Making the Most of Your PR Internship: A Field Guide for Quality Experience in the Workplace

Long gone are the days where interns made coffee-runs and spent quality time with the copier. Maybe that was just in the movies? Either way, interns are now seeking (and achieving!) valuable first-hand experience in their desired career field. But the competition is stiff for those internships that turn into long-term positions. As a firm that values our interns and our internship program, there are a few things we’ve noticed that sets certain candidates apart. Let this serve as a field guide for you to gain quality experience in the workplace and gain a better understanding of your desired career-track.

Be a Self-Starter

One thing we always look for in our interns and entry-level staff is ambition. Candidates who show ambition and excitement in interviews often receive our offers first. The most successful (and reliable) interns maintain this attitude throughout the entirety of the program.

Ambition can be shown in a variety of ways. The most common things we see in our ambitious interns is: being eager to contribute ideas, offering to help on assignments, taking initiative on a project, making deadlines consistently and having a positive attitude. This attitude and behavior lets your team and supervisors know that you are a hard worker and have a passion for the job. These qualities are highly attractive for a future job candidate.

Be a Sponge

This might be the simplest thing you can do at your internship. When you begin your internship, it’s important to listen and absorb as much information as possible. Though it is great to learn about how the job is done, it is equally important to learn about workplace etiquette and other functions of the job outside your field of study.

Pay attention to what time people come to the office, or when they leave. Understand why certain deadlines are set. Make note of the dress code. Analyze the tracked changes to written materials. Observe interpersonal communication and body language with clients or in team meetings. All of these things (and more) will not only inform you on how the job is done, but about office culture as well. And it will serve you well when you take on your first job!

Get in the Trenches

Here’s where programs have changed from when interns were just doing mindless chores. Though it may seem that some tasks aren’t as vital to the operations, tasks given to interns have a role to play in the day-to-day office function. Something we appreciated from our past interns is that they got in the trenches.

This goes back to taking initiative and offering help. Really take the time to understand both the day-to-day functions and the overall strategy for these tasks. You can do this by sitting in meetings with clients, listening to the brainstorm sessions for new business pitches and reading  popular PR blogs and newsletters.

More than anything, be present. As an intern it can be scary or intimidating to offer your own ideas or contribute to the conversation with experienced professionals. But your inexperience allows you to offer a fresh perspective. Do your research and think critically about the problems or strategies in play. Don’t be afraid to contribute.

Be Nimble

PR is a rapidly changing industry. As communicators and media-partners we are constantly having to shift and adjust to the landscape. From C-suite to frontline staff, we all have to be flexible.

In some situations we’ve had to change venues, shift deadlines and make adjustments to our strategy—in one case because the Vice President of the United States actually landed in the same town and at the same time as our event. Talk about a curveball. It’s important to have Plan B’s (and C’s and D’s for that matter) and be ready to employ them. If you’re alert, informed and have that positive attitude, you’ll do just fine.

In addition to this short list, there are many other things you can do to be a highly successful and functional intern. Remember to use what you learn in the classroom to inform how you operate at the office, and take the lessons from the field and use them to better your studies. It’s a unique opportunity to be able to learn in the classroom and the field at the same time. Make sure you’re making the most of each situation.  

This blog was written by Alexis Janney, Sr. Account Executive at GreenSmith PR. Alexis is a communication strategist, account manager and partnership-builder. She also supervises entry-level staff and interns at GreenSmith. She has a master’s in Strategic Communication from American University.