For many college students and recent college graduates with PR degrees, the idea of an internship seems as appealing as spending Friday night with grandma at bingo night: there are a number of other places you’d rather be. The idea of brewing coffee, making copies and maybe doing a little bit of PR work — and doing it all with little to no compensation — is unappealing compared to spending the summer with your friends. However, I can personally tell you that an internship is one of the most important things you can do in your college career.
This past April, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that employers will increase internship hires by 9 percent in 2011. Furthermore, employers will draw approximately 40 percent of new college hires from their interns. Clearly, more companies are realizing the importance of having interns, yet college students still seem to lack the understanding of how important internships are. Some of the top questions asked are:
- How can an internship be more valuable than what I’m learning in school?
- How many internships should I have? Is one enough?
- What factors should I consider when searching for internships?
With these questions in mind, here are my three (3) tips to students and recent grads concerning internships in the PR industry.
1) Experience in an actual work environment trumps what you learn in the classroom
I’m sure if any of my college professors read the above statement, they would wring my neck, but it is true. As I have learned through my internship with BLASTmedia and other internships, employers are more interested in what experience you bring to the table than the A you got in COM 303. For many employers, internships demonstrate that you can do the work expected of an entry-level job, and the more impressive the internship experience, the better your chances of getting that first gig. Moreover, if you play your cards right and intern each summer through college, your chances of getting a decent entry-level job are much better.
2) As with ice cream, more is better — but the quality better be good
In many college PR programs, internships are not a requirement but are highly recommended. Many advisors and career centers claim that one or two internships seems to be a sufficient number. However, in my experience, I have found that it is not the number of internships, but the quality of work you do in those internships, that is more important. You could do five different internships throughout college, but if you have nothing to present in your portfolio to potential employers, it means nothing.
3) Internships are like dating: if you can’t be yourself, then it isn’t worth it
There are internships out there that seem like great opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to spend the summer white water rafting in Colorado? (Yes, there is an actual internship for that) However, these types of internships are what I call “fluff internships” — they are more pop and fizzle than actual experience. Remember: you want to gain as much experience as you can and if an internship isn’t in your direct field of study and does not allow you to showcase your abilities, then it probably is not the best fit.
One final piece of advice I would offer are the same words Jim Valvano famously uttered at the ESPY Awards in 1993: Don’t give up. I know that there is a lot of competition for internships right now and it is easy to get discouraged. The summer after my junior year, I applied for 20 internships…and was rejected 20 times. But I can tell you that if you continue to persevere and keep getting your name out there, eventually you will succeed, and hopefully your experience will be as great as mine has been at BLASTmedia.