Hey, PR students aiming to land a gig after graduation: listen up! An internship – or several – is a mandatory prerequisite to landing a job in PR. PR is best learned through application, not in a classroom, so potential employers want you to have at least some professional experience.
It’s not always fun to be an intern. I’m sure you’ve heard friends’ tales of endless days near the Xerox machine, countless coffee runs, and Miranda Priestly-like bosses. Real life PR internships may not live up to the unrealistic image set by glamorous reality TV shows, but students can learn a lot by making the right moves. Further, really good interns are memorable and difficult to find, which means they’re that much more likely to be hired full-time. If you want to be a rockstar intern, read on…
Me (on left) as an intern at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. in 2006. These were my partners in crime that summer – also rockstar interns that landed great gigs after college.
ASK SMART QUESTIONS: This is my number one rule for career success. Asking smart questions during meetings and in advance of an assignment shows that you’re listening and thinking critically about the task at hand. Try to ask as many questions as you can at the outset, to avoid going back to your boss several times for additional clarification. Also, if you can find the answer on Google, don’t ask the question. And in case it’s not clear: there is a difference between asking questions and asking smart questions. Remember that your boss’ time is precious. Make sure the questions you ask are thoughtful, not superfluous.
THINK CRITICALLY AND BE PROACTIVE: Interns often receive tedious assignments that don’t require much thought aside from a spell check and quick proof. I’ve been most impressed by interns that can not only execute these tasks flawlessly, but also think critically about the assignment. For example, did you notice something during the tedium of the assignment that warrants a recommendation? I’m always impressed with an intern that goes above-and-beyond on an assignment that seems mind-numbing, or provides a recommendation or counsel when others don’t.
COMMUNICATE THE STATUS OF PROJECTS: Always finish assignments by deadline. In fact, try to finish them well before deadline. And for good measure, keep in touch with your boss on where things stand. There is no need to check in daily, but it’s always better to communicate proactively, rather than reactively.
SWEAT THE DETAILS: It is critical to triple-check your work. Your boss should not have to make major corrections to projects. Typos, misspelled words, and grammar errors won’t fly. Work should be boss-ready (or client-ready) when you send it for approval.
STAY POSITIVE: As the lowest man on the totem pole, interns often receive the worst work. Even when tasked with an assignment that seems tedious or “beneath you,” it is important to have a positive attitude. Here’s an example: About four years ago, I planned a conference for a large technology company. The project was a great experience, but as the event date drew closer, I had some very tedious tasks to complete. One of those tasks was printing, stuffing and sorting thousands of name badges. Because I had to tackle this task in a short amount of time, I asked a few interns to help me. Once the conference room door was shut and we sat down to get to work, all the girls started bitching about how much the project sucked. I knew it sucked; I was doing it too. But it needed to be done and it’s not like any of the VPs were going to help me. Livid, I eventually told the girls to suck it up and stop their bitching. After the incident, I gave the feedback to their supervisors and I stopped asking them to help me with projects at all. They missed out on the opportunity to do really thoughtful, engaging work from which they would learn a lot – all because of their crappy attitudes.