Advice for Students

Carl Anka
6 min readNov 16, 2020

Hello. If you’re reading this, then you might have asked me over social media for advice as to how to get into the creative industries.

First of all: I’m sorry! The world is in an odd place right now and it sucks that you’re in the dawn of something as a lot of things seem to be in their twilight.

Next: Well done for asking for help! It’s something I was never particularly good at, and in taking some initiative and asking for tips, you’ve already shown more drive and presence of mind than I did for much of my twenties.

Also: Another apology! I’ve been getting these requests on a semi-frequent basis and am using this space to give a general framework of help. If you still have specific questions, you can still ask me questions in a bit, but please read this entire piece first.

Finally: A lot of people ask me how I got started in my career, hoping to follow a similar route. I graduated more than 10 years ago now and the media landscape and is very different now than was then. Most of my writing before 2016 doesn’t exist anymore because a lot of websites have since gone kaput and Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter has decimated its value to people trying to use it as a shop window. (If you’re the type of person to make “detailed threads”, make sure what you write there is backed up on a blog, as Twitter (I’m not calling it X, behave yourself) isn’t what it used to be. If you’re still interested in how I got started, then a podcast episode of “The Shirtless Plantain Show” I did during the first lockdown is available, but I wouldn’t say my path into “the business” is repeatable today. You can find a link here.

What follows is my answers to a number of questions I got asked ahead of a talk given at Bath Spa University for soon to be graduates. Hope it’s of use!

How important was it to you to have a strong social media presence in finding your role at The Athletic and the companies before that?

Strong is perhaps the wrong word, but it is important to have a consistent output from your online presence. Having a lot of followers helps, yes, but if you don’t have a contact email address, or a working website where I can contact you then it doesn’t mean diddly squat. It helps to have Twitter (a lot less now Elon took a hammer to its usefulness), but make social media work for you, engage with people you like and would like to work for, be respectful to them, and ask questions. Have a website, or a blog, or something where people can see what you’re doing recently. AND DO THINGS RECENTLY. If you message an editor saying you’re a writer and your blog hasn’t been updated in 10 months, they won’t take you seriously. When I was unemployed and looking for freelance work, I set up this Medium page and attempted to write 1000 words every Monday. It kept my writing pen sharp, and made sure there was something worth keeping me on social media for. Aim to be useful, or memorable, rather than strong.

How important was it to have a body of work experience/internships?

I haven’t done an internship since 2015 so I hope unpaid internships no longer exists anymore but: DO NOT DO UNPAID INTERNSHIPS. EVER. The only person you should ever work for free is yourself. Making a name for yourself in “offices” (when they used to exist) is important but you can also circumvent that process by being active on social media/having a good personal website and doing the legwork yourself. If anyone tries to pay you in exposure, tell them “People have died of exposure”.

There’s a lot of books, paintings and films about being a struggling/starving artist. But creating is hard enough as it is. Don’t enter situations where you’re not getting paid and have to worry about rent as well as what to make next.

What's the most important piece of advice you would offer students who are completing their degrees in the next 12 months?

I’m sorry to any students graduating at the moment. When I graduated it was into a world recovering from a recession, with media completely at a loss as to how to make money and job opportunities scant. Eight years later the world is largely in the same place, only now there’s a global pandemic so the soft skills you could pick up from being in an office are gone as well.

Here’s some practical advice:

  1. Get good at spreadsheets. Seriously. I don’t care what job you are aiming for. Get good at spreadsheets. Being organised and consistent in your work >>> being an erratic genius
  2. Set up a space where you work for yourself. This could be a Medium blog, your own website, just have something that is YOURS and exists for you. Have a corner of the internet where people can go to see your work. Populate it with a consistent, if not regular schedule. Could be weekly, could be monthly, could be every other month. Just have something you can send to people when they go “What have you been doing lately?”
  3. Don’t be a dickhead. You’d be surprised how many people will be consistently annoying/disrespectful/abusive on public social media platforms and then privately message asking for tips. Be on-level with your criticisms if you have them, but remember people make the art you consume. Stop trying to neg people you like, professionally and personally. Don’t call yourself a “content creator”. It’s not content, listen to Martin Scorsese on that one. Don’t describe yourself an an “aspiring” whatever. Stop aspiring and do the damn thing.
  4. DO NOT MISS A DEADLINE. My leecturer in 2nd year and more or less saved my degree. She once told me a story of when she worked in newspapers and an editor told her the work she had created was very good because “It was the right length and on time”. The early parts of your career will be marked by how good you are at problem-solving. If you are creating problems, you are creating a stink.
  5. Back yourself. If you’re the sort of person already listening to talks like this, you’re well ahead of where I was when I was at University spending more time barhopping and playing FIFA. Know what you want to do, know who you are and how you like to work, and then go out there and make the things to match. Make plans and then carry them out. Every time you talk about writing that book/making that film, without sitting down and doing it, an angel loses its wings. Do the work.
  6. Take breaks. This is a rotten job market in a rotten time to be alive, stress and burnout are real and I’m typing to you after needing to take a week off after working 45 days more-or-less non stop. Take walks. Without wearing headphones. Take in what you see, what you hear, what you smell. Remember you have value outside what you produce. And read. Constantly. Everything to hand. Things you like. Things you don’t like (always try and get 50 pages done of books you hate). Things you agree with politically. Things you don’t. Break down the reasons for those things. Read books. Newspapers. Blogs. Tweets. Magazines. The back of the tin of food you are buying. Give more than you get, produce more than you take. Ride a lightning bolt, tame a snake, choke fear out with your bare hands, jump into a pile of leaves, eat an entire sheet cake. Be safe out there. Be funny. Be amazing. Don’t be a dickhead. DO NOT BE A DICKHEAD. Be the best version of you that you can be.



Carl Anka

I just write about things I’m curious about and upload it when you’re not looking.