Internships can be horrible experiences or the best professional experience of your life. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few in my life that were definitely worth my time. They contributed to my career development and ultimately shaped how I view the professional world. For me, two main benefits existed with taking on internships. First, they helped shape how I interacted with others and helped me learn more about myself. Second, internships helped solidify some of the skills that are pertinent to survival in the field of Public Relations and Marketing.
Let’s take my first internship, for example. I was an advocacy intern with Word Made Flesh back in 2008. This organization is a non-profit in Omaha, Nebraska that advocates for human rights issues in underdeveloped countries. My responsibilities were to help promote events through social media, direct mail distribution, marketing research and occasionally curating slideshow presentations. I also got to do a few iMovie presentations and nerd out on Social Media promotion software. This was my introduction to non-profit marketing and social media projects. And although I was only there a few months, it was a confirmation for me that I enjoyed working for an organization with a worthy mission.
My second internship was a little bit more work and responsibility as the Grants & Family Foundations intern with The Salvation Army. For six months, I was able to do a little more writing for both Public Relations and fundraising efforts which made this internship even more exciting and worth it. Again, in a non-profit environment, I was able to learn more than what was expected on the job description. This included learning the ins & outs of creating grant proposals and event planning for a large non-profit organization. Not to mention, the most valuable experience was developing relationships with the staff and learning from their professional experiences. Working here showed me the importance of not as much what you know, but who you know. And in this field, you’ve got to be confident in your abilities, but more importantly, confident in your ability to build relationships with the right people.
Those were the only internships I had during undergrad. It was post-graduation that I had some of the most challenging internship experiences. Now challenging doesn’t mean it was a nightmare, it means that I had a lot to learn and that expectations were high. Following graduation, I landed at the Greater Omaha Chamber as a Community Development intern. I spent two years here, so there’s a lot I could write but I will save that for another post. For now I will just summarize a few learning curves I had. Some of which include, staying dedicated to your projects from start to finish; asking questions; taking initiative; and no matter what, remaining confident in your abilities.
The best advice my boss ever gave me was to learn how to say no. She knew that I would be proposed with lots of invites and opportunities and this was very true at a place like the Chamber. An organization where lots of businesses and perks were involved, I found it hard to turn down professional development and networking events. I was so excited to say yes because I felt like this would help me get more involved in the community and make more connections. After all, getting a full-time job in communications is ALL about connections. And let me tell you that I met so many people! I made a lot of new friends and gained real world experience that I couldn’t experience anywhere else. While I spent two years there, I also had about 3 other internships. My first was with the Omaha Young Professionals, the second was with Quantum Workplace and the third with Bloom.com. But again, I will save those for another post!
The final note is that no matter how many internships you have had, you’ve got to do yourself a favor and give it your all! If you slack off or wait for projects to fall in your lap, you will not get the best experiences. Now keep in mind, if you are taking initiative and no one is giving you the leadership and professional experience you deserve, then it is time to leave. My other piece of advice is to not burn bridges and cherish the relationships you made. You never know when one of those connections can lead to another job or internship. It definitely worked for me!