With hoards of students graduating every year, securing a work placement or internship is a must. In fact, I don’t think that’s stressed enough during education. Sure, you could graduate with a first class honors and land a very good graduate job. But without any experience beforehand, how do you even know what you’re getting into? Because you’ve read textbooks? That’s like reading a book about how to ride a bike and expecting to just be able to do it. The reality is, you need to practice and you need the experience.
Competition is fierce, so once you do nail down that dream placement, you want to make sure you’re making the most out of your time there, whether it’s a week or a month. I was lucky enough to land a fabulous internship with the lovely ladies at Avant PR and I’m going to give you my best tips for getting as much as you can out of your placement…
Do your research
First and foremost, you have to land an interview and once you have, please, please, please do your research. Apply for somewhere you really want to work (if you’re not very bothered it will be easy to suss out) and make sure you know all there is to know about the company and the work they do. It’s unlikely you’ll get asked to list every single thing they’ve ever achieved but you should always be able to discuss which campaigns or ideas you thought were successful and why you thought they worked. I know this sounds like a lot, but if you’re interested in the industry you’re applying to, it will be a doddle.
So you got to interview stage. Knowing what to wear to go in for the interview can be a tough one so try and find out what the standard is in your industry – if you’re applying for a law firm, a suit will probably be expected, fashion PR, not so much – and on your way out, do a quick scan of the room to check what everyone there is wearing (I’m a people watcher so this was just standard behaviour for me, but it helped.) This will really help with your first day wardrobe dilemma (assuming you get the role!) – you don’t want to turn up for your first day at the office in your jeans and a nice shirt if everyone else is going to be rocking a super-smart get up and equally you don’t want to arrive in your best pencil skirt and new pussybow blouse if everyone else is dressed in the season’s newest boots and oversized jumpers. If you’re still not sure, ask – email whoever it was you had an interview with and question the correct office attire. It might seem stupid, but in fact it probably shows that you want to fit in and be comfortable right from the word go. Example: when I did a placement at Manchester United, I emailed the (male) editor to ask what I should wear and I’m glad I did – black dress, tights and smart brogues = so NOT appropriate.
Before you arrive, email your boss or your company contact and double check if you need to take anything for your time there. Most companies will have computers or laptops available for you to use, but imagine if they didn’t and you were sat there all day with nothing to do? Usually for something this detrimental to your working day, you would be warned in advance, but it’s always best to check. Once you’re set up, map out your daily or weekly jobs and how you plan to accomplish them; being able to prioritise your workload is a great skill to have and it will come in handy when you’re given multiple tasks to complete. You want to go above and beyond, not scrape by doing the bare minimum, so think outside the box and pay attention to what kind of tasks can help your supervisors and colleagues. If you finish a task, ask for something else. Do not just sit there reading the Sidebar of Shame on the Daily Mail (although, in our industry that is genuinely a task we have to undertake!). Finally, this one is for the ladies, always bring a pair of flats. Yes, your new Zara boots (with a five inch heel) look amazing with that outfit, but you definitely won’t feel amazing after you’ve walked to and from the city centre Post Office with four heavy packages, believe me.
Ask questions (the right ones)
You don’t know everything, so don’t be afraid to ask questions – you’re there to learn and the only way to do that is by asking. What’s the point in doing a task you’re not 100% sure about, only to be told you’re completely off the mark once a colleague has checked it? With that in mind, however, you should always try and figure something out on your own. If it’s something simple that good old Google can help you with, there’s no reason to take up someone else’s time – it just looks like you couldn’t be bothered to find out yourself. Also, I’m not just talking work related questions; it’s always nice to get to know the people you’re working with. What’s their favourite part of the job? How did they get into the industry? You’ll find out some interesting stuff if you just ask.
Ask for feedback, take notes and listen
If you’re like me (and the rest of the Avant team), then you will always have a fabulous notepad with you. If you’re not, then make sure you get one, and always keep it with you to jot down everything, including daily tasks, instructions and feedback – yes technology is great but there’s nothing better than a good old hard copy, in case, god forbid, your Apple Mac breaks down. It can seem tempting (and easy) to nod eagerly in response, but actually listening is important. You should be taking your feedback into consideration and actively thinking of ways to improve.
Complete every task to the best of your ability
This, for me, is the most important thing to remember. It doesn’t matter if you’re packaging a pile of samples or inputting new data onto a spreadsheet. Every task should be taken on like it’s a privilege; it doesn’t matter if you don’t think it’s important, if you’ve been asked to do it then it obviously is important to your employer. How would they contact journalists about that great new product without the addresses that you’ve entered into that document? It doesn’t matter if you think it’s mundane or boring, you’re there to learn and get experience, which means you don’t always have the most glamorous of tasks at all times. So what? If you can’t put the correct label on a sample return then how are you ever going to be trusted to do anything more interesting? Remember, you’re the intern, not Beyoncé, and that’s okay: this is your time to put in the hard work. You want to be remembered for giving 110%.
– Emma Pearce, PR and Social Intern