The future depends on now - a UEL graduate's story

Graduate Journalist who interned for West Ham and The Times talks of the difficulties finding work despite a tremendous amount of experience.

Robert Wheeler graduated from the Sports Journalism course here at UEL on 19 July 2018. He spoke to me about his hunt for work and what he would have done differently, if he had the chance.

Robert graduated with a 2:2 and a ton of writing experience behind him, thanks to multiple internships he received through the University, as well as through networking at sports events.

After leaving UEL, Robert was shocked at just how hard it was being a graduate journalist, out in the real world, being thrown from his usual routine and comfort zone.

Still eager to surround himself with sport, Wheeler currently works in a Paddy Power betting shop while he searches for more freelance work and stable gigs. To build his portfolio, he also regularly contributes his work to the UELSports Blog and maintains his own Twitter account.

Wheeler recalls feeling sad at graduation and the prospect of leaving a place he had genuinely enjoyed being a part of; a place that had offered multiple opportunities and an immeasurable amount of experience to take with him.

During Robert's time at UEL he was very proactive, whether that was reporting on sport or being a part of the football and futsal team.

While reminiscing of his time at university, Wheeler recalls his most memorable internship: his “first proper gig” working as a sports reporter for West Ham United’s Girls’ team when he was nineteen.

Wheeler was hanging around after one of the matches when he started to talk to people working for the team who told him they needed a journalist. Wheeler rose to the occasion knowing that, as a West Ham fan himself, this role was dynamite.

Wheeler had free rein to write however he liked and frequently travelled to away games with the team, getting along easily with the similar-aged group who shared a love for his favourite team.

“It was an amazing experience”, he says of his time with West Ham.

Nonetheless, all good things must come to an end. When the team received more funding, they decided to undertake a few upgrades – including their staff, and this sadly meant that he lost his role.

Following graduation, he soon learned that experiences alone – no matter how impressive – weren’t enough to land him a job straight away. He has found that he struggles with interviews, and isn’t sure how to show himself off in the right light. Writing CVs and cover letters is another downfall for Wheeler, as he’s finding it hard to show employers all the knowledge that he’s gained.

“If you can’t perform in the interview then you don’t get the job. Simple as that.”

Throughout University, his ability to network at sporting events was his specialty. As most of Wheeler’s internship experiences came from informal networking, rather than formal recruitment processes, it’s clear that Wheeler has the knowledge and passion that is needed to succeed in his craft – he just needs to crack that initial interview.

Wheeler is now receiving advice and support from the Centre for Student Success (CfSS) who he credits to be incredibly supportive in helping him overcome the pressure that he feels in interviews, by helping him write cover letters, running mock interviews and giving him feedback to work on. Wheeler told me that he wishes he had utilised the services that CfSS provides when he was still at UEL.

Speaking again of his journey through internships, Robert remembers working in a similar role (to writing for West Ham) at Leyton Orient football club and then on to being a runner for BT Sport – creating highlight specials and doing post-match interviews working with famous footballers and managers alike.

Wheeler also recalls his time writing for online papers such as Rising East, for which he reported on UEL sporting events and even starred in a few articles himself. He also spent a week at both The Times and The Telegraph, forming connections and gaining valuable experience.

Despite an incredible amount of success, Wheeler found it a hard pill to swallow when he realised how independent internships can be, with no follow-ups or further opportunities once he’d left the role.

“It’s kind of like a revolving door with internships. Once you’re done, you’re done”.

Wheeler has recently applied for a Master’s degree in broadcasting journalism, which is what he hopes to build a career in, at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

When asked for his advice for current journalism students, Robert replied, “Passion is what makes it work. Try to get an internship to get some experience. Go out into the world and see how people take you and keep trying your best.”

He added, “Just make the most of University. Get involved socially and make as many friends as you can. The years just fly by. Make sure to prepare yourself for after graduation, work on your CV, cover letters and interview techniques and make it count for the future.”

This interview was conducted in preparation for the Graduate Outcomes Survey, which asks alumni about their activities 15 months after graduation. Robert has been working, freelancing, and building a professional portfolio. When called upon, remember to declare all activities, including further studies, paid work, volunteer work, self-employment and development of creative or professional portfolios.

Written by Karina Ginola (journalist intern at UEL's Centre for Student Success).

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