Six Best Practices for New Interns (Besides Keeping the Coffee Pot Full)
By Andrew Woodcock
Congratulations! You just landed an internship at the PR agency of your dreams! What’s next? Besides scheduling a trip to the store for new clothes, office supplies and cubicle decorations, you’re going to want to prepare for the culture and environment of working in PR — especially if this is your first internship.
I started my first PR internship knowing very little about PR. And I truly mean very little. In college, I studied political science and Eastern European languages. I could explain to you the rationale behind the Warsaw Pact’s decision to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968, but if you asked me to draft a pitch note for a client, I’d just stare at you blankly before opening an incognito window to Google “how to write a pitch note.”
I learned a lot during my first internship — not only about the PR industry, but also about steps an intern can take to make the most out of their time. Even if you start out knowing virtually nothing about the industry (as I did), following these steps will help you to hit the ground running on your first day:
1) Dress for the job you want
These days, it seems that the workplace is getting less strict and more relaxed about what employees are allowed to wear. For example, wearing jeans in the office five years ago was a big no-no, but now it’s not uncommon to see jeans on everyone, from assistant account executives to senior vice presidents. Still, it’s better to overdress than to underdress. If you notice that your boss or supervisor dresses more formally, then you should match how they dress. Taking the extra time in the morning to look nice shows that you care about your job and enjoy where you work.
2) Take time to meet your colleagues
You’re going to be working with these people for the next four to six months. Don’t you think you should get to know them, so that they’re more than just an email address that gives you daily assignments? During the first couple weeks at your new internship, try to schedule meetings with the people you’ll be working with so you can introduce yourself, talk about what you expect from this internship, and get to know them as a person. If they like who you are as a person, they’ll naturally want to work with you more. People you’ll really want to meet are former interns: they have been in your shoes not long ago, and can share some good advice!
PR is all about communication. This applies not only to communication with clients, but also communication in the office among your coworkers. Make sure that you’re replying to your emails as soon as possible, in order to let your coworkers know that you read their message. It can be as simple as an “I got your note, I’ll get on this right away.” Update them with any progress or snags you hit along the way. Hitting “reply all” is also a good practice, so as none of your colleagues are in the dark as to what you’re doing.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions
A lot of interns are afraid to ask too many questions, fearing that they might be judged for seeming stupid or unprepared for a task. I can assure you that this is NOT the case! In fact, it shows your bosses that you’re thinking critically about the task, and are making sure that you want to get it done completely right. If you feel like you’ve already asked too many questions to your boss, go to a former intern; they’ve certainly done similar assignments during their time as an intern, and can point you toward the best methods and resources to get the job done.
5) Don’t be afraid to say no
This part might be the most difficult for an intern to be comfortable with. As a new intern, you’ll want to prove to everyone that you’re capable, dependable and hardworking. If a senior vice president emails you with a task to complete, it’s really difficult to say no, even if your plate is completely full for the rest of the day. Ask yourself though: is it a good idea to take on a task you know you won’t be able to complete to the best of your ability? The senior vice president isn’t going to be angry you’re too busy. Simply write back right away and explain you have too many urgent tasks to properly take on another. Ask your fellow interns if they have any free time for a new task; if they do, reply to that senior vice president with a solution: your fellow intern is free and is more than happy to take on that task!
6) Make your work clear, understandable and thorough
Employers look at interns to do the tasks that can’t be done by the employers themselves. They’re counting on you to do research, write reports, talk to reporters and more because they don’t have the time or ability to do so. That means everything you do must be very thorough, covering all possible bases. Doing research for a client? Use multiple sources (and check them! No fake news!). Pitching to a journalist? Write down the whos, whats, wheres and whens (don’t forget the time zones). Don’t just rely on Google; used advanced searches on social media platforms, scour websites, or ask someone for information. You want the final product to be easily understood and digestible, so that anyone can use it to consider next steps. Don’t be afraid to make some suggestions of your own, as well!
One final piece of advice: be confident and always do your best. It’s a cliché as old as time, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important! Make the most out of this internship; who knows, you might get hired at the end and be well on your way to becoming CEO before you know it.