I think it's fair to say that there's more than enough going on at university to keep a student distracted. What with all the coursework and near-limitless diversions on offer, it can be difficult to keep your eyes on the prize. I mean, when you think about it, why are you there to begin with? What's the end goal? To get a job, right?
I think we all know this when we first start. For others, it might be more of an opportunity to get to know yourself better in an environment that can support and inspire you. But maybe down the line, we all get a little swept up in the infamous university lifestyle. Hey, if you're going to be spending upwards of a small fortune, you may as well enjoy it. But there comes a time when the work has to begin, otherwise what was it all for?
So, enough preamble. You want to know how an internship changed everything. Well, it all started during my first year. Freshers week had just come to a close and I was ready to drop the double fists of vodka mixers and do some actual learning. My reasons for enrolling were numerous, but the one that trumped all else was becoming a screenwriter. After narrowly avoiding a retake of the foundation year, I was finally taking the course of my dreams. One of the modules we had to take during our first term was copywriting; not the law surrounding intellectual properties but, in essence, the art of persuasion. Think Mad Men, without the fancy suits.
I will always remember the first thing our teacher told us as we all found our seats. He asked us to raise our hands if we wanted a career in fiction or journalism, you know, the good stuff. Naturally, I raised my hand. After all, nobody chooses to be a copywriter. Hell, I hadn't even heard the term until I saw it written on our prospectus. He followed on by telling us that, while we may be the next Stephen King, we first had to pay the bills.
Even though it sounds a little naïve in hindsight, it was the first time I had ever considered the reality of life beyond university. How could I? It seemed so far away, and I still had so much to learn. Thanks to him, I now had the ever-present image of instant unemployment looming overhead. From then on, I knew what I had to do to ensure I wouldn't become just another postgraduate loser. I was going to be a copywriter.
I knew what I had to do to ensure I wouldn't become just another postgraduate loser.
Fast forward 12 months, and I had just begun my second year. Before I knew it, there were already whispers in the wind about the following sandwich year and how important it was to get a head start on the search. Early attempts at trawling the job market sounded reasonable —definitely good advice for a young student. Only, I had no idea where to even start, especially with something as amorphous as copywriting. After getting little help from my campus' careers office, I decided my best option was to look around various websites on offer in hopes of discovering any little tidbit that might help me. All I needed was the right direction.
I compiled a list of copywriting and advertising firms that I had found in my area, which wasn't much, and proceeded to send out the most amateur emails. You know the ones. The dreaded, "Hi there, my name is Liam. I am a student at blah blah blah, and I would like a placement at so and so." As you'd expect, I didn't get a lot of responses. The ones I did get told me that, due to it being at the height of the pandemic, there was no way of knowing if they were even allowed to run the scheme by next year, let alone guarantee me a spot. But that didn't stop me.
For the next few months, I continued to reach out to people, using the many professional platforms available to get my foot in as many doors as possible. Until finally, I got an offer. I had received an email from quite a respectable firm in the Bristol copy scene. With all the practice I'd had over the last five months, it seemed my emailing skills had significantly improved. A skill I will absolutely touch upon more in a future article.
After meeting with them on Zoom for a quick chat and a casual interview, I was locked into a four-week internship for the summer. It wasn't a placement, mind, but it was an opportunity. And as I've come to learn in this business, just say yes to everything. It might not sound great at first or is in no way relevant to your career goals, but you never know what might come of it.
You'd think that would be it. I finally had my chance. But what came next was what happens to a lot of young people in my position. The sudden realisation that I had just convinced a professional firm that I was in any way competent. Yes, imposter syndrome is a very real thing, and I had it hard. After finishing my second year, I spent the rest of my summer break studying up on what a copywriting firm actually did with their day. Thankfully, there was plenty of material to sift through, including lists of content copywriters were likely to produce. Things like white papers, blog posts, newsletters, even websites.
It was a week before I started when I received another email from the company's head to have a small introduction of my duties while there. To my relief, the atmosphere presented seemed pretty casual, and more importantly, they knew that I was there to learn. So, any mistakes I was likely to make were to be expected.
My first day was very intense. But it wasn't as though I was run ragged or anything, more that the information I was processing was unlike anything I had previously experienced. That feeling of overwhelming pressure would eventually fade. As an agency intern, the average week for me, as opposed to a freelancer, started with a group meeting. Nothing too serious. A quick rundown of how your weekend went and an update on any outstanding copy you might be working on. It all felt very warm and inviting.
After the meeting, I was introduced to my first client; a digital training platform that needed help convincing educators to transfer their systems onto their platform. This was an excellent choice, in my opinion. They made it very clear that, due to the writing samples I had sent them, I seemed prone to expressive and colourful language. So, by giving me this as my first brief, they were tempering my expectations of what I might've imagined a copywriter would spend most of their time working on. Something like a few slogans or car commercials. Again, Mad Men. I think this is a critical lesson when it comes to realising your dream job, and one that I feel is often overlooked or not properly discussed in length. That is, in the end, it's still just a job that requires a lot of time and effort. Managing expectations and deromanticising your job early on can save you from many potential disappointments later down the road. You build this idea in your head of what it will be like, and when it isn't, you can often begin to question a lot of your choices. Is this who I want to be? If not, what else can I do? Have I wasted my time?
If you're given an opportunity to work on placement or an internship at any point, I'd highly recommend taking a journal with you. Being able to see a physical record of you changing and adapting to your job, as well as recognising that rising confidence in your voice as the weeks go on, can really make you feel incredible. Not to mention coming to grips with an increasing workload without it even phasing you. By the end of my internship, I was producing content like nobody's business. I honestly felt addicted to the intensity. Waking up, getting to work, trying to figure out the puzzle that was my next brief. How do I get the intended message across as efficiently and creatively as possible? I was in love with it.
And then before I knew it, it was over. My stint in Adland, much like a fantastic holiday, was nothing more than a memory. The worst part out of all of it was just going back to waiting for the summer break to end like none of it had even happened. My deployment was over, and I was back to being a civvie. I did manage to use that excess energy to pump up my resume as well as tinker with some professional profiles.
You can perhaps see where this is going. I went back to university and all of a sudden, I felt like I was back in primary school. Nobody, aside from the teachers maybe, had experienced what I had. I felt like I was hitting the brakes hard; forced to remain at this frustratingly slow pace until everyone had sufficiently caught up with me. Copywriting classes were a breeze. I could bust out a brief in a single afternoon. But, honestly, it felt kind of lonely to have that separation, even if it was all me.
And while this all might seem a little arrogant and self-aggrandising, there is nothing wrong with feeling confident in your own skills. Least of all in a competitive industry like writing. If university has taught me anything, it's that nothing will be handed to you, apart from a diploma. There's no job hidden in your gown or underneath your cap. To be successful, you need to make the most of the time that's on offer while you still have the financial support. Because once it's over, and that university bubble finally pops, you're going to wish you made the most of it while you still had the chance.