Writing Internship & Freelancing At The Smart Local!: What It's Like

by - March 03, 2020

I wrote about my internship application to The Smart Local almost 3 years back, and it has been one of my most popular posts! What I realised was that after interning there and later freelancing there for the past few years, I've never written a follow-up about my experience.

So here are some of the commonly asked questions that I've received over IG, email, or LinkedIn! The company may be a bit different now, since the last time I actually worked in-office was from 2017-2018. But I'll try and answer them to the best of my knowledge.

1. What kind of work did you do at The Smart Local?
I was in the Editorial department and responsible for writing organic and sponsored articles. Organic articles are the fun, non-sponsored articles, and you could write whatever you want as long as it got accepted during pitching (more about this later). Sponsored articles are harder to write as the topics are usually quite dry, but you have to write them in a way that is relatable/ will go viral.

Here are some organics and sponsored articles I've written that went viral!

We do go for shoots quite often as well to cover new events, food places, or hotels in Singapore. Usually writers are paired up with one photographer from the Creative department. You don't really get to choose who you want to work with, and I only got to know many of the Creatives on our first shoot together.
2. How was your first day on the job?

A lot of people asked me if I did the legendary "TSL Intern Goes Around Getting Signatures Activity".

Yes, yes I did.

And it was really awkward for me because I'm so introverted and socially awkward, but everyone was really welcoming and wanted to get to know the new interns. We basically had to go around department to department to introduce ourselves, and then the full-timers will ask us questions before giving us their signatures. Honestly, it was quite fun!

Work kick-started on the second day. During this time, we would be given simple assignments so the editors can gauge our writing styles and ability. We were given tasks such as writing organics and reviews. We also had to attend "intern-workshops" to prepare us for the TSL life. The workshops were very insightful as they covered a range of topics from soft skills (how to present yourself), to hard skills (Photoshop, modelling techniques).

Later, we also got to take pictures for our name cards! We were the most excited about this.
3. What's a Day In The Life at The Smart Local?

Work starts at 9am, and because I'm a kiasu I usually arrive 15 minutes earlier. During this time, I get to make my coffee or grab something from the free-for-all pantry. I like munching on something while I work because it helps me focus.

I start getting really productive some time around 10am (before this everyone usually will just be walking around talking to each other). During this time, I check my emails to see if there are any comments from my editors or feedback from clients. I'll use the rest of the morning making edits or improvements to my work.

Lunch is from 12pm and ends at 1pm ++. For lunch, we order in or walk to the Boon Kheng kopitiam to dapao food. Back at the office, the departments would gather at the long table at the pantry and eat together. This is the time when you get to interact with people from other departments.

After lunch, I like to try my chances at the Claw Machine. Sometimes our boss puts really cool things inside from branded slippers to make up, and everyone will hog the machine trying to win something. I did win a pair of Havaianas slippers once! Sometimes if I'm feeling very shag, I'll just skip lunch and head over to the beds at the rest area to sleep.

After lunch, everyone falls into a food coma. I only start getting back my focus around 3pm, and that's when I continue with whatever work I have left for the day. Once every 2 or 3 weeks we have something called pitching, where all the writers and content people from Think-Tank come together discuss potential article topics. We have to prepare in advance for this mildly stressful session. If your ideas are good, they get accepted and you can work on them in the future.

Work ends around 6pm. You're not required to OT, but many people do especially when there are things to rush. I'm a workaholic so I used to stay up all the way until 9pm! My boss had to ask me to leave, lmao.

4. What's the office culture like?

I enjoyed myself in Editorial. My supervisor was the coolest; she was always patient, nice, and understanding. We talked a lot about things beyond work too, like the breakup I was going through that time, clothes (I even gave her one of my skirts), and family.

We don't get to talk to other departments often as the office is big. When we do, it's usually on shoots or during lunch. Every department's culture is slightly different, and I would say that Editorial was the most drama-free department at that time. The new interns usually come in batches (e.g. poly, uni, or JC), so we tend to stick together.

