If you’re an aspiring public relations pro and have nabbed your first internship, congrats! Soon your head will be spinning as you’re surrounded by new people in a fast-paced environment. If it’s a good internship, you’ll learn a lot, get a flavor for what PR is all about, and end up with a clearer idea of where you want to go in your career.
Not all internships turn into entry-level jobs, and maybe you don’t want them to be. But in case a desirable spot opens at the right moment, it’s important to dazzle not only the bosses, but the full staff – since basically everybody’s your boss when you’re an intern. I asked several veteran PRs who were able to parlay a single internship into a career how they did it.
It’s easy to sit at your desk and wait for assignments, especially when you’re new and don’t know the lay of the land. But it’s better to be noticed — in a positive way. Staff might be shy about giving work to inexperienced interns, or they may not be well organized. If you sense that, keep asking for work. Update your supervisor frequently (but not too frequently) on what you’re doing and when you anticipate finishing. If you have a particular skill or desire, let it be known! Showing enthusiasm as well as an obvious work ethic can only help. Be proactive, but not pushy.
As an intern, you’ll be thrown into the fray with little knowledge of the workplace culture, dress code, personalities or even workload. Until you’ve become acculturated, err on the side of professionalism. Speak, behave, and even dress just a little bit more conservatively than you ordinarily would. Be friendly and relaxed, yet punctual, diligent, and not too chatty. Stay away from overly personal questions to colleagues, and avoid gossip at all costs.
It’s a cliche because it’s true; you’re likely to stand out if you go above and beyond in small ways. Read, study, and volunteer for tasks no one else wants to do. Offer helpful suggestions. A five-star intern at a PR firm will work hard to understand the business. One of the first things I did here (yes, I was an intern, too) was to study each client to learn what they do and how our PR programs work for them. Crenshaw partner Chris Harihar claims the secret to his success when he started years ago as a PR agency intern is that he read every relevant journalist and trade magazine to flag relevant news for the team internally – even on the weekends! Who wouldn’t hire a guy like that?
It would be great and impressive if when given a task, you can just go and knock it out like you’ve been doing it for years. But, odds are, there will be questions, and the worst thing you can do is to muddle through without asking for fear of looking ignorant. Do your best to think a step ahead: have a laptop or pad and pen at the ready if direction is given verbally. Always ask the deadline for a given task and where you should direct any questions that might come up later. When communicating by email, keep your questions and comments short and to the point, but don’t be bashful about asking.
An intern may think she’s blown all chances of a permanent hire with a mistake. But I would argue that mistakes make us more human and relatable — and can elicit empathy. Consider the young woman who showed up a month early for a Skype interview at Microsoft and proceeded, as anyone would, to send a note to the recruiter asking what’s up. Her self-deprecating tweet about the mistake went viral, which prompted Microsoft reps to offer reassurance. Admitting a mistake and being able to laugh at yourself shows a certain type of confidence and good nature and can even endear you to your bosses. As a multitude of CEOs have learned, trying to bury mistakes can end up creating a “PR” nightmare.
Even if you know there won’t be a full-time position opening after the internship, you should still give it your best. You never know if a month or a year down the line, an agency may need an account coordinator or digital assistant. The New York PR industry is a small world where lots of people know one another. PR managers are happy to recommend stellar interns for jobs at other agencies. Why not ask for a recommendation letter when you leave? It can be an asset to crack that first entry-level PR job. Here at Crenshaw, we actively seek out interns who have the potential to be permanent hires.
The above add up to one overriding goal of an internship: becoming a valued asset to the company team. Whenever possible, offer to complete task that nobody asked you to do – a task that might add value to whatever the staff is working on. If the agency has a regular blog, offer to write a post, suggesting a topic. Volunteer to check in media at a client press event if you sense the team needs extra hands. Doing quality work with a good attitude will endear you to an agency. If the team will miss you once the internship is over, you have become an asset, and you’ll have a better chance of being hired.
Several of us are former interns, including yours truly!