Internships – The Advice You Never Wanted

I originally wrote this post last summer for PRestige Agency’s Blog.  It’s internship-hunting season again and underclassmen keep asking me for advice about how to find the perfect internship.  In anticipation for the promoteYOU workshop on April 29th, I decided to repost the entry just to give everyone a nice tidbit beforehand.

Advice You Secretly Wanted/Never Got/ Didn’t Expect Regarding Student Internships

I have confidence in saying I am a seasoned intern.  By the time I graduate next spring, I plan to  have six internships total (SIX!), all varying from once-in-a-lifetime events (Final Presidential Debate at Hostra 2008),  public relations (Rubenstein Associates, Inc.), non-profit art organizations (Newark Art Alliance), so on and so forth.  I am currently wrapping up my event marketing internship with All Terrain.  From my experience of being an over worked, unpaid, mostly grateful intern, I believe it necessary to provide the advice I wish I had many moons ago.

Before the Internship

  • Find an internship where you will work closely with a supervisor. I had one internship where I never saw my supervisor.  They were busy running around and had a daily schedule that rivaled my finals week at school.  I would be at the office by myself, having no motivation to do more than what was originally demanded of me.  If I had a question or idea, I had to call her cell phone.  It was impossible to communicate and while I enjoyed the experience overall, I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have.  During a more recent internship, my supervisor was literally three feet away from me.  Whatever question, comment, or concern I had, they were right there.
  • Find out whether you are part of a team or flying solo. For one internship, I had to work with twelve other interns.  We had our own secluded room where we sat together every day.  We were all overworked and underpaid, but became great friends in the process.  While I love working as part of a team (i.e. PRestige Agency), I want to shine while interning.  This can be difficult when competing with ten other people.  However, when you are the only intern, there are  negatives as well:  it can be extremely lonely being by yourself, you can have no one to relate to, but you can receive the attention you deserve, not compete for tasks, and focus on your project.  Decide what kind of environment is best for you.
  • Never doubt yourself – you never know how fate plays out. Finding an internship (a good one) is hard.  At Hofstra University, my peers and I have been lucky to get internships – thanks to our professors’ connections.  When I wanted to intern in Chicago this summer, I couldn’t fall back on connections and contacts – I knew only my sister (an OT for Easter Seals) and a few friends who live in the suburbs.  I was on Craigslist every day and applied to every marketing/communications/public relations internship I could find.  I went to job and internship fairs, coming dangerously close to begging for anything.  I had  began my search in March while in NYC and after three months heard back from very few prospects.  In the case of my internship with All Terrain, I found the ad on Craigslist but didn’t apply for two weeks.  It sounded like the perfect, almost-too-good-to-be-true  internship – but I held back because it focused on marketing.  At the last minute I decided I had nothing to lose and applied.  One week later I got a call and was interviewed the next day.
  • “So you study public relations, but what else do you do?” On two occasions I was interviewing for different internships when the person who was interviewing me stopped me and asked what ELSE I did besides school and public relations related activities.  For me, it’s hard to think of my hobbies as an asset to an organization I want to intern at.  However, it is the little interests you have that can differentiate yourself among others.  I am fully confident that for one of my internships it was the fact that I’m a bit of a book nerd and the admittance that I have flown out to Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival three years in a row that made me the perfect candidate.  Never be ashamed about your love for surfing, obsession with comic books, or addiction for Telemundo – they want to hire a person, not a robot.

