As the owner of PR agency Marvellous Communications, I am inundated with CVs and applications for internships on a daily basis. Many of the candidates are right at the start of their career journey, looking to get their first foot in the door. This is perhaps the most important time for anyone looking to make it in his or her chosen industry, as every move you make will be scrutinised. However, this can be a positive thing as hard work is rewarded, and once you've completed an internship there could be a full-time job at the end. With that in mind, here are my top ten tips for securing an internship, and then making the most of the opportunity.
How to get one
1. Clean up your CV
Whether you are a recent school or university leaver or just seeking a complete change in career path, all agencies will appreciate that you're not yet an expert in the field of PR that you are applying for. Your CV is a snapshot of your educational and work experience to date. Whilst you might not have anything that directly relates to PR the key tactic is to highlight specific achievements and identify how those attained skills are transferable to PR. Your CV needs to be concise, punchy and ooze enthusiasm. PR involves pitching potential feature ideas to journalists; your CV is the first opportunity to pitch yourself to employers.
2. Clean up your social media profiles - urgently!
Most people like to have a good time at the weekend and on their holidays, but employers (no matter how fun and liberal they might seem) want to see shameful photos of you plastered across the Internet. Go through all of your personal social media profiles and make sure that they accurately represent you for the fun-loving person you are, without baring all. Social networking sites are one of the first places employers will look after they have seen your CV, so beware.
3. Familiarise yourself with the agency, their clients and their company ethos
Whether you are applying for work experience or a full time job, your chosen company always has the opportunity to quiz you on their client base and might even ask you which campaign of theirs was your favourite. Do not get caught off guard. Most company websites might have very little information available but if they do have any it is your responsibility to get clued up on it. Adequate preparation will not only calm your nerves for the interview, it will also show the recruiter that you are enthusiastic and serious about working for them.
4. Follow up and be proactive
Contacting a company that you are really keen to work for can be a daunting process, but remember organisations are inundated with applications for work experience on a daily basis. Sometimes they might need reminding of who you are. If you have not heard a reply for up to 2 days after you have sent in your documents, give the company a call to find out if they have received it and when they expect they'll be able to get back to you. Keep your tone positive and friendly and the person within the HR department will be willing to chase it up for you. Being proactive and following up again translates to enthusiasm.
5. Practise your interview skills
Some people will have had significant work experience and so will have been to numerous interviews, whereas others might have not been employed at all. Whichever category you fall into interview practise is crucial. Have a friend or family member go through competency questions with you well in advance of the interview. This will allow you to develop a clear strategy when answering the questions and not get flustered or go off topic because of nerves. The key is to be clear, concise and calm and these things are only achievable with adequate preparation.
How to make it count
1. Be available, be indispensable and always try to say yes
Enthusiasm and efficiency do pay off and interns with the right attitude will be considered for a position more seriously than those who either a) assume they know it all or b) simply do as they are told. There will definitely be a lot of office management tasks (yes making tea) or smaller jobs that might not permit you to demonstrate your creative potential. However, recognising that all tasks are instrumental to a team objective - and carrying them out with a smile - will earn you trust from your co-workers. This means that eventually they will delegate tasks that will allow you to showcase your talents and skills. Organise and complete your tasks as efficiently as possible so that you are always available for the next job.
2. Get involved
Nearly all agency staff will have completed an internship and so will fully understand that coming into an organisation as work experience is daunting. Try not to be overwhelmed but instead embrace the excitement of meeting teams of new people. Once you feel more settled do chip in with conversations, however, before chipping in, get to know the company, how it works and the personalities. Most employers appreciate suggestions for improvements or how to do tasks better, but remember to get to know the company, see how it works as well as getting to know how (or if) you should approach the person. Everyone is different so different approaches work for different people. If the suggestion is rejected don't insist - sometimes the staff have a reason or preferred way that they won't want challenged. If your colleagues invite you out for lunch or social events outside of work always say yes. Whilst you might be performing your tasks excellently, it is important that your team can see that you will be a fun addition to the organisation. PR can involve long hours and high pressure - it is imperative that amongst all of this the team enjoys working with each other.
3. Stay focused
One of the key requirements for a work placement is to stay focused and concentrate on all tasks allocated to you. This means striking a balance between asking relevant, appropriate questions and also finding the solutions for yourself. If your team has trusted you with a fairly important job it means that you have demonstrated some good skills, so make sure that you fully understand what is being asked of you and ensure that you keep on top of it. This is where you will be tested on your ability to prioritise tasks effectively, and complete them to a high standard.
4. Be flexible
Everyone has their own approach when it comes to their personal and professional life. However, when you enter a work experience placement your manager might have a completely different way of doing things. This is your opportunity to show your ability to be flexible, which is vital when working within a team. As you will find out PR is a highly pressured discipline with tight deadlines. If you have established a daily routine and your manager needs you to assist with an emergency meeting, go back to your schedule and rearrange your to do list. This will demonstrate that you are supportive - which is key for PR.
5. Be positive
There will be moments in your placement that you might not be doing the most glamorous jobs, and at the start it might be difficult when you barely know anyone at all. The key: stay positive! Even if you are not directly engaged in conversation with someone, always smile and look approachable. Your team will remember someone who was always happy and fun to be around and this will work in your favour when the time comes for the company to assess your suitability for a long term role.
These tips have been collated over my fifteen-year career in PR, working at agencies such as Freud's and Halpern for brands such as Westfield, Disney and Nike. Wherever you go, ensure that you follow these tips and you're sure to land your dream PR job in no time.