Every summer, CRT/tanaka brings in interns from renowned communications and marketing programs at leading universities such as Virginia Tech, George Mason, Penn, and James Madison University.
We take our summer internship program pretty seriously and receive on average 200+ resumes every year. Our interns go through a rigorous training process, during which they wear multiple hats and juggle multiple projects (media relations, brand marketing, employee communications, events marketing, social media and digital campaigns) for clients from the consumer, health, and corporate sectors.
They all start on an equal playing field and are exposed to the same level of projects, deadlines, and client services, but only a few are extended a full-time position at the end of the internship. So what distinguishes a summer intern who does everything right, meets deadlines, brings in a sense of enthusiasm to work every day, is brilliant, creative and _________ (fill up the blank with more adjectives as you see fit) from the intern who does all that and more to get the job offer?
Here is some practical wisdom based on what I have learned in the last 10 years in PR and have gathered from the kick-butt interns who make the final cut.
1. Be willing to roll up your sleeves: There is a good reason why companies seek summer interns beyond just talent acquisition: There is a lot of work to do. We need your willingness to offer support in whatever shape or form with projects big and small and which might include running to the post office to mail an important document to a client, ordering lunch for an upcoming meeting, or answering incoming calls. You might have been valedictorian, or some other campus leader, but set that ego aside and be ready to roll up your sleeves once you join the corporate world. The first few weeks are crucial for making a good impression, and the best way is to seek opportunities to help out.
2. Listen intently before you speak: Part of being in the PR/communications space is that we all like to talk, even when we don’t really have anything to “say,” because in our minds, talking equates to being noticed.
One of the best pieces of advice I got came from a colleague and senior marketing professional: “Don’t feel compelled to always open your mouth during meetings. Prepare well in advance for the meeting, and open your mouth to contribute one solid idea that adds value to the conversation. Now you have done two things. First, you impressed everyone with a well-thought-out idea, and second, you earned yourself an invitation to the next meeting by adding value.” So listen more, listen carefully, take copious notes, pay attention to body language, and absorb, absorb, absorb before you make yourself heard in the room.
3. Let your quality of work speak louder than your words: In my professional experience, I have seen the go-getters, the achievement-oriented ones, the ones that focus on the end result, show their smarts by taking any project that comes their way and turning it into an opportunity to prove their mettle. When your work stands out, be it on a PowerPoint deck, writing a press release, or compiling a competitive analysis, that makes a bigger impact than countless conversations. Results speak louder than schmoozing a supervisor.
4. Look for opportunities to shine: You are trying to be a jack of all trades and provide much-needed assistance on client work, but let’s get real: We all have a few core PR skill sets that we particularly enjoy. Maybe you want to show your A-game in media pitching by getting that national broadcast hit that the client has been dreaming of. Maybe you have a passion for writing and you totally revamped that plain-Jane Web content and spiced it up to increase engagement.
Identify what you enjoy doing the most while you are still experimenting, and once you have had your ah-ha moment, seek opportunities to deliver kick-butt results. Having passion behind a project always helps. That’s why I stay away from writing press releases and prefer converting old school PR traditionalists into digital-savvy communicators. You get my point: Your internship period is limited, but opportunities are unlimited—especially if you are in an agency setting, so go get them.
5. Identify mentors who will champion you for a full-time position: Sometimes I wish I were an intern who could leverage the “I need a mentor” mantra to win more quality time with seniors within the organization. Look around to spot potential mentors, and seek opportunities to have lunch with them, help them, and collaborate with them on client projects. Having a mentor (or several) can help you in so many ways: (a) in understanding the company culture; (b) in having a trusted mind to hear your thoughts/ideas; and (c) in gaining experience in the mentor’s specialty areas.
Hungry interns quickly identify mentors who have similar personalities and/or are leaders in core marketing and communications areas that those interns are passionate about. They also work diligently to impress their mentors through their work ethic and quality of work. Nothing like having strong voices within the organization vouch for your talent and champion your full-time placement!
With thousands of communications graduates entering corporate America every year, I want to quote from Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough’s recent commencement speech:
“Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.”
Your internship is your opportunity to live that dream as a PR pro! Make it count! Good luck, and I hope to see you on the other side.
Priya Ramesh heads the social media practice at CRT/tanaka and blogs at The Buzz Bin.