Internships: It’s up to you

I was at a monthly PRSA meeting, and the conversation at my table turned to internships. Several people were concerned that Gen Y just didn’t get the value of an internship. Some had interviewed potential candidates, only to find students unmotivated to do the work, or uninterested because the position was unpaid.

Wikipedia describes an intern as “one who works in a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training rather than merely employment.” An internship is a time for learning, listening, engaging and reflecting.

In a newsroom atmosphere or fast-paced PR firm, there is no time for current employees to be training interns, so it’s really up to the students to make themselves useful. Sure, you could sit around on Facebook all day and offer to get lunch, but what does that teach you? Instead, jump into a project. Offer to help with a special event. Go along with a reporter and shadow them for a few days.

A former reporter turned PR pro said he would grab an intern and take them along on a story. Once back at the newsroom, he would tell the intern to write the story too, insisting that the intern write as many articles and stories as he did. Talk about on the job training. I bet those interns learned a lot in a few weeks, much more than if they were just making copies or a mid-morning Starbucks run.

As a journalism student at Kansas State University, an internship (either paid or for college credit) was required for graduation. I finished three internships: PR intern for Sunset Zoo, print intern for Riley County United Way, and as an account coordinator for GlynnDevins, an advertising and marketing firm near Kansas City. Only one was paid. All my internships provided insight and projects in which I had a significant contribution. The training helped me secure a full time position right after graduation.

My dad used to tell me future employers were more interested in your experience than your grades. I think he was right. Not once was I asked about my grade point average (GPA). Prospective employers saw that I had three internships under my belt and that’s where the conversation stayed. I’m not saying grades don’t matter, because they are very important. But so is hands-on experience…and you can’t get that from taking notes in class, updating your Facebook status or fetching coffee.

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