Student Story: Getting into the media

Bex CoxBex Coxon, 2012 QM Graduateon Graduated from Queen Mary in 2012 with a BA in English and Drama. A few months on, she is working for the BBC with a view to pursue a career in Media. We caught up with Bex to see how she developed her CV (and herself!) for a career in the media:

You got into working in the media through the BBC Production Talent Pool. What does that involve?

The Production Talent Pool is a scheme run by the BBC that takes on around 100 people and gives them a fast track entry route into a career in Television and Radio Production. Once you’ve got a place, anyone hiring for entry level roles in the BBC has access to your CV. You then just have to wait for the phone to ring. Usually there’ll be a shortlist of PTP candidates for the role and you’ll be invited for a ‘chat’ or interview by them to see if you’re right for the role.

So what is your current job title?

I’m currently a Personal Assistant (PA) to an Executive Producer in BBC Factual. I’m also a Production Management Assistant for all of my Exec’s programmes, so I do odd jobs here and there for Producers, Production Managers and directors like booking meeting rooms, meeting guests and making copies of DVDs/scripts. Day to day, I’m in the office 10am-6pm managing my Exec’s diary and liaising with people such as production teams, talent agents or channel controllers by email or phone to arrange meetings or viewings of his upcoming programmes (that need his input when editing). Sometimes I get to go out on shoots and help with looking after actors or presenters, making teas and coffees; generally helping the day run smoother.

Very busy then! And very competitive – you know as well as we do that media candidates have to really stand out on their CV. How did you make sure your application shone through the competition?

I put a lot of time and effort into my application, as I didn’t have much experience directly related to TV or film. I enjoyed my degree, but most of my time was actually spent getting practical experience outside of my course. I served on the committee of a QM sports team; I was secretary of the QM Theatre Company in my second year and Co-President in my third (and organised an £18,000 Edinburgh Fringe Festival performance run both years running); I volunteered for two years as a steward at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and did regular overnight shifts for the charity Nightline in my final year.

I also completed a 6-month summer internship with an online magazine specialising in mental health and psychology. It was a newly established magazine, and I was asked to interview guests, upload my articles straight to the website, source my own images and go to events/conferences and report for the magazine. I think it’s useful to work for a small team, because you are more likely to be given the opportunity to have some creative input. I had done some travelling and creative writing so I also mentioned that in my application. I fundraised £2000 to go to Malaysia with a charity when I was 17 and organised lots of events for that including a big fashion show. I think events organising/management is always a good skill to include on any application and in whatever capacity. I was also a student ambassador and course rep.

Although I had no direct TV experience, I did have some experience with Youtube and online media. There are loads of editing programmes you can buy/download and teach yourself which I would recommend doing. Photoshop, Final Cut Pro/Adobe Premier/Avid, Excel, Outlook and so on are all programmes that are useful to have under your belt when working in TV/Radio/Multimedia.

You also worked on campus in Ground! Was this experience useful?

Despite fitting it in around everything else, work actually became my relaxing time (where I didn’t have to think about anything else). I started working in Ground near the end of my 2nd year, but I really wished I’d applied as soon as I got to uni! I’d highly recommend getting a part time job while studying – I’m not sure I’d be as confident in facing the world of employment if I hadn’t. Any employment is valuable experience – I operated a mini digger in a church graveyard for my dad one summer – not relevant to what I want to do now, but it certainly showed me what I don’t want to do and that I’m willing to get stuck in and get my hands dirty!

So you had lots of experience, but not directly related to TV. I’m sure lots of students will be relieved to hear that it doesn’t have to be all about direct experience!

While some people who got through did have a great background and experience in TV/Radio/Media production, one had previously been a chef, another primary school teacher – they also had no direct link to TV or Radio.

It’s important to remember that experiences that you think are irrelevant might be crucial to your application! You just have to find the skills in them that can relate to the application. For my job they wanted ‘storytellers’, and I found that experience in storytelling can come in a hundred different forms – including how you write the actual application itself.

But not everyone is successful first time round when they apply to work in media roles. How can people spend time preparing themselves for the application process next time?

Apply for work experience in TV, radio and media. There are tons of placements, and although they’re competitive to get onto they definitely help you decide whether it’s something you want to do as a career. There are also loads of independent production companies out there who are likely to take on work experience/placements/internships – find out who makes the programmes you like and send them an email telling them that you enjoy their work and would like to help out for a week or two – the worst that can happen is they say no or don’t reply. Any kind of media/storytelling experience is useful and shows that you’re creative and ambitious.

Also, watch lots of TV if you want to work in TV, and listen to lots of Radio if you want to work in Radio, and so on! You’re bound to get asked about your favourite programmes at some point, so you need to show that you actually have an interest in that form of media! If you know who you’re going to be interviewed by then make sure you know a bit about them (a simple Google/IMDB search usually gives you some answers!) Come up with loads of programme ideas/formats and try and develop them as far as possible – its cliché but ideas are ‘currency’ in the TV/Radio world and a good idea is a good idea no matter who or where it has come from.

If you don’t get through first time and you know it’s what you want to do, please don’t let it stop you. Try and get some more experience, keep focused and apply next year. There is a lot of work involved, so you have to be able to prioritise – I had to take time off writing my dissertation to prepare for an interview, but it’s about how you make the time up again!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

In 5 years’ time I’d love to be working on shows like Blue Peter, The One Show or Children In Need, either as a researcher or Assistant Producer.  Factual, magazine style shows and documentaries are the programmes I watch the most, so naturally they are where I want to work. I would highly recommend going for jobs in the areas of TV/Radio you watch/listen to the most, you’re already a fan and know a lot about it so it makes sense. My ultimate but unlikely dream would be to become a Blue Peter presenter; I would jump at the chance to be in their shoes even for a day; I can’t think of a more exciting and challenging job. There’s no normal route into a role like that though, so it may always be a pipe dream unfortunately… but you never know!

QM Careers offers a wide range of support for interview preparation and application technique. You can book your appointment by calling 020 7882 8533 or by dropping in – Queens Building WG3.



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