Five Ways to Maximize Internship

  Roland Cailles

It’s a strange time for college graduates. Most who recently finished school should be ecstatic that step of their lives is over. Instead, I run into former classmates and hear two reoccurring themes – they can’t find work and it’s beginning to affect their self-esteem.

If you’re one of these people, then you may find yourself shooting for an internship rather than an account executive position. My six-month internship with Carolyn Grisko & Associates, for example, just ended two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, the timing was not right for me to translate that internship into a full-time position. Others are luckier. A good associate of mine has interned at Ketchum for several months and may soon be hired on. There’s still hope for those of you seeking the agency life.

Here are the top five lessons I learned from my agency internship. Feel free to use them to your advantage. You might learn something from my experience, and mistakes.

1. Form a Solid Relationship With Your Mentor

Your managers will most likely pair you with a mentor. This relationship is critical to your success.

Your mentor will show you the ropes. They’ll give you most of your work. They’ll offer invaluable insight into your agency’s culture and managing of the day to day. They’ll be your biggest supporter around the office and will let other project directors know of the asset you can be to any client team.

Remember that show Full House, when DJ Tanner had her first day at her new school? She can’t find anyone to sit with at lunch and eats alone in the bathroom stall.

If only someone was nice enough to be her friend that day. Your mentor is your first friend. In fact, at my internship, our mentors took us out to lunch on our the first day. See what I mean?

2. Understand Client Team Structure

Agencies are setup into client teams. Each client usually deals with a senior account executive. The senior account executive then may have a team of account executives and assistant account executives who work under him or her to meet the client’s needs.

Your senior account executives make the decisions on team assets. Approach them for work. Let them know of your interest in the client, and they may bring you onto their team.

You can simply send an email or stop in for a chat. Just say something like, “I’m really interested in learning about the work you do with x-client. Are you free to chat sometime this week?”

3. Identify a Need and Fill It

It might be hard to believe, but you might actually have a particular skill that no one else in the office has. Maybe it’s graphic design skills with Adobe, or HTML and CSS, or social media, but don’t sell yourself short. If it’s in your repertoire, let people know.

Be a little courageous. You may be lucky enough to establish yourself as the go to person in your area of expertise. This is one of the best ways to translate your internship into a full-time position.

4. Pay Heed to Your Intern Review

Your intern review will be like an out of body experience. If you’ve ever been to therapy, it feels like that first awkward session with a therapist.

Now it’s not all bad. You’ll get positive feedback from the intern managers, along with some constructive criticism.

If your managers suggest areas to improve upon, take a proactive stance and do so. Your ability to channel constructive criticism into a positive stands out to managers. It could be the key to extending your internship into a longer assignment. I’m pretty sure it helped with mine.

On an embarrassing note, for example, my managers said I tended to be a little too informal. That means they wanted me to be more professional. Yes, my fellow interns, probably not a good idea to share stories of your drunkenness on the weekends.

5. Your Coworkers Are Just as Important As Your Work

If not just as, they may be more important. I’m telling you right now, the biggest regret I have at my internship is not getting to know everyone of my coworkers better.

I had plans at the beginning to set aside time with each and hear their stories. After all, what better way to learn your place in this industry than from those who had found theirs?

But alas, the daily and weekly action tasks took hold of my day. If you can, set aside the time before your to-do-lists get too full. Plan a meeting every week. Think of it as an easy in for informational interviews.

It’s like working out at the gym. You can fit 15-30 minutes into your week for a conversation with a coworker. You can climb your way up the ladder, starting with the people on your team. Move on up to middle-management, and you’ll find yourself having conversations with those all the way at the top if you’re lucky.

How cool would it be to sit down with the CEO’s and COO’s of the world and ask them, “Wow. How did you get here? And what’s your vision for the company?” How often are you given that opportunity?

There’s an added benefit. You’ll get the reputation as a worker who is eager to learn and who cares about the people you work with. It’s a rarity in these times, especially with everyone living in the fear and shadow of this recession. Most of us can’t see past our own needs.

(Roland Cailles is a December 2008 graduate of Chicago’s Columbia College.  Roland recently completed an intership at Carolyn Grisko & Associates.  As a self-proclaimed content junkie, he invites you to mini-blog with him on Twitter.  Thanks to Tesar-Reynes for this excellent re-post.)

One thought on “Five Ways to Maximize Internship

  1. After reading this post, I realized that many of these things fall into my ever-evolving to-do list for achieving an entry level PR job. However, I have taken into deep consideration the need to pursue another summer internship experience before having a hiring manager at a PR firm hire me. I’m sure there are many more recent grads out there in the same situation and hopefully things will pan out for all of us if we keep being persistent in our craft.

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