yourself stand out. Address it directly to the editor by name, e.g. “Dear Ms Adele Chan” and not “To Whom It May Concern”. From one look your potential employer knows how much you want this and how prepared you are. Your first paragraph should state
1. What position you are applying for
2. Your internship period
3. Briefly why you want the internship.
In the following few paragraphs, elaborate on why you like the magazine, some of your skills, things you’ve learnt from past work experience, and even some of your other interests. Think of how all these have taught you values that will help you in the job you want to do – this will take some self-reflection. Remember, you are trying to sell yourself as a valuable asset to a company, but be careful not to brag. You may want to cite some of your sources of inspiration, but nothing cliché, please. End off by thanking your reader for their time and that you look forward to hearing from them. Sign off and leave your contact details.
If you are applying to different places at once, you would want to tailor each letter to each company.
Will the editor definitely read your cover letter? No. Do you still need to write one? Yes.
Ask your previous employers (if any) for a referral letter. This will help your future boss trust you a little bit more if it provides a good review of you.
Collate your resumé, cover letter, referral letters, writing samples and related works (in this order) neatly into a black folder with clear sleeves. If some of your works are part of something larger, scan and reprint them to fit the folder.
4. Sending Out Your Emails
I was a bag of nerves here, I tell you. Attach your resumé, cover letter and one or two samples out of your portfolio. Again, in the content of your email, address it directly to the editor. Give a very brief introduction of yourself and why you are emailing them. Spell out exactly what you have attached. Thank them and say you look forward to their reply. Remember that this is the very first point of contact with your dream company. Do it well. Next, this is when your prior creeping comes in. Send the email to human resources, and copy (CC) the editor. SPELL CHECK EVERYTHING. Nothing sticks out to an editor more than an embarrassing typo. #truestroy.
5. The Waiting Game
Wait at least a week before sending a follow up email. Be polite and say something like, “I sent you an email two weeks ago regarding my application for the editorial intern position and I’m wondering if you have seen it. Kindly see my resumé and cover letter which I have reattached for your easy reference.” Thank them and say you look forward to hearing from them (once again). When they reply, it may be human resources, one of the writers or assistants who will schedule an interview. Go for the earliest possible date, at your interviewer’s convenience.
6. The Interview
Prepare Your Answers
Having answers ready will make you feel more at ease. Here’s some questions I’ve been asked before:
- Why do you want this job? (Yes, the “where do I start?” question)
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What can you contribute to the company? / Why should I hire you?
- What are your goals? (Oh no, life questions!)
- What do you know of our magazine?
- Who would you put on the cover?
If you are unsure how to get to the office, have a trial run making your way there to be clear what the route looks like and how long you need. Ease your heart of surprises. Be early on the actual day. I’ve been familiar with the feeling of standing at the foyer of a building for a good 20 minutes because I was way too early for my interview, but it gave me time to gather myself, run through my answers mentally, check my outfit and answer Nature’s call.
Dress the Part
You’re going for a job interview, not fashion week. Dress sharp and add on something that will make you memorable, like a bright solid coloured jacket or a statement necklace.
Don’t use Singlish or slang, unless you interviewer does so first. Speak clearly and pace your words.
Be Yourself and Stay Calm
Employers can smell nerves like a Tom smells Jerry. And they can also sense insincerity. Relax and be yourself. Don’t give model answers. For example, if you’re really there just to give the industry a go, you can talk about how you are still finding yourself and this feels like a good opportunity to learn (and that you will of course work hard at it) – it’s all about phrasing. Reflect on why you’re pursuing this industry in the first place and your passion will naturally reveal itself.
If they ask you what are your strengths, watch the tone to not sound pompous. Talk about things unique to you that will make you stand out.
Get a Deadline
Ask when is the earliest you will know the result of your application. This will save you a great amount anxiety because instead of waiting cluelessly, you know when to expect the call.
At the end of the interview, thank them with a gracious smile.
7. Starting Your Internship – Be a Sponge
Finally, when you are part of the dream team, take every opportunity to learn new skills. Remember that internships require sacrifice, and your work should take priority over your social life. Lastly, no task is too small for the intern – apart from actual work, you will have to perform menial tasks like going on lunch runs or adding water to the steamer but take every responsibility in stride. If you’re the most creative person but can’t be relied on for the simplest things, it’s tough to build a trusting relationship with your colleagues and boss.
Don’t feel entitled, don’t complain, and always be positive.
Now go out there and make it count!