A recent graduate, Mitch joined Squawka (a football stats, graphics and analysis website) in April 2015, initially as an intern but now working fulltime as a Football Content Writer for the company. He has also worked with Sky Sports and Bleacher Report.
You graduated from Falmouth University in 2014 with a BA (hons) in Journalism. What was it like transitioning from being a student to taking the first steps in building your career?
Mitch: I think the first step is always the most difficult one to make, especially straight out of university and into the world. Journalism is such a competitive industry that if you’re not on top of your game from the beginning you can find it a real challenge to break into. I personally struggled with that initial move because I went from a university degree that I did quite well in, along with work experience for some recognised brands, to moving back home with my parents and working in retail. Over time it almost became too easy to be in that job, so I needed to reinvigorate myself which happened thanks to my own personal drive and a kick up the backside from my partner and my parents.
I think in that initial transition it can be so easy to get yourself down because so many people are looking for work in the same jobs. I had a few interviews in the couple of months after graduating but when I wasn’t successful in getting any of those roles I started to doubt my ability as a journalist, which is the worst thing a budding writer can do. So that transition, in the beginning, was really tough because you’re so prepared to jump straight into this game after so many years of working and studying for it, and it doesn’t quite happen. I know a few people that haven’t made it into the business because of some early set-backs that completely knocked their confidence.
You gained work experience on two of Sky Sports' flagship shows: Soccer Saturday and Soccer AM. How did you go about obtaining this work experience and what did you learn during your time with Sky?
Mitch: To be completely honest I got quite fortunate. An old family friend got back in touch during my time at university who had done some work with Sky Sports, and put me in touch with one of the content writers for SkySports.com. I spent a day with him in the complex learning about Sky Sports' processes, and through him I gained an insight into what they looked for from prospective work experience candidates. From there I dealt with some fantastic people in the HR department who were always happy to assist if I wanted more experience or to answer questions about employment. I would whole-heartedly recommend anyone who wants to work in sports media apply for work experience with Sky Sports, because the way they do things is just fantastic.
Both shows were incredible for different reasons. I originally spent two weeks with the Soccer AM production team, which was a real hands-on, part of the group, experience. That particular time taught me that, no matter how good you are, everyone in this industry pays their dues and works their way up. Tubes, who is now a celebrity in his own right, started as an intern in Sky making tea and doing runner shifts. That gave me a lot of encouragement because suddenly roles and positions that were seen as unobtainable, were now possibilities. Max Rusden, one of the presenters, gave me the same advice. It’s all about working hard and proving your worth. I went back for a second spell with Soccer AM a year later and still stay in touch with some of the team because I was able to show them that I was willing to work hard. Because of this I was given some amazing opportunities with Soccer AM, such as being used in the live broadcast, going on video shoots and working with some recognised names. Soccer AM was definitely an incredible environment to be in.
Soccer Saturday was a little different because it’s a more technical production, it’s THE football show. I was given some responsibilities but I mainly worked with other people and watched what they did. I would describe it more as a theoretical work experience. Nonetheless I got to again work with some excellent people who taught me a lot about the business, and they even let me sit in Jeff Stelling’s chair when I’d finished my placement!
You obviously made a good impression during your three-month internship with Squawka as they then went on to offer you a full-time job. What advice would you give to interns who are looking to impress?
Mitch: It’s going to sound really obvious, but it’s all about making the most of the chance and working as hard as you possibly can. I’d spoken to Squawka previously about an internship but hadn’t gone any further due to university commitments, but when I got back in touch the editorial team already had an idea of what I was about which I think helped.
When I started interning for Squawka I’d been working for a major retail company as a department leader and my manager was very understanding and allowed me to cut down to a three-day week, allowing me to offer Squawka three days a week as well. For about four months I worked six to seven days a week , which made sure that I had both enough hours in the retail job so I could pay my bills and survive, while also working enough for Squawka to ensure they really could see what I was about and what I could offer the company from a content standpoint. You cannot understate how far hard work and commitment can get you and if you have the ability to go far, any company will want to have any intern join them permanently.
Interning is also about selling yourself. Here is an opportunity to work with the people who you want to be employed by, and you have a limited time to show them that you are someone that they simply can’t not employ. To do that it’s about going the extra mile and showcasing your talent in any way you can, be it through content, ideas, or sheer enthusiasm.
What does a typical day's work involve as a Sports Content Writer for Squawka and what was the learning curve initially like? What have you learned thus far?
Mitch: A typical work day with Squawka would depend on the shift. I normally work afternoons so the news and features tend to have already been decided, but they’re good fun because afternoon shifts incorporate any live fixtures that need covering. However on a morning shift there is an editorial meeting, which everyone attends, to discuss the big stories of the day and what content we wish to produce. Everyone gets a chance to speak and everyone comes in with some really good ideas. Apart from that a day working with Squawka can be spent writing news, reaction, features, analysis, or interviews depending on what is making headlines in the world of football. There’s a fantastic atmosphere in the office among the team; everyone pulls together to create the best content we can for our audience.
In terms of learning I think the initial step was to recognise that just because I’d been offered an internship I hadn’t yet made it. Nor do I believe I’ve made it because I’m fortunate enough to have a job with the company. It’s important to keep learning, keep developing and keep working hard. From there it was about learning the house-style and discovering what was expected of me in terms of quality and quantity, and then working towards that level. I hope I never stop learning regardless of what role I have in any company.
Thinking back to your University days, what advice would you give to your younger, student self, or to anyone else who is looking to work in a role similar to yours?
Mitch: If I could give myself one piece of advice it would be to never doubt yourself and to always keep trying. There was a point where I really thought this wouldn’t happen for me and it wasn’t a pleasant place to be in.
In terms of general advice, get as much experience as possible. I’m sure everyone’s heard it but volunteer everywhere and anywhere. The more you write, or create content, the further your name will spread and you’ll gain that reputation of being a good, committed worker.
One crucial thing that I cannot stress enough is, no matter how good you’ve been told you are, keep hold of your humility. There’s a huge difference between having confidence and being over-cocky. I’ve seen a number of people crash and burn because they felt a role or job was beneath them, even if it was a case of making the drinks.
Other than that, enjoy it. Both university and the career you’re trying to get into. Sports media is such an exciting, fast-paced industry so make sure you have fun while doing it. This job is hard work, it’s demanding but heck it’s a good laugh with some incredible people as well.
Follow Mitch on Twitter: @MitchWaddon