Successful beginning: Career Guide 2011

Firsthand perspectives from Carmichael Lynch Spong intern Amber Fadok and New York director Lori Robinson verify the myriad mutual benefits of internships.

Firsthand perspectives from Carmichael Lynch Spong intern Amber Fadok and New York director Lori Robinson verify the myriad mutual benefits of internships.

Amber Fadok:
As a recent college graduate, I can relate to the challenge of the internship hunt. You pound the pavement, run to interviews, and just hope that offer comes soon. Once you finally get that internship, you begin envisioning the experience. As I've only just started with a PR firm, I often compare how I imagined the job and the reality of the position.

At Carmichael Lynch Spong, we work together on client teams to deliver the best results. “Achievement addicts,” as the firm calls its talent, are great resources to learn from, but it can be a challenge keeping up.

My typical day includes a vast array of tasks, ranging from simple administrative functions, such as sending media kits, to more complex jobs, such as assisting in event planning.

The more analytical tasks, such as building a media list and monitoring the media, can be daunting, but I find these jobs valuable when learning the basic PR processes regarding the media. More exciting tasks, such as sitting in on client calls, help build a framework of how the higher-level jobs operate. I keep in mind that whether the task is simple or complex, I'm making an impact on the firm's success and all assignments are vital.

I've already learned to appreciate what an internship can do for any aspiring PR pro's future:

A solid professional foundation. When starting out, view the industry as a series of college classes. The internship is the introduction course. It won't delve as deeply into certain topics, but higher-level concepts only make sense having taken that course.

Working knowledge of higher-level thinking and strategy. My experience in real-time application with clients brings to light an understanding of the line between theory and practicality. Following the step-by-step process of a media pitch or watching a campaign unfold teaches you lessons that only come from experience.

Understanding your roles and responsibilities. As an intern working under colleagues who have been on accounts for years, it can be intimidating finding your role and discerning others' expectations. You must communicate effectively with team members and rely on your supervisor for support.

Beyond these takeaways, I've also gleaned some general tips to maximize the value of an internship:

Go the extra mile. Dive in headfirst and do whatever it takes to get things done. The true test of potential as an employee can often be determined by how one handles smaller tasks as an intern.

Seize opportunities. Interns need to learn as much as possible. If I want to participate in a project or meeting, it is my responsibility to ask for that opportunity and get the most from it.

Ask questions, even if they seem obvious. It's part of learning the business. Tasks that might seem natural to a long-time staffer can be very unnatural as a new intern. Learn to ask “Why?” and “How?”

One day at a time. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Concentrating on the daily “to-do” list and not on everything on my plate keeps me from getting overwhelmed.

Lori Robinson:
When I landed that coveted internship years ago, it paid very little. However, what it lacked in pay, it made up for in experience. It was a partnership – I dived in and handled whatever project was given to me. I worked with strong PR pros who later became mentors. By tackling a range of projects, I got a solid introduction into the PR industry.

And, of course, the job became an impressive portfolio piece to showcase in my initial job hunt.

That trust and commitment from my first employer is something I try to emulate today when working with interns. It's something Carmichael Lynch Spong emphasizes in its program. When interns go on to their next jobs, they should have a solid grasp of the industry.

While it's easy to give interns the rote activities – media list development, compiling media clips – it is important to ensure they have a robust experience that will help them in their first entry-level job and beyond. Internships should be designed to help newcomers become well-rounded practitioners, who not only know how to get the job done – and get it done right – but can teach others to do the same.

They also need to see firsthand how all the nuts-and-bolts basics of PR impact the client's business, sway opinion to impact market leadership, and do all the critical things that help us form that crucial skill of counseling clients effectively.

Having been on both sides of the internship relationship, I've come up with three fundamental guidelines to help agencies make the most out of it:

Make interns part of the team. Let them participate on status calls, even if it's just to listen. Encourage them to take part in brainstorm sessions and identify opportunities to pitch media and engage with bloggers.

Find a specific project they can handle from beginning to end. In doing so, provide specific input on expected results. This gives them an opportunity to own a project, learn how to lead a task, and get used to working with other people communicating priorities and deadlines.

Provide mentoring and coaching from both the senior and junior levels. It is crucial to ensure they receive feedback from people with different levels of experience.

For the interns, my advice might seem simple, but it's not followed as often as it should be:

At the interview, ensure the internship will offer you a well-rounded experience. It should teach you all aspects of the job and bring a solid understanding of the industry. (Tip: it's not about people and parties.)

Be engaged. Participate, take on any task given you, and, of course, do the best job you can.

Ask questions. Speak up. Never be afraid to ask why, what if, and how does this impact the company's performance?

Communicate. Yes, it's up to you to share how the project is progressing and where you are experiencing roadblocks.

Think ahead. The intern who thinks in advance of how to move the project forward is the intern who shows how valuable he or she is to the team.

The more trust you give interns and the more you make them a part of the team, the more they will deliver. Everyone wants an internship to be successful. With the right attitude and a commitment of time and focus, you can groom interns into being the next employees of your agency.

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