Ah, the internship – one of the things I recommend for students in any field, but especially in the broad and vague fields of mass communications and marketing. Not only will you learn some valuable basic business skills, but having an internship gives you an inside peak into the industry where you may be spending THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Ok, sorry.
You already know you won’t be in college forever (“hopefully,” says Mom), so as a Junior or Senior I encourage you to do at least one internship in your field. I recommend this to you as a former intern and now as an intern mentor. So here’s my advice to make the most of your internship as you prepare to enter the real world.
Determine expectations and structure up front.
Is the internship paid and/or for credit? How many hours are expected of you? What will your duties be in this internship position? This will be determined through what information you share with your internship employer based on what the school expects (for credit, for instance), but also what the needs are of the business and the internship position.
Communicate what goals you want to achieve.
Beyond what is required to satisfy your school assignment, what do you want to learn? What are some things you would like to see first-hand, or be a part of, as the intern? At an agency, this can be a campaign brainstorm, client meetings, proposal writing, account planning, web design, PR pitching, etc. If your intern supervisor is a good one, they will work with you to ensure you get everything out of your internship that you’d like, and more. And if you don’t know what to ask for upfront, that’s OK. This can be an on-going conversation and as you see opportunities, ask to be included. Most of the time, people will say “Yes!”
Understand assignments clearly.
Once you are off and running, you will start to get tasks and projects assigned to you. Just like in school, be sure to understand clearly what’s expected, how it should be delivered and what the deadline is. Ask questions to ensure all of this information is given to you up front when you receive the assignment. Clarity will lead to success.
We know you are busy and school is your priority. But at all cost, be on time for work. This is just a good life skill to master (Heaven knows I’m still working on this one). This is the first step in showing the team that you are dependable. Beyond just being on time, ultimately, people want to know they can count on you when given an assignment or project. Even if it seems like a small task, your role is part of the bigger effort and every part needs to be executed with excellence.
Communicate the status of projects.
This is an extension of being dependable. As an intern, you are not usually spending all day, every day at work. You’ll only have so many hours and so many days of the week to dedicate to your internship. And then you may need to change it around from time to time with school projects, finals, holidays and breaks, etc. So because of this, it’s imperative that your supervisor knows where you leave your projects at the end of each day. This includes the status of the project, if you’re waiting on anything, if someone else needs to do something before you can move forward, where the files or paperwork are located, etc. Leave every day with your projects and notes in order.
Follow client meeting etiquette.
As an intern, you may have the opportunity to sit in on a client meeting. This could be an external client for an agency, or if it’s an internal marketing department, the “client” could be the executive of another department. When in this situation, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Look presentable: You may not need to wear a suit, but look professional and match the tone of the meeting
- Bring a pad and pen: Help the meeting facilitator take notes. For the extra mile, type them up and provide them to include in the official meeting recap.
- Be engaged: Sit up straight. Eyes open. Nod your head. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t look at your phone. In fact, don’t even bring in your phone!
- Don’t say anything unless asked: Ok, I know this sounds bad. But just trust me.
Ask questions! About the project. About the business. About other stuff you can work on. Ask about how your seemingly meaningless task plays into the big picture – it may surprise you. Sometimes as intern supervisors, we get so busy with cranking out the work that we become poor teachers. But remind us that you don’t know how all of this works just yet, and we will be happy to explain.
So get out there. See agency life first-hand. Try an internal communications department for a corporation. Job shadow at a non-profit marketing department. Be a part of the fun, the work, the nitty gritty. Be exposed to things you love that you didn’t expect to and to things you hate that you thought you would love. It’s all part of your professional journey. Good luck!