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The Internship: Your Competitive Edge

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You're considering career options in the communications field, and you're eager to learn what a public relations agency or corporate public relations internship entails what's in it for you; what's expected of you?

Maybe you're in a public relations major; maybe you're a liberal arts major. Maybe you know a lot about the public relations industry; maybe you don't. But you believe that a public relations career may be right for you. If this is the case, you're ready to reach for the first rung on the professional career ladder: the public relations internship.

Why Internships?

An internship is invaluable because it is the only way to combine both theory and practice. Public relations classes and textbooks are not the same as actual work experience in a firm. And an internship can help determine if a field is right for you, before you have to make any final career decisions.

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for organizations to find talented, hard working, capable, and intelligent people. And because fewer students are entering college, the shortage is becoming more acute. The "baby bust" is stiffening competition in all the professional services, such as law firms, accounting firms and the public relations agency business.

So, in a very real sense, the near term future brings with it the urgent need to capture, develop, and retain the best talent from a shrinking crop.

And if you step into the shoes of those of us charged with finding these best and brightest, you can quickly understand the importance we place on providing a mutually productive internship experience.

You've probably learned that all internships vary by length of time, duties, academic credit given, and even levels of intellectual challenge. Two facts are constant, however:
  • The experience is uniquely valuable in separating you from the graduating crowd with a vital first paragraph on your resume.

  • Qualified young people are becoming harder to find. Corporations and agencies are placing greater responsibilities on interns, and monitoring their performance more closely.
The first point is obvious. An internship can be a "jump start" for a career by differentiating you from the rest of the college graduates when applying for a job. Not only does it give you a competitive advantage over your peers, but it also prepares you for the "real world" different personalities, deadlines, corporate structures, pressure, bosses, etc.

The second point is less obvious. Some figures will illustrate:
  • In 1988, there were six million fewer teenagers than 10 years ago; it follows without challenge there will be six million fewer entry level job seekers in the '90s.

  • From a 1985 peak, the 25-34 year old age group has declined and will fall for the next two decades, from 23 percent to 17 percent of the total population.
Getting Your Internship

If you are interested in obtaining a public relations internship, check with the communications department or career development center at your school they can often provide information on companies which offer internship opportunities. In addition, public relations agencies often work directly with internship directors at universities to recruit interns. You can also do your own research by consulting industry directories that list public relations agencies across the country. Feel free to call an agency to ascertain the appropriate internship contact there.

Advice From learned more through osmosis than I ever thought possible!

"I had a comprehensive introduction to a field which I'm happy to find out I like. The accounts I worked on and the people I worked with made a significant contribution to my understanding of the field, and I learned so many tips, techniques, and procedures that will help me in years to come."

Keith Hughes, Vice President, Account Supervisor, Ketchum Public Relations; B.S., Hobart College; M.S., University of Georgia; intern, Creamer Dickson Basford, New York City.

"I wanted to accomplish two things to decide whether agency PR was what I really wanted and to go through a kind of extended job interview so I'd be better skilled at this in the future. At Creamer I had great client diversity publicity and community relations for Ocean Spray, Crest Toothpaste, A&P, a law firm and even ran a press conference. I also valued the critiques and coaching I got on my writing. But you have to take control. Ask them are they going to give you an organized program, with frequent performance checks? Or will you be used as just a 'gofer* as needed? That's a waste on both sides..."

Allison Goldberg, Senior Account Executive, The Churchill Group; B.S., magna cum laude, Boston University; intern, Fleishman Hillard Public Relations.

"It was unusually active, mostly sport public relations for Anheuser Busch. Heavy writing, pitching stories, and working directly with clients. I loved it. But the following year this happens in the agency business their business had leveled off and they weren't ready to hire full time. But it was an excellent introduction. I'd advise a student to look not only to large firms, but to small public relations firms for intern work. Odds are the variety of work will be even greater."

Susan Pagano, Manager of Media Relations, Ketchum Public Relations; B.S., Boston University; intern, Ketchum Public Relations.

"You're not in Kansas anymore. Your internship supervisors have work to do. So it helps to be perceived as curious, but not intrusive; to get to know the key people quickly memorize names and titles; to be a self started; to volunteer for work beyond what's on your desk. Just making the effort to help out makes a great impression."

Kathryn Baer, senior, Brigham Young University; intern, Ketchum Public Relations. "Because I worked on a variety of accounts, I saw many different public relations techniques implemented. I was fortunate to work on projects that involved the different stages of program development, implementation, and evaluation gathering primary research (performing surveys), implementing tactics (writing materials), and recording results (clippings). Throughout the internship, I tried to ask myself: "Why am I doing this? What will be the end result of this project? Where does it fit in relation to the whole plan?" I have been fortunate because the people I have worked with have done a good job of helping me understand how my work has fit into the bigger picture. "I feel best about the sense of confidence I acquired through my internship. I was able to apply what I have learned in school to real world situations. I feel prepared to enter the work force with a greater sense? of direction."
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