Is it a bird, is it an intern?

Thinking of doing a placement? Well, Placement Man can help. Jonny Burch tracked him down

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If you’re reading this in bed, a tin of baked beans in hand, Come Dine With Me on the television, recovering from a night out where your housemate puked in their own pants and you put it on Instagram with a tilt shift so it looks like the bits of carrot were made out of plasticine, the last thing on your mind is going to be getting into the world of work before you absolutely have to.

And why should you? All that grown-up stuff can wait. But here’s something to consider: gaining a bit of industry experience is going to seriously help you out when it comes to getting to the next bit of your life as a creative. In addition to being part of a great social scene and meeting people who will be useful lifelong contacts, you get to learn how an agency works, possibly gather some nice live portfolio work and get a taste of working with people (great) under people (challenging) and for client people (more challenging). To top it off, agencies often don’t advertise junior positions, instead preferring to find young talent through internships, so you may just get an offer. Luckily for you, we have just the man to help you with the why, the where and the how of the placement game.

Designer Jake Jennings, aka Placement Man, has so far successfully completed nine placements since graduating from his design degree at Plymouth University last year. Among his battles he can list such huge adversaries as hat-trick in London; Navyblue in Edinburgh; and even Pentagram New York. Along the way he’s accrued a comprehensive knowledge of how to find a placement, make the most of it and even turn it into a job offer (he’s had three to date).

Jennings began networking before he left university, starting a Designers Society and organising lectures with speakers including Patrick Baglee (Navyblue) and Harry Pearce (Pentagram) for his contemporaries. However, it was a tour of 23 UK studios, portfolio in hand, that sealed his first few placements, culminating in a month at Pentagram NY, after which he’d planned to settle down.

In the end, Jennings explains, a combination of itchy feet and animalistic drive led him to carry on placement-hunting after returning from the US. It’s something he admits is often difficult to explain to people – but he still hasn’t worked out exactly what’s right for him. To be fair, it’s often quite hard to choose between a small or large agency, print or digital, without trying a few out. Even hating an experience means you can at least cross one off the list.

It can also be daunting looking for placements, especially at the top agencies, but Jennings’ technique – a mixture of perseverance, charm and cojones – should see you through. (Though don’t carpet-bomb CVs – it’s easier to spot than you’d think.) Jennings says he has gained placements through email, face-to-face meetings and even Twitter, and would advise anyone else to do the same. Most importantly, he adds, don’t be disheartened if a company does not or cannot offer you a spot, just make sure you get their honest opinion on your work, even if it hurts. It will all help you to improve it for the future. If a studio does offer you a placement but can’t offer payment, don’t necessarily turn it down. One of Jennings’ best experiences was with a studio who said upfront they wouldn’t be able to pay him, having had a difficult financial year. Instead, they offered him the chance to work on a variety of live briefs – which led to his work being shown to the client. But beware of studios taking the piss, because some do. One had unpaid interns booked solidly for the six months following Jennings’ stint, for example.

Some studios will also offer better work than others, with everything from being treated as an ‘artworker’ to meeting clients and being fully involved creatively. Be prepared to make tea and suck it up (not the tea) if some of your work doesn’t seem overly stimulating. Studios often have peaks and troughs of exciting work anyway, but try to stay enthusiastic, make the most of what you’re given and become invaluable in any way you can. The creative world is small – you never know who you’ll meet again.

But I had to ask, why spend 18 months bed-hopping round some pretty ropey sounding hostels and B&Bs, living out of a suitcase and having to relearn people’s names every other month? Well, despite those things, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, Jennings says. There’s no doubt he’s well equipped to start up a studio (having clocked so many) or freelance with all the contacts he’s made, but he remains set on working full time in a studio for a couple of years at least. The question is, will Placement Man ever hang up his cape in exchange for a salary?

This is an edited version of an article that appears in the new issue of Shellsuit Zombie magazine, which is available to buy from Follow Jonny Burch on Twitter at @jonnyburch and @shellsuitzombie