For students interested in the fields of public relations or communications, it’s a good idea to have an internship or two. Internships allow you to hone your abilities, pick up practical applications for classroom-learned skills and feel out the best industry or work environment for you. But, once you have that long-sought-after internship, it’s what you do with it that matters most.
Let’s look at some tips to get the most out of your internship and help you stand out to the people who matter most — future employers. While internship programs can vary greatly in the levels of access and responsibility they provide their interns, these tips can help you set ambitious, yet achievable, goals to break onto the scene in a big way.
1. Engage with (or just listen to) a client.
To state the obvious, fields like PR and communications are not exact sciences. We often deal with abstract concepts and hard-to-define results. While fundamental PR skills like writing and strategic planning can be refined in the classroom, more advanced and artful skills like client service cannot.
If possible, join the account team on client calls, even if you don’t have a role, to see how they engage with their clients. How do they conduct themselves? Are they friendly and relaxed to help build rapport, or are they buttoned up and professional? What questions do they ask? Do they challenge the client to think differently about a specific project, problem or program? How do they set deadlines? How do they manage expectations for a project? How do they set realistic goals? Take notes, and, after the call, ask the account team about their approach.
In rare cases where you can speak with a client, huddle with the account team beforehand to plan your approach to that interaction. Make sure you are asking well-informed, thought-provoking questions or bringing real value to the discussion. Avoid being seen as “just the intern.”
2. Speak up!
A good internship can be fun. A great one can be both fun and intimidating. You may be exposed to frequent strategy sessions, brainstorming collaborations or “stand-up” meetings to quickly discuss a project. In these moments, it’s understandable to feel a little intimidated by fast-paced conversations with many layers. But one way to truly stand out is to speak up, offer an idea or ask a question.
Any intern can be the fly on the wall. But the interns who make themselves a part of the team are the ones who colleagues (and employers) remember.
Now, that’s not to say you need to provide input day one in your first meeting, and it doesn’t mean you need to chime in at every possible opportunity. But follow the discussion and trust your gut. After all, your skills and instincts were good enough to land you this internship.
“A good internship can be fun. A great one can be both fun and intimidating.”
3. Anticipate needs.
The best way to further your career is to make the tasks — and lives — of those around you easier by anticipating their needs.
If you know your supervisor likes files saved a certain way, do it. If you know the account team sends the same client deliverable every week, help them prepare it in advance. If the agency is firmly entrenched on one side of the long-drawn-out and heated Oxford comma war, use (or don’t use) it.
Anticipating needs comes with time, but paying attention to work styles, processes and, especially, client preferences can show you’re truly a cut above the rest.
4. Do something outside your job description.
Regardless of its listed responsibilities, a good internship program allows room for growth and exploration. If you’re a media relations intern but want to try writing copy for social media posts, go for it. If you’re a brand-strategy intern but you want to help problem solve a client crisis, it’s okay to ask.
As an aspiring professional, you likely have many areas of interest, and it is rare any one internship will cover them all. Variety is good, and, when you’re working on something for which you’re truly passionate, your deliverables can really shine.
Make your internship work for you.
5. Ask for writing critiques.
Your writing classes will only take you so far. You’ve likely heard this before, but, if not, it’s worth repeating. Writing is the most necessary and powerful tool in your PR toolbox. School is great for building the foundation of your writing — grammar, syntax and AP style — but, to really establish yourself as a writer, ask your colleagues to critique your work. (Trust us; they won’t be shy about it.)
Everyone has their work torn apart at one point or another, and having a thick skin is important in PR. Don’t be afraid of red ink. Use constructive criticism as an opportunity to learn new styles and become a more persuasive writer.
On a somewhat-unrelated but important note: the best way to improve your writing is by reading. Read often.
6. Ask to stay in touch.
PR and communications are as much about knowing the right people as they are having the right skills. Networking is a crucially important part of your career development, and, despite some common misconceptions, networking doesn’t have to consist solely of standing around high-top tables in a suit while handing out business cards.
The most effective way to network is by building a true and honest connection, so leverage those built with the team around you.
As your internship ends, leave them with a handwritten (yes, handwritten) thank-you note and ask to stay in touch. Connect with them on LinkedIn and update them on milestones in your student and professional careers. The key is to make your connection genuine, and, if possible, avoid reaching out to them only when you need something.
See our current internship positions here.