First Hand — Graduate Sepideh Zolfaghari on keeping your options (and tabs) open

Posted 13 September 2017 Written by Sepideh Zolfaghari

When you don’t have enough experience under your belt, enthusiasm will take you an awfully long way. No one knows this better than recent graphic design graduate Sepideh Zolfaghari, who – after applying for a job with a list of requirements she didn’t yet meet – ended up being the first creative intern at the BBC’s in-house agency. She tells us about her first 12 months out of uni, dealing with self-doubt and learning to embrace the unknown.

At university I was pretty proactive; I always liked to have a plan. The only time I didn’t was the moment I put my portfolio down on the table for hand-in. I would hear how the people around me were applying for placements and sending mass emails. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, only the places I dreamt of getting my foot in the door. I freaked out, panicked and questioned if I was good enough – to the point where I avoided applying for anything. But after taking a day or two off, I decided to try my hand at whatever opportunity came my way.

Keep your options (and tabs) open
I whacked on my hip-hop playlist and the endless scrolling started. It felt a bit like online dating. I spotted a vacancy for a creative role at the BBC’s in-house ad agency, but the requirements asked for someone with a couple years’ experience, so I closed the tab. Every role I saw seemed to ask for the same, which of course made things very difficult as a graduate. But I was always the one telling my friends to go after something if it caught their eye, so I reopened the tab and did exactly that. I had nothing to lose and the worst that could happen is that they say no.

Serve up the best 
About a month later I saw an email in my inbox from the BBC. At first I thought it was spam, but it was an invitation for an interview! So the day after graduation I found myself sat in the BBC reception. I was extremely nervous because I hadn’t done as many internships compared to others on my course, and the kind of work I made was a mixed bag. I didn’t really specialise, I was more of an ideas person who dabbled in moving image. One of the lovely ladies interviewing me went to Kingston too, which made me feel more at ease. I wanted to show the skills I had by showing the right work. Your portfolio is like your menu and you’re the chef, picking and selecting the best bits. A few days and a couple of interviews later, and they got back in touch to say although I didn’t have enough experience, they wanted me to come in and be their first creative intern. It was an opportunity too good to pass up so I accepted straight away. Before you know it I was making stuff for Outnumbered, Stacey Dooley and brand new BBC One drama Broken with Sean Bean and Anna Friel.

“I freaked out, panicked and questioned if I was good enough.”

You can move up without moving out
I was at BBC Creative for just under a year, working on BBC One and BBC Three, creating and editing promos, doing research and pitching campaign ideas. Initially I was super shy which isn’t like me at all. I think I was intimidated by the name and it being my first job right out of university. But as soon as I stepped through the door I knew it was the perfect environment for me to learn. The people I worked alongside were all lovely in understanding that I was new and helped me progress.

Financially I knew that I couldn’t move to London, and I didn’t want to end up spending what I was going to be earning on rent when I could be saving it for the future. So still to this day I commute from Brighton to London. I don’t feel any shame in saying that I still live with my parents; I just feel thankful that they don’t mind me sticking around even though I am hardly home anyway. The dream is to move to London but only when the time is right and I am settled. Don’t feel like you have to rush into things because everyone else is doing it.

There are no stupid questions 
Never feel stupid asking how to do something. Sometimes I would feel so dumb for not knowing how to do the simplest of tasks but asking questions allowed me to help others and made me realise just how much editing is a craft. Every single person I asked was always kind enough to help me out. I owe a lot to the wonderful Milli; she always had time to show me the nooks of Avid which I had never used. People underestimate how long it can take to do an edit, so don’t feel bad asking for more time – especially if the work isn’t to the high standard you want and people are expecting you to turn around projects within an unrealistic amount of time.

One of the most humbling moments for me was when one of the creatives, Charlotte, remembered a project I did with my friends Paige and Katie at university about a group of roller skaters in Stratford (mym8skates), and asked me what I thought about using them for a BBC One ident for the Oneness campaign. I have never been so giddy in my life. For me the thrill was giving the skating group more of a platform. It felt like a little thank you for allowing us to use them for a uni project with no budget at all.

I owe a lot to all the production, post-production, design, motion and creative teams I had the pleasure of working beside at the BBC. I think they deserve a lot of recognition for the hard work they put in. Since then, I’m now dipping my toes into ad land and seeing where that takes me. But I’m remaining open to whatever comes my way – you never know till you try, right?


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From internships to launching startups and everything in between, we’re looking to showcase a variety of experiences across the creative industries. So whether you’re a recent graduate or creative with a lesson learned or story to share from your first 12 months, get in touch at [email protected]

Posted 13 September 2017 Written by Sepideh Zolfaghari
Collection: First Hand
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Advertising, Film
Mentions: BBC, BBC Creative
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