During the Internship

  • Don’t be afraid to speak up You are much more of an asset when you share your honest opinion about something.  You are there to learn and to question the practices of whatever organization you are interning at.  I have had a supervisor who thought my biggest asset was my analytical thinking and focus on the original purpose of the  campaign.  On a similar note, you should not fear your supervisor.  At one internship, I was too scared to ask for a full week off for spring break.  I asked for a Friday and Monday off in order to make it a four day weekend.  Ordinarily, not a big deal, but I hadn’t seen my family since December and the homesickness was unbearable.  On another day, I received news about a friend’s parents’ passing.  I started crying at my desk but didn’t want to leave for fear of appearing a slacker.  I fought through tears until other people in the office convinced me it was perfectly fine to go home.  Also, if you are bored and need something to do, ASK! It is very easy to kill time by filling out quizzes on Facebook, but don’t waste yours and your supervisor’s time.
  • Decide how to get yours I love my current supervisor at All Terrain because the first day I was there, we came up with goals I wanted to accomplish by the end of my internship.  It was a great way to feel motivated and productive.  We recently reviewed my goals and kept track of my progress.  If your supervisor doesn’t do this, take it upon yourself to decide what it is you want to learn.  Make a list of things you want to achieve and make sure you do it.  This would also be helpful during the interview process – nothing is more impressive than a go-getting, motivated achiever ready to accomplish their goals.
  • Be  human. There are going to be awful internships where they take 5 months to learn your name.  There are going to be wonderful internships that you never want to leave.  If you are lucky you will have one internship where you work 30 hours a week while juggling school, live off of coffee and protein bars, get four hours of sleep a night, have to borrow money from your parents weekly, never see your friends, and be a shell of your human self.  It is the hardest thing to do, but you have to find a way to smile and get through it.  Every person in a high level position also had to pay their dues.  Though your supervisor may be making you miserable, remember it takes a strong person to be able to still smile and say hi.  I had one internship where I spent three hours a day commuting back and forth, spending 11 hours in the office.  It. Was. Awful. However,  about halfway through I tried to be positive about it.  I would write my essays on the train and spend all day at the office listening to music while working.  As small as it seems, it is what got me through the rest of the internship.
  • Know who is on your side. For one internship, it got to be so bad that I needed my adviser at school to step in.  They wanted me to spend time in the office during my finals week, when I most needed to study.  It was a situation larger than myself, so I had to ask for help.  During that semester, I called my parents every other day either asking for money or bawling because I felt like I couldn’t do anything and they don’t even know my name and I had migraines from staring at the screen all day and blah blah blah.  Internships are hard. However, you can get through the toughest ones if you have a strong support system and known when it’s time to admit you cannot live off of protein bars alone.

After the Internship

  • Clean up shop THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER!! Make sure you get your recommendation letters, your supervisor’s contact information, your LinkedIn invites, your snacks from the desk drawer, and your resume updated.  All of this is very annoying and awkward to do months later when you are searching for your next internship or job.  It’s best to do it when it’s still fresh in your head.  You want to make sure the whole experience wasn’t for nothing.
  • Spread the word Do everyone a favor.  If it was a positive internship, let them know.  Recommend it to your peers, tell your professors, tell One Day, One Job/Internship, etc.  If it was terrible, tell the truth but tactfully so.  You need to be honest, but you don’t want to appear negative.  You are going to be asked about your experience, whether in a job interview or a friend asks if they should apply.  Be prepared with what to say.
  • You’re free! I said this before – internships are hard. You may roll your eyes, but if you care about your sanity as much as I do, you will refrain from doing so when reading the following.  Once you are done your internship, your resume is updated, and you stay in touch with your supervisor and other contacts you made, do this: sleep in, read a book, chill-ax, earn money, see friends, study, breathe, etc.  Everyone needs a breather – do NOT start searching for another internship right away!  Every individual has different circumstances.  I said before that I expect to have six internships by the end of my college career.  However, the Final Presidential Debate was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I needed something to do this summer, I like art, I changed my mind and want to go into non-profit – these are all reasons for why I took this internship/that internship.  I have a friend who had her first internship as a freshmen.  I have another who will have her first this fall.  I have another who doesn’t plan on having an internship – she wants to go into the Peace Corps after college.  I used to fret about not having enough internships.  However, I learned that everyone has a different career path.  Every internship is different and a learning experience in itself.  It is up to you to decide what to get out of it.

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