By: Sarah Lacey, Manager, Public Relations & Digital Strategy
I still reference things I learned in my internships, almost a decade later. Since graduating from college, I’ve had jobs I’ve loved and worked with amazing people, I also put in the time and effort to earn my Master’s Degree. Above all though, my experiences as an intern (while certainly trying and tedious at times), have really been some of the most beneficial to my career.
Before I graduated from college, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career. I majored in Art History and minored in Political Science – so I was a little all over the place! One summer, I split my time between two unpaid internships; one at an art gallery and another at the District Attorney’s office. These internships helped me to hone in on what I really enjoyed doing. For instance, at the art gallery, I was able to start some public relations and social media efforts on their behalf and really enjoyed it.
After college I moved to Washington, DC for my first Communications (PR & Social Media) Internship at The Peace Corps. While it was unpaid, I had valuable experiences and was exposed to so much. Meanwhile, I was also job searching. Going on interviews made me realize how valuable my experience as an intern really was (even if it was “just an internship” and unpaid).
I still keep in touch with the friends and colleagues that I was fortunate to intern with at the art gallery, the District Attorney’s office, The Peace Corps, Vanguard Communications, and Edelman Public Relations. While I know I was helping them get a lot done, I am so grateful that they all gave me the opportunity to work with and learn from them. There really is nothing like hands-on experience and just being thrown in to a working environment.
Here are my tips for making the most out of your internship for years to come:
1) Listen. Learn. Ask Questions. Listen and absorb as much as you can. If you’re particularly interested in a project or an account, ask if the team would mind you shadowing them in a meeting. If you want to learn more about something – ask! There really is no such thing as a silly question and you should try to gather as much knowledge as you can! Ask the team what tools they use, how they organize themselves, etc.
2) Keep a running list of everything you’re doing. Most interns have tasks and projects thrown at them from multiple directions. Chances are you’ll be doing so much and getting to help out on so many different things, you might forget some of it. At the end of each day, make a little list of everything you’ve worked on. The list will make for a great talking point for a job interview!
3) Prove You Want to Be There. Asking questions and networking (Tip #4) definitely helps! Really try to get to know the company / accounts as much as possible. Create a short list of ideas that you have that the company could possibly implement. Get your work done well and in a timely manner and try to go the extra mile on projects – this will go a long way when it comes to asking for letters of recommendation / references.
4) Network. Get to know as many people as you can if the office. Maybe there won’t be an open job opportunity for you after your internship, but check out the LinkedIn pages of people you’re interning with (even others at the company) and if you’re interested in their path, other places they’ve worked or just getting some career advice from them, ask them to coffee! So many people are willing to help those up and coming in their industry!
5) Ask for a Letter of Recommendation & Keep in Touch. Having a great letter of recommendation or being able to list a professional in your field of interest as a reference on your resume is huge! I would recommend listing your references with their title and place of work on your resume with their contact information. Don’t be afraid to ask for a short letter of recommendation (just an email!) – if you’ve done a good job at your internship, people are more than happy to help you out!