I have a favorite story I like to share with people about my time as an intern at SHIFT Communications. It was that cheerful holiday known as St. Patrick’s Day and I, an unabashed costuming geek, rolled into the office in full leprechaun get-up. In my green vest and britches, sparkly bow tie, buckle shoes and pointed prosthetic ears, I must have been quite an unusual sight to behold. I don’t doubt that there are many workplaces that would have cringed at my audacity that day – but I was met with enthusiastic delight from my co-workers. Todd Defren, our CEO, snapped a photo and posted it on the agency Facebook page with these comments:
So what’s my point? Well, an internship at PR agency isn’t just about showing up at an office every weekday at 9, completing your assigned tasks, and going home at 5. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is important – you won’t get far without getting your work done, after all – but your intern experience can be so much more than that. It’s a chance to explore a culture that could become your new home.
Here are some tips that helped me learn and excel as an intern, and eventually get recognized for a full-time position:
Be proactive – One thing I discovered in my first few weeks as an intern is that your co-workers are busy, busy, busy! They’re not always going to be hovering and checking up on you. It’s up to you to be proactive about learning as much as you can and doing more than “just your job.”
Follow up on projects you’ve done for people at the agency and ask for their feedback and advice. If you finish a project and don’t have another lined up to take its place, ask for more work! There will always be someone in the office buckling down to meet a deadline who could use the extra hand, and you can always use the practice. Don’t be afraid to seek out challenges as you become more comfortable with the basics. Ask to sit in on a client call, flag a piece of coverage that you think could make a cool pitch, or offer to take a stab at writing a pitch email or a client’s awards submission. Being proactive is totally win-win: you get more chances to learn and refine your skills, and you also build a good rapport with your co-workers by positioning yourself as an eager and reliable resource to them.
Be open and honest – No one expects you to be perfect! Of course you want to impress your co-workers by how smart and capable you are, but at the end of the day, you are here to learn. If something is confusing to you, be honest that you don’t understand and ask someone to explain it to you. If you’re overwhelmed by your workload and aren’t sure you can get a project done in time, be up front about it and work with your team to come up with a new strategy. Ultimately, your co-workers want to know that you are someone they can rely on. Honesty trumps perfection.
Leverage your natural talents – Whether or not you realize it, you have a unique set of skills. Embrace the natural talents that make you you, even the ones that don’t seem immediately relevant to your internship. You never know when they’ll come in handy in your professional life. Your passion for gaming could enable you to offer great advice to a team whose client decides they want to have a booth at E3 next year. Or if you’re me, a team might temporarily recruit you as an in-house costume designer for a client video project. By offering your unique talents, you not only make your internship something exciting and memorable, but you also begin to establish yourself as an indispensable asset to the agency.
Build a portfolio as you go – You’re going to be taking on lots of exciting projects during your time as an intern. Sometimes things move so fast that it’s hard to keep track of what you did last week, let alone see your progress over several months. But when it comes time to apply for that full-time position, having a clear picture of the things you accomplished is going to help you immensely. Whether it’s a blog post you wrote for a client, an example of a pitch email you wrote, or a press list you built, if it’s something you worked hard on and are proud of, save it! Having all your fantastic accomplishments already set aside will do two things. First, it will make creating a snazzy portfolio for yourself a simple task (after all, you’ve already done most of the work). Second, it will show you how awesome you are and give you the confidence to “wow” your agency with how much you learned while interning.
To thine own self be true – Every firm has a different culture.
An internship is an ideal opportunity to dive in and experience what it might be like to work there full-time. Be your genuine self, put your ideas out there, and gauge people’s reactions. Is this a place where you can thrive? If so, congratulations – you’re already past the trickiest part. The rest comes naturally. The more you involve yourself with the agency culture and live and breathe your common values, the more you will show that you’re a fit for a full-time position. After all, it’s easy to work hard and perform well when you’re not putting on an act.
Jennifer Harrington wrote a great post on how agency employees can create a successful intern experience which will help give you a sense of the things your co-workers this summer will be considering as they guide you through your internship. Good luck, work hard, and don’t forget that the employees at your internship want this experience to be awesome for you, too!
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