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Don’t Forget: Nice Suit, Clean Resume & Plenty of Internships!

November 22nd, 2004

Full Frontal PR Report
Kate Walsh

The importance of internships, particularly in Public Relations, has grown enormously for college students. While internships have always played a valuable role in preparing college students for their careers, they have become an absolute necessity over the past few years. Just a few years ago, a coworker of mine held only a single internship during his entire college career. He viewed it as a desirable—but not mandatory—addition to his resume. Since then, internships have gone from strongly recommended to absolutely vital.

I graduated from Fairfield University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications this past May along with hundreds of other Communications majors. With thousands of college graduates creating fierce competition for a few positions, it is absolutely vital that you distinguish yourself from the competition. Also, it’s difficult to break into PR unless you have internships on your resume.

I held two internships during college and added another one immediately following graduation. My first was at News 12 New Jersey, where I helped to produce the show “Jersey’s Talking,” with host Lee Leonard. Researching biographies of guests to appear on the show was just the beginning of my relationship with them; I was also the one to greet them once they arrived at the station.

My second internship was a terrific experience! Building on the skills gained from my first internship, I worked at Special Olympics of Southern Connecticut during my senior year. I took part in the planning and execution of major fundraising events such as the Penguin Plunge during which 500 participants, clad only in bathing suits, jumped into the icy March waters of the Long Island Sound to raise money for Special Olympics. I got a true feel for a PR executive’s real responsibilities, writing press releases and media alerts and being immersed in the whole process.

My last internship followed graduation, and was by far the most helpful. I interned at Peppercom PR, where I worked with Fortune 500 clients daily. My responsibilities included pitching, writing press releases, writing media alerts and conducting pertinent industry and trend research for clients—duties I touched on at Special Olympics. I got to know PR from an internal perspective and took on the responsibilities of an entry-level PR executive. Upon completion of the internship, I found myself well prepared to work at RLM!

Tips for Choosing a Public Relations Internship
The size and culture of the company are some basic considerations to keep in mind when looking for a Public Relations internship. Often, if you intern at a small Public Relations agency, you will be given more responsibility than if you intern at a larger one.

In considering the organization’s culture, it isn’t always easy to get a clear picture during an hour-long interview, but it is usually the only opportunity you will have. During the interview, take mental notes of key cultural aspects such as how people dress, the way people interact with one another, the layout of the office and how your boss-to-be treats you. Ask lots of pertinent and need-to-know questions. Be sure to learn how you can maximize your contribution so that you can build on past experience. And be sure to read the company’s Web site!

The Devil’s in the Details
College internships generally offer two forms of compensation: college credit or cold hard cash. There is the occasional internship that offers experience only, but if you accept one of these speak to your academic department head to see if you can at least negotiate a little credit.

Whatever the rewards, it is important to do your best when interning. Since you will be evaluated at different times by different people you will want to make a good impression on someone who might be a future employer—or future ‘recommender’—and so you will want to leave a great impression for the foreseeable and long-term future!

It is equally necessary to take on more responsibility than just what you are told. For example, if you want to pitch more, let your supervisor know it—show how you can help out in additional ways. At Special Olympics, I wanted to talk to more groups about the importance of volunteering for this worthwhile organization. As a direct result of this discussion, I got a chance to speak to groups ranging from an all-boys prep junior high school to a grouping of restaurant owners. Asking for more responsibility shows that you are indeed motivated and eager to learn.

Lastly, make sure that you gain all the experience possible and build on previous experiences too. Your resume will look great, your first career position after college will come a lot faster, and you’ll know more than the other entry-level folks.

The key to getting your first great job in PR is setting yourself apart from the masses. Internships achieve that. These can be interesting, fun, and given the real-time exposure you get to the PR world, invaluable. There are plenty of ways to find an internship. Talk to your professors, visit a career center, or go to your school’s career center Web site. (Not in school? Call an agency you admire or e-mail them with the request to interview for intern positions.)

With all that under your proverbial belt, not only will you gain great experience and be ahead of the crowd, you will also be so much better prepared to embark on the career of your dreams!

Kate Walsh is an assistant account executive at RLM who goes above and beyond every day on behalf of her clients and her colleagues!