By Lindsey Barber
I think that we all can agree that internships can be a bit mysterious. Aside from what you see and hear during the interview process, you’re a little uncertain of what exactly awaits you. I know I had many questions running through my mind each time I faced a new internship opportunity: “What is the team dynamic? What is the learning curve? Will I just fake it, ‘til I make it?”
I recently received some great internship-related questions in response to my previous Culpwrit blog post from a couple Southeast Missouri State University students, and was inspired to reprise. So, here it goes…my position on four common internship myths, including advice on how to navigate tough situations:
- Bad Internships: I’ve witnessed a number of students stress over finding the perfect internship, and fret that they’ll choose a bad experience. I don’t believe there are truly bad internships. ANY internship provides the perfect opportunity to figure out what you want in your career. We all have a picture of the ideal, but we may discover that what we thought was the “dream job” isn’t the right fit. With every internship (five in total), I discovered something new about myself which ultimately led me to the agency I work for today. If you find the internship isn’t what you thought it would be, try make the most of it. Find an individual within the company from whom you can learn. Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t work with directly, or have an open discussion with your supervisor about a skill you are hoping to learn and see where they can help. The worst thing you can do is “check-out” early and let your team down. You may end up walking away with a skill you never thought you’d have. Remember, internships aren’t permanent, so make the time you have worthwhile.
- Just a Coffee Runner: The traditional days of coffee runs on the regular are long gone. Companies genuinely want to bring fresh, bright talent onto their teams! Most likely, you are part of a different generation than a majority of your teammates, and you can contribute new perspectives from your own personal experiences. A sub-myth that I’d like to address is the thinking, “I can’t approach my boss when issues arise, since I am low in the company hierarchy.” You CAN absolutely foster a professional relationship with your boss. Expressing interest and excitement in working with the company will make you stand out from others in the crowd. Inviting her/him to coffee early on in your internship is a great way to break the ice, and get to know your supervisor better. Having this connection early on makes it easier to have the tough conversations, if issues arise.
- The Work I Complete Doesn’t Matter: Even if a task or project seems menial, I promise you, there IS a purpose. More often than not, the work produced by an intern lays the groundwork for everything else the team does. You conduct mind-numbing media monitoring every day? Great! This allows the team to keep track of secured coverage, and identify new media contacts. Have a tedious research project and you are feeling like to could bang your head on the computer screen? No worries! Research helps guide the team’s big thinking when it comes to PR programs. If, for whatever reason, you don’t see how your task fits into the larger picture, have a conversation with a teammate so that you have a clearer understanding. Additionally, having that knowledge will make your overall internship experience more impactful in your journey to learn about the industry.
- Taking an Unpaid Internship = Future Paid Internship: I’ve observed (and experienced myself) the common misconception that your first internships MUST be unpaid. Unless you are interested in working in the non-profit sector specifically, paid internships are always available. There are times when the unpaid option seems to better align with your goals, but that being said, don’t forgo applying for that paid opportunity just because you don’t think you have enough experience in a specific area. Experience can come from a number of places, and doesn’t always have to be PR-specific. If you can efficiently speak to how your experience relates to the position at hand, you are in good shape. During my time as a master’s degree student, I was employed in the restaurant industry, and I used that experience (although seemingly irrelevant initially) to my advantage during interviews. Prior to being a server, I had extremely limited wine knowledge – wine was white or red and cheap or expensive. After receiving extensive training prior to taking the floor as a server, I now not only know more about wine in general, but I also support PR programming for a wine client at my current job.
There are many more internship myths that I could debunk, but these are the main ones that I feel deserve special attention. If you have a burning question on your mind, pop it in the comments below, and I’ll do what I can to help. If you are in the midst of internship-hunting season, best of luck!
Lindsey Barber is a Marketing Communications Account Executive and Fellowship Coordinator at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Chicago. At H+K, Lindsey specializes in media relations, event coordination and influencer programming for food/beverage and tourism clients. She loves helping recent graduates along their career path, and can be regularly found networking around the city.