Congratulations, you’ve landed your first PR internship! Now what? I spent the last six months as an intern with San Diego’s most storied PR agency, Nuffer Smith Tucker, leaving me with a fantastic experience complete with “ah-ha” lightbulb moments and many lessons learned.
Here are a few of the key lessons I took away in the spirit of helping those of you just starting out to get the most from your PR internship.
1. Ask questions (a lot)
The goal of an internship is to provide you with comprehensive, hands-on public relations experience in a professional working environment. You’re there to learn and become a better public relations professional. That takes asking every question you have and not being afraid of asking them. You are not an expert and you are expected to ask lots of questions – even the odd ones.
So, ask away! And don’t wait. I’m the kind of person who likes to do her own research before asking a question. During my internship, I often fell into the trap of digging too hard and for too long to try to figure something out on my own, instead of just asking. I found that when I simply asked the question up front, I saved myself time and stress. Doing your own research should take you less than 10 minutes. If you feel like your own research is taking too long, or will take more time than expected, ask the question. Time is precious. Don’t waste it.
The trick with asking questions is to make sure they are informed. The better informed your questions are, the better answers you are likely to get. In framing your question, try to share what knowledge or understanding you already have on the topic and provide as much context for your question as possible. Think about asking the smartest questions you can, to efficiently get the information you need, and to position yourself as smart and tuned in.
2. Have an effective system for taking notes
Your first day or even first week on the job is going to be like drinking from a firehose. The information will come fast and furious, so be ready to capture it all with an effective system for taking notes that works for you.
When I started my internship with NST, I thought rambling my notes into a notepad was going to work for me. It didn’t. My handwriting tends to get very messy when I try to listen to instructions and write at the same time. When I looked back at my handwritten notes, I could hardly understand what I had written, which made it difficult to tackle the task at hand. Thankfully, my internship coordinator introduced me to Microsoft OneNote and wow, did it change my note taking abilities for the better. I found typing notes worked better than handwriting them. I spent time exploring the ins and outs of OneNote and developed a note taking system that played to my strengths and my work style.
Before you start your internship, consider how you will capture all the things you’re learning on the job. Consider what note taking system you will use, and how you might need to adapt it for the job at hand. Giving this a little bit of forethought and coming to your first day ready to go will ensure you don’t miss a beat when those information floodgates open up.
3. Manage your time wisely
To get the most out of your internship, it’s vital that you are responsible with your time on two fronts: getting the most out of the time that you have and providing value in the time that you spend. These are actually two very different goals, but time management will help you with both.
Your internship is a set amount of time, typically three to six months. In that period, you want to get the very most out of the time you have with the company you’re working for. This is your moment. Don’t waste a second of it! If there are things you want to fit in or not miss out on doing in your time with the company, speak up and tell them. Take some time before you start your internship to really think about what those things might be. Create a list of these “must do” activities or experiences and then post them somewhere you can see them. Check in with yourself throughout your internship to make sure you’ve made time for those activities.
If you’re doing your internship with an agency, you will probably have to learn a new system for tracking and capturing the time you spend on the job. This might be the first time in your life you’ve been asked to track your “billable time” by fifteen-minute increments. This can be daunting. When I started, I found myself worried I was spending too much time on certain activities and wasn’t sure what was expected of me. The lesson learned is to think about the value you are providing with each activity you take on and have a good idea of how long it should take to deliver that value. When given an assignment, ask upfront about the expectation of how many hours a project or task like this should take. If something is taking you longer than expected, a quick note to check in with your internship manager could be useful. Focusing on the value you’re delivering is important in helping you to prioritize actions that drive results verses busy work to just fill time.
4. Build authentic relationships with your team
If you’re lucky enough to work with a fun, caring, passionate and welcoming family of professionals, like the team at NST, take advantage of that opportunity and build genuine relationships with your team.
The public relations industry is a small world. It seems like everyone knows each other, and professional paths are tightly intertwined. It’s okay to make friends with people on your team, and the lesson learned is that it will make your experience far more meaningful and enjoyable if you do. So, don’t hesitate. Start your very first day with the goal of authentically connecting with your new coworkers.
Start by setting one-on-one meetings on your coworkers’ calendars. Take this time to reach out to the people at the company and introduce yourself. Learn about how they got where they are and ask them what they wished they knew when they were starting out. Find ways to continue to check-in with people, ask questions, and share experiences.
Due to the work-from-home situation, I didn’t get to physically be around every person on my team to get to know them in-person, so I had to work even harder to connect with team members. If you’re working remotely for your internship be purposeful about ways to connect with the goal of really getting to know the people you are working with. These are meaningful relationships that can make a big difference in your career and life. If you start by investing in building good relationships with your team as an intern, you will leave your internship with something far more valuable than simple work experience. You will have a strong network of friends and role-models that can last a lifetime.
No matter what public relations agency or in-house PR internship you may take on, consider these lessons learned, and go into your new role with a good attitude, an open mind and an excitement for all you’re sure to learn.