Life After the 400s: Rookies in the Agency
Posted: February 5, 2015, 7:35 p.m.
by Annslee Wilson.
For many college graduates, graduation day marks the end of being known as “the intern.” These graduates rejoice and celebrate their recently accepted full-time titles and no longer have to worry whether their supervisors asked for regular or decaf coffee.
In the competitive field of public relations, however, graduates are often expected to go through yet another 4-6 month trial run. These interns compete with other interns to prove themselves worthy of a full-time position. It seems as though the transition never ends: from student to intern, intern to employee. It could take up to a year before a recent graduate finds stability within the workplace.
According to a 2014 Gallup Web survey of 30,000 college students, only 29 percent of undergraduate students had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they learned in the classroom. A recent Bloomberg Business article found that having an internship that allows students to apply classroom lessons doubles the odds that students feel engaged at work.
For Myreete Wolford, a 2014 graduate of The University of Alabama, the transition from intern to account coordinator at Ketchum exceeded her expectations.
In the summer of 2014, Wolford relocated to Chicago to begin her internship at Ketchum. She and four other interns worked together on various accounts, including Whirlpool and Kimberly Clark.
“The difference between an intern and a full-time employee is maturity, responsibility and a salary,” Wolford said.
Though she was able to apply the lessons learned from her undergraduate coursework, Wolford said what prepared her the most for an internship at Ketchum were her previous internships and her leadership positions in her school’s PRSSA chapter and other organizations.
“As an intern, you have to work 10 times harder than anyone else to get the feedback needed to be hired on,” she said. “If you know what you are good at, then you can excel where no one else can.”
In October, Wolford accepted a position in new business at Ketchum as the account management account coordinator. She now represents Whirlpool, Morton Salt and Welch’s, to name a few.
“After you’ve gained trust, become indispensable and have the luck of the draw with timing, you become full time. After that, expectations are raised, and you have to step it up.”
Andrea Easley, also a 2014 UA graduate, chose a similar route and relocated to Chicago to pursue the internship program at Golin. Easley spent three months working with 16 interns on the Lipton Tea and Silk Almond Milk accounts. She had the opportunity to pitch a project to a client and worked closely with some of Golin’s top executives.
“The Golin internship was by far the most rewarding and beneficial program I have ever been a part of,” Easley said. “We had training sessions, mentors, supervisors, lunch sessions with the CEO and a ‘midterm’ and ‘final’ review to assess our strengths and interests. They really worked hard to make sure that we would be ready for a full-time job at the end of the internship.”
In August, Andrea was hired to be a full-time digital associate at Golin. She is now responsible for McDonald’s, McCafe and Lipton Tea accounts. She has had the privilege of working for the Sundance Movie Festival and the NFL Super Bowl.
When it comes to the transition from intern to employee, Easley said that her current duties and responsibilities are very similar to the ones she had as an intern.
“At Golin, your internship is basically a training period. So by the time you are hired on, work comes easy to you and you’re comfortable,” she said. “I think the transition from a college student to intern is more difficult than intern to a full-time employee.”
Easley said that her team helped her with the transition from student to professional and made her experience much more rewarding.
While Wolford and Easley were hired through their internship programs, other students can successfully be hired directly as a full-time employee. But for this to happen, employers tend to expect applicants to have completed multiple internships.
For example, Ellen Molina, a 2013 graduate of The University of Wisconsin-Madison, is now an account executive for Heron PR, a boutique public relations firm in Chicago that represents a variety of hospitality, restaurant and entertainment clientele. Prior to this position, Molina completed eight internships that allowed her to work in several fields within the communications industry, including an editorial intern for Madison Magazine and a reporting intern for NBC 15 in Madison. In May 2013, Molina accepted a position as an assistant account executive at Heron PR and was promoted to account executive a year later.
“Having a variety of experience and internships prepared me for a smooth transition from student to assistant account executive,” Molina said.
Wolford tells undergraduate students who seek a career in a public relations agency not to be lazy or expect opportunities to be handed to them.
“Work hard, put your name out there and say yes to every opportunity. Go out of your way to make your career happen. If you think you are doing too much, then you are probably almost doing just enough,” Wolford said.