In general, everyone is polite, nice, and friendly. The office is very chill and it's a very free-communication environment. Most people would know you by name even if they've never talked to you before. There are times when things get stressful, especially during peak periods when a lot of projects come pouring in during festive season. During times like these it gets a bit quieter and everyone is more serious.

Some people can be very direct so it's important not to take things personally. When going on shoots, you meet many people from different departments for the first time, and sometimes you even need to stay with them (when you go for overseas trips or staycation shoots). Having to warm up quickly to someone so fast is tricky, and sometimes you may unintentionally offend someone.

There was this Creative who told me that she didn't like me when she first met me because I used vulgarities when I talked to her. I was quite hurt by what she said as I thought I was being casual about it, but it may have made her uncomfortable. So it's really important to be respectful and test the waters within a new friendship without diving to deep!

5. What do you wear at the office?

Anything! You can even wear sweatpants if you like, but remember to leave a decent pair of clothes at the office in case you are sent out for last-minute shoots. I always had some make up on hand as well.

My usual attire was jean shorts, t-shirt, and a pullover because the office is freezing. Most people wear sliders in the office, and you could see all kinds of interesting footwear at TSL!

We do have something called "Themed Thursdays" where a themed is picked and everyone dresses up according to it once a month. The winning team/ outfit gets cool prizes like food vouchers or cinema tickets.
6. How does The Smart Local's office look like?

From the outside, it looks like an abandoned building, but it's really nice and cosy inside. Here are some pictures!
Here's a bonus picture I took with the office cat!
7. Do you get to travel often?

During my short 6 months with The Smart Local, I traveled with them twice to Thailand and Australia. Many of my colleagues travel too, though not everyone gets a chance as it depends on whether you can cope and your availability.
Travel projects can be fun but very stressful because you're on the ball 24/7. You literally have to start taking pictures and videos from the moment you get on the plane to your destination. We also have to plan the itinerary, work out a budget, and liaise with the clients directly. I even had to drive while I was in Australia!

Each day we traveled to at least 5 places, and by the time we are back at the hotel it's usually 10pm. There's a lot of rushing and spontaneous changes as well. Once we're back in Singapore, I needed to rush out the articles within a week.

I really enjoyed both trips though, and I still look forward to trips with them. I did get a chance to go to Batam a few months back, but had to give it a pass due to school. I really hope another opportunity comes soon!

8. Is working at The Smart Local stressful?

If you enjoy what you do and are good at it, then no, it's not that stressful. There are times when you have 6-8 articles on your plate at a time, and all the editors are rushing you for it. If you have good time management, it isn't that difficult! The editors are also very understanding and will usually assign articles based on your workload. You can request for extra time if you really, really cmi.

I think the most stressful thing besides pitching is our performance review. Mine have been mostly positive, but having to be reviewed by 3 editors at a time is really intimidating!

9. What do you do as a freelancer?

As freelancers, we are usually given urgent articles when the full-time team has their hands full. The articles are usually sponsored articles, and sometimes we have shoots too. As most of the freelancers are students or have other jobs, we work from home. We are paid per article.

10. That sounds fun and all... but how is the pay like?

I'm going to be discrete about this because I don't want to be sued - but to be honest working in the media industry ain't gonna earn you big, big bucks. The intern pay is so-so, and from what the full-timers tell me, the permanent staff pay is alright as well. I would say the freelance pay is the most worth it.

While you aren't going to earn a lot of money working in media, there are definitely other perks that make up for it. You get to travel, try new things, and gain exclusive access to special events. You also get to meet so many people and wear slippers to work!

A truly unique internship experience
Interning at The Smart Local was one of my most memorable experiences pre-university. It taught me so many things, and helped my portfolio greatly. Having gone through the whole internship process, I know it can be quite challenging and competitive getting in. Honestly the selection process does take into consideration your portfolio and works, but they mainly want to see your character and whether you fit into the company. With that I wish all of you good luck with your applications!

Love this post? Feel free to share and comment below or check out What It's Like working as a Video Jockey in Singapore here.

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