We have developed a guide to show you what to expect and what
to avoid from your internship.
Elizabeth Tinkler was considering a radio career until her
internship at a Boston radio station turned her away from it.
She was brought on staff as a "promotions intern," where she
thought she would help plan events, concerts, and contests. A
semester's worth of Saturdays, thousands of stickers, and one
state fair later, Tinkler realized that her true job
description meant handing out bumper stickers at local events
and gas stations. "Working on a Saturday, watching pigs race
at a state fair and handing out bumper stickers was not my
idea of career development," says Tinkler, 21.
But what should you expect from an internship? The
definition of an internship varies so widely that it's hard
to get a baseline for judgment. So we have developed a guide
to show you what to expect at the least-and what to
avoid-from your internship.
Anticipate some gerbil work
Like it or not, you will be the low person on the totem
pole. While you shouldn't be handing out bumper stickers all
summer, your boss is not going to give you the company's
largest account to handle. An internship lies somewhere in
between, says Tinkler. "You're going to be spending a lot of
time in the mailroom no matter what kind of internship you
do." While some interns might disagree with Tinkler, all
internships usually involve some gerbil work-whether it's
data entry, filing, or scheduling appointments for your boss,
it's coming your way.
However, interns should be given real responsibility
when the gerbil work is done, says Jay Allen, an intern at
Ketchum Public Relations in New York. Allen, who is working
for the agency's health care division, works hands-on with
two accounts, including a campaign called "Have a Heart" in
which celebrities raise awareness of high blood pressure.
Allen says he has already gained experience juggling accounts
and practicing time management skills, which, he says, has
largely come from the hands-on responsibilities he's been
given. In an average day, his duties range from pitching
stories to journalists to helping with organizing Ketchum
events. Nancy Waclawek, who coordinates the internship
program for The St. Petersburg Times in Florida,
agrees with Allen. "You should, at a bare minimum, be given
real work to do," says Waclawek.
Expect to be proactive
Tinkler, who now interns at Mullen Public Relations and
Smash Advertising, both near Boston, says that she wasn't
given real work right away-she had to ask for it. "I'm going
up to anyone-whether it's the president of the company or
someone else-and saying, 'Give me work to do!'" Her boldness
paid off: she's now writing radio scripts and doing other
copywriting. And she says she's getting much more out of the
experience. Be sure, however, to initially ask your direct
supervisor for work. Don't go over too many heads to get an
Match your personality to it
There are plenty of internships out there. Don't settle
for one that doesn't match your personality. "I have a few
friends who are working for companies that are very stuffy,
and they just don't fit in," says Allen. "Think about
matching your personality with the environment to find the
best fit." Waclawek calls this looking for a "friendly"
company-one with a well-organized internship program, a staff
ready to train you, and other perks such as assistance in
finding a summer apartment.
Your first internship may be your first chance to see
how your classroom learning applies to the real world.
Capitalize on this, says Allen, who is completing his second
internship. "An internship is the best way to evaluate what
you've learned in school and what you need to learn more of,"
he says. "If you can walk away with that, it's worth your
time." Expect to start evaluating your job prospects, too,
says Daisey Harris, coordinator for the internship program at
The Boston Globe. Harris says some students who start
out reporting for the paper discover they like editing
better, and vice versa. Some design interns have switched to
photography. And at least one has given up on the newspaper
Your internship should compensate you somehow-whether by
a paycheck, stipend, housing subsidies, class credit, or
other perks, a company should give you more than just its
name on your resume in exchange for your work. Brooks
recommends finding a paid internship. "Don't take a job
unless they're putting money behind it by paying or training
you well," Brooks says. "I know I have to get a lot out of
our interns because their salaries are coming out of my
budget." Look for the green to find the companies that are
serious about interns, she says.
Expect to make contacts
Interning should at least be a foothold in the industry
you work in. To ensure this, make contacts of your coworkers,
says Tinkler. Ask questions, find out how they got to where
they are, and find out who they know in the industry. It
could just land you a job. In addition, Tinkler says, keep
your eyes open during the course of your internship. "You'll
get to see what other people are doing," she says. "Pay
attention, because that's going to be you in a couple of