Published on November 13, 2017, at 8:20 a.m.
by Caitlin Heffley.
As I embarked upon the summer internship-seeking process during my junior year of college, I had great confidence. I knew all the right answers and felt like a promising candidate. I also had a few personal connections, so I was a shoo-in, right?
Wrong. As the weeks turned into months, and the spring semester began, I still hadn’t heard back from any of the places where I’d applied. Hearing about my plight, a family member suggested I look into his company, a financial planning firm.
With reluctance, I applied, and as life would have it, I landed the internship. The catch? It had nothing to do with my field of study … or so I thought.
I started the summer with skepticism. How on earth was I going to gain any public relations experience working somewhere that specializes in things like taxes, investments and assets? There was no “Retirement Planning” or “Wealth Management” section of the AP Stylebook. I checked.
Despite my doubts, however, I told myself I was going to make the most of it. Here’s how I did just that:
1. I taught myself.
Any enthusiasm I had about the summer quickly faded upon learning that my assigned project was actually creating the company’s internal database and website.
Not only had I never built a website before, but also I had zero knowledge of the financial industry and limited knowledge of the company. Nevertheless, I went to work. By work, I mean the internet.
Every day, I spent a few hours reading up on the company and its competitors, the financial industry, and the stock markets. I also researched the software program I had to use by looking up tutorials, tips and tricks.
I had legal pads full of notes about all kinds of things that I never thought I would need to know. And the crazy thing is, I actually kind of enjoyed it.
2. I made friends.
It’s probably safe to say that as a 21-year-old college student, I was in the vast minority. A little outside of my comfort zone, I forced myself to reach out to my co-workers.
Admittedly, this was mostly because I was tired of eating lunch alone in my car, but I ended up gaining much more than a few lunch buddies.
What I found was that I quickly became more confident in my ability to build relationships with people of all ages, titles and backgrounds. I also benefitted from the wisdom and advice they had to share from their experiences and expertise. By the end of the summer, these relationships had turned into real friendships.
3. I asked for more.
On days when work pace was a little slower, or when I just needed a break from staring at a computer screen, I would ask my supervisor if there was anything else I could do.
This was where I struck gold. In the experiences outside of my normal tasks, I was able to sit in on conference calls and trainings, write user manuals, and work on office-wide surveys.
Additionally, I was given the opportunity to have a personal phone call with public relations and corporate communications personnel at headquarters in New York. I had a whole hour just to pick their brains, ask them questions about in-house PR and soak up all the information I could.
What I thought was going to be a waste of an internship (and a boring one, at that) turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had as both a PR student and as a person.
Nearly every skill that I learned or employed that summer was something that PR professionals use every day. We educate ourselves, research, learn, write, build relationships, ask questions and keep ourselves busy.
In every experience, there is value to be found. Sometimes it takes thinking a little outside the box or putting in some extra effort. But just like the principle of ROI (as I became all too familiar with), the greater the investment, the greater the profitability.