Welcome to the Show: Transitioning from Intern to Employee

Matthew Soriano

Rod Stewart may have put it best when he sang, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger.”  I’m sure just about everyone has looked back on their career and identified a time or place when they wish they could have applied a “lesson learned” to a challenge they were facing.  For many young professionals, this first challenging time is the transition period from internship to full time employment. 

I recently moderated a panel discussion as part of the Council of Public Relations Firms’ annual Internfest, which featured young agency pros who shared insights and advice from their experiences starting out at a PR firm. 

The 150 students who attended the program, from 60 different colleges, interning at 20 firms, received invaluable advice from panelists Travis Rexroad (Account Executive, Taylor), Virginia Cromwell (Client Staff Associate, Burson-Marsteller), and Haley Cook (Account Executive, Horn Group).  Here’s what they had to say about their experiences:

When beginning her career Cook noted, “The biggest challenge was thinking about myself as the expert when talking with clients.  Learning to trust my instinct and make clear and confident recommendations was one of the most important challenges I overcame when transitioning from my internship to full-time role.”  Similarly, when asked how she worked on becoming an expert Haley responded, “I had no experience with digital media, online advertising or SaaS technology.  Becoming a part of this industry was exactly like the first few weeks of class in college—reading, reading, reading to get up to speed.” 

As is the case with many young professionals looking to begin a career in Public Relations, Cromwell was worried that not having a communications degree would hurt her.  “Having not come from an academic background in Public Relations or Communications, I was concerned I would be at a considerable disadvantage in my internship and full-time position,” she said.  “However, this was not the case.  I feel that my unique academic background in Economics and Dance is much more an advantage than a hindrance. With an open-mind (and copious notes), I was able to learn and understand the nuances within PR and then build upon my talents and skills in other areas.” 

Rexroad noted that it took some time adjusting to the level of performance expected from him as a full-time professional vs. that of an intern.  “The greatest challenge for me was juggling the many moving parts,” he noted.  “As an intern, there is an expectation that you will complete what is assigned to you in a timely manner.  Once hired as a full-time employee, there is an expectation or learning curve on everything…office life, work/life balance, time frames, client relations, etc.  It’s so much more than checking items off of a ‘To Do’ list.  It’s learning to manage expectations and the timing of different projects.” 

While no two experiences are exactly alike, hopefully these anecdotes will provide those beginning their PR careers with some insights as they look for their first job.  Let’s keep it going; I’d like to hear from other new hires on how they handled the shift into a full-time career.

Matt Soriano is manager of online and member services at the Council of Public Relations Firms.

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