By Heather Ebert
Internships serve various purposes for college students, including the opportunity to explore different career paths and network. The “holy grail” is to land a full-time job after graduation. This doesn’t always happen though, and for different reasons. Over the course of my college career at community college and then UNC Chapel Hill, I worked several internships to gain experience and network. But when I came to RLF Communications in the summer of 2015, things were different. I realized that I found a great company and a great place to launch my career in public relations. I spent the next year working diligently to become better at my craft and create a place for myself on the RLF team.
Within that year I went from intern, to part-time employee, to full-time Communications Manager. During the time I spent at RLF and my other internships, I picked up a few tips along the way for making the most of an internship and landing a job.
- Ask questions.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things you’re unsure of or have never heard of before. You don’t know everything, and that’s okay; your supervisor will understand that you are still learning and will need some help. When I was an intern, I didn’t know what RFP stood for, and while everyone in my office was throwing the acronym around, I was trying to figure out what it meant. I finally worked up the nerve to ask somebody and they happily responded, “Request for Proposal.” Even as a full-time employee, I have to ask questions and no one seems to bat an eye. This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when you shouldn’t try to figure things out on your own, because even if you don’t find the answer it’s a good way to show you are an independent thinker and don’t mind taking the initiative to solve a problem. Google cannot answer all of the questions you have though, so embrace your curiosity – most employers find this to be an attractive quality.
- Get to know your supervisor.
During an internship, it is important to get to know the people in charge and to also give them the opportunity to get to know you. I credit one of the main reasons I am still at RLF to my good relationship with CEO Monty Hagler, which I established early on in my internship. I was lucky enough to be on an account with him, which put me in a unique position compared to the other interns at the time. I used this to my advantage. I worked eagerly on my accounts, which showed him and others that I was excited about the work and was capable of doing it. I also sought him out for advice, spoke openly with him about my career goals, and when the time came, I expressed my interest in staying at RLF. This may be hard to do at a large agency or company, but even if it is your direct supervisor or their boss, you should make it one of your goals to get to know people in higher positions. Not only can this boost your chances for getting hired, but you’re also destined to develop good professional relationships that may pay off in other ways down the road.
- Work like an employee, not an intern.
In order for your company to consider you for a full-time position, your colleagues and supervisor have to believe you are capable of doing the work and that you fit into the workplace culture. This might mean staying late to finish a project if there is a tight deadline, being accessible when you’re out of the office and participating in workplace conversations and outings. At the end of the day, you have to work hard, be involved and show that you are excited about the work.
- Don’t turn down an assignment because it’s unfamiliar.
Valuable internships are designed to provide you with learning experiences that make you apply and expand on the skills you have already developed from college courses or other positions. This follows the same notion as the first takeaway on the list, which is to ask questions. As an intern, you are going to be tasked with assignments you have never done before, but don’t be intimidated. I learned to tackle these situations by being open to new opportunities and4 by asking questions. During my time as an intern at RLF, I took on a handful of assignments that I did not fully understand at the beginning, but because I wanted to learn and I asked questions, I generally met or exceeded expectations.
- Communicate with your supervisor about your workload and schedule.
Knowing how to communicate effectively is essential for my work, so this came naturally for me. However, it can get tricky when you work in an agency setting and report to several different people like I do. There were times when I was tasked with several projects at once and there was no way I could get them all done in one day; so, I had to make sure that each of my supervisors knew I was working on other assignments and that I discussed a reasonable deadline for each project. Without doing this, my supervisors may have wondered how I was spending my time. Good communication helps manage expectations and ultimately makes everyone’s lives easier.
Everyone has their own career journey, and looking backing its easy to see why things worked out a certain way. The five tips I shared are those reasons for me. In all, I firmly believe that as long as you work hard, show interest and get to know people, you’re sure to make it!