Posted At: February 17, 2010 1:27 PM
by Madeline Reeves
College students hear repeatedly that the key to a successful future in the public relations field is largely dependent upon completing several quality internships. Some experts would say that internships, or the lack thereof, can ultimately make or break your career. Is this really true? If it is true, what do you need to know to make sure you get the most benefit from your internship experience? And how do you conquer the transition from lowly PR intern to prosperous PR professional, by the means of internships?
The primary benefits of internships are tri-fold: professional experience, contacts and future employment. PR internships in particular are said to jump-start students’ careers by providing a number of invaluable opportunities prior to college graduation. Internship experience often makes the difference between finding a good job in your career interest area versus settling for whatever job you can land. A good internship provides professional experience, a clearer understanding of what type of work you enjoy and resources that can help you throughout your career.
Internships challenge students to apply classroom theory to complex workplace demands. They also allow students the opportunity to explore their options, experiment in different fields within their industry and diversify their background, all while gaining professional experience and exposure.
Brian Camen, author of The PR Practitioner blog, said that each internship experience will teach you new things about the PR world and about yourself. He advises four steps on how to make the most of an internship: “Ask questions, take initiative, act professional and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Cynthia Nichols, a PR professor at the University of Alabama, thinks that going the extra mile during an internship truly pays off. Nichols said, “Be willing to make sacrifices to get the job done. There are tons of other undergrads out there that they could have hired, so make it worth your and their while. No one is expecting you to be perfect, but they are expecting you to be a go-getter.”
Although internships offer significant career experience and professional networking, the personal gain on behalf of the student is often even greater. Students regularly complete internships with accumulated evidence of their abilities, newfound wisdom and understanding in their field and an increased self-confidence.
Kelly Backus, an account coordinator with the Wyche Group, a PR agency out of Atlanta, Ga., said that her PR internship work experience was critical to landing her first full-time, professional PR job. “My internship experience helped distinguish me from the many other job seekers who were recent college graduates. I did not realize it at the time, but once I started my first full-time PR job, I realized just how valuable it was to already know something about PR in the real world in addition to everything I learned at school,” she said.
Most important, internships build a bridge between college and the professional world, easing the transition from amateur PR student to distinguished PR professional. According to Backus, “Internships are the easiest way to gain the needed experience to transition from a ‘green’ intern, to a seasoned professional.”
Backus said that it’s imperative to pay attention to every detail during your internship in order to make a smooth transition. “Immerse yourself into the professional environment and strive to be adaptive to the workplace. Make mistakes, listen to what you’ve been told, observe your environment, push your limits and evaluate your progress,” she said.
Additionally, the efforts you make after your internship are equally as important as the efforts you make during your internship. As many practitioners would say, your contacts are your best tool in PR. It’s important to keep the line of communication open and available with your former colleagues and superiors. Backus states, “Keep in touch with all those you have worked with, ask them to review your resume and keep you updated on job openings.”
In regards to getting the most out of an internship while paving the way for a smooth transition to full-time employment, Camen also encourages students to keep in contact with their former employers. Camen advises students to go a step further find a mentor at each internship and stay in touch with them. “We all need advice professionally and personally. If you set yourself up with a network of mentors, you’re setting yourself up for a better chance of success.”
However, according to Camen, the transition is all about progress. “No matter how many internships you have, you still won’t be prepared for your real-world responsibilities. Interns aren’t on the front line talking to the media. Interns aren’t dealing with crisis, full-time employees are. The biggest transition problems you will face is your workload responsibility, and of course the level of work you will be doing.”
Nichols agrees and says the biggest part of the transition from intern to professional is your new workload and increased amount of responsibilities. “You are required to know everything and stay on top of current trends. You are the professional now, and it is your responsibility to teach yourself what you don’t know.”
What else can PR students do during their college careers and internship experiences to make the smoothest transition to PR professionals?