Back when I was a Communications/English major (in the early ’80s; yes, I’m old) I did a single internship … and prospective employers were legitimately impressed. But these days, collegians pursuing a career in a core communications discipline (public relations, advertising, marketing), must do more. It’s actually common for recent grads to list three or four internships on their resumes.
Happily for the collegians in question, many communications-focused organizations — including Success Communications Group — offer internship opportunities. During the past decade, I’ve worked with dozens of interns, young people who studied public relations, journalism, English, advertising, political science, and many other fields. They represented higher education institutions big and small, public and private. And while these students grasped the importance of their internships, and usually had been briefed in advance by an academic advisor or professor, there were some essential and rather basic tips most were entirely unaware of.
So, in the interest of perhaps enlightening some current or future interns, consider the following:
1. Be a student … of your environment
If you do an internship closely related to your chosen field of study, you have an ongoing opportunity to rub elbows with professionals who are expert in doing what you hope to someday do. There’s no one else, anywhere, who can teach you as much — so be sure to listen. And not only when they speak directly to you. In a communications environment, there likely will be occasions when a dialogue or impromptu meeting occur in your vicinity — possibly right beside your desk. And even if you’re not directly involved, tune in so you can suck as much information as possible into your brain. Hear how these folks speak and what they say; listen to their tone, their vocabulary, the way they make a point. If you don’t — if you tune them out — you’re squandering an invaluable learning experience.
Oh, and don’t worry about listening in on a conversation. Trust me — communications professionals are extremely good at making sure secret, proprietary information remains unheard.
2. Show the whites of your eyes
People in public relations, advertising, and the like are incredibly busy. Their days are hectic, they’re under stress, and they must shift mental gears almost constantly. So … when they take even a few moments to share information with you, be fully engaged. Look them dead square in the eyeballs and pay attention as hard as you possibly can.
This is important for two reasons. First, you’ll learn stuff — which is pretty much the point of your internship. Second, they’ll appreciate your interest and will be more inclined to share additional bits of wisdom with you in the future. On the other hand, if you fail to make eye-contact and seem disinterested, their thinking will be along the lines of: “What is wrong with this kid? I don’t have time to waste — if he doesn’t care, neither do I.”
3. Smile … seriously
I’ll admit to being made uncomfortable by anyone who walks around grinning constantly. But here’s something else I find irritating: interns who look and act surly. When I see an intern wearing a dissatisfied frown, my sense — right or wrong — is that they’d much prefer to be somewhere else. In contrast, I truly enjoy working with an intern who’s upbeat and enthusiastic and gives me the impression they appreciate my input. And the best way to appear enthusiastic and appreciative is to smile.
And there’s a secondary factor to ponder. Most communications professionals work in team-based settings. They have colleagues with whom they regularly collaborate … and no one wants to work closely with someone whose attitude is negative. It’s deflating — so any intern who’s inclined to scowl is practically inviting communications professionals to steer clear. This is certainly counterproductive behavior … and it’s also worth noting that an intern who makes a supervisor or other staff members ill at ease is highly unlikely to conclude their internship with a positive recommendation, much less a job offer.