As part of PRSA’s unveiling of industry guidelines for the ethical use of interns, we asked five recent public relations interns to blog about their experiences — good or bad — and offer ideas on how the profession can better prepare interns for the rigors of full-time employment. This is the third and final post in the series.
What helps you land the best job possible in this highly competitive market? There is no doubt that padding your resume with various internship experiences can help you get a leg up, but what experiences really help you when it comes to talking up experience in the interview?
As a recent graduate, former intern and a new professional I have been able to reflect on these questions, and I know all too well what works and what doesn’t. I also know that with the increasing pressure placed on students to be involved in school and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to take time out of a paying job and devote it to an internship. That is part of the reason why virtual internship are on the rise.
I started a virtual internship during my last semester of school, while trying to complete a full course load and work a 40-hour-a-week retail job. The idea of being able to benefit from the experience of an internship, while still having flexibility to do the work on my own, was to too intriguing to pass up.
My experience was hectic to say the least. I had my initial concerns about the internship, realizing that I wouldn’t be working with a supervisor on a one-to-one basis. But after having my interview, I was satisfied that I receive the same level of coaching that I experienced in previous internships.
After the first week, I was being treated like an employee on a trial period, not an intern. I was even expected to put in 40-hour workweeks, when it was only a 60-hour total internship. It seemed that I was given tasks to do that I never had any experience doing and when I came back with questions I was told to figure it out on my own. When I did make mistakes, as we all do when were learning, I was told to do it again and not come back until it was right. By the time the internship ended, all I gained was a headache and a useless slot on my resume.
So as the appeal of virtual internships rises, there has to be an advocate for the issues that can potentially exist. A perfect supervisor/intern relationship is one where the intern works closely with the supervisor and learns from the real world experience that they have to offer, and the supervisor gets to have the intern take some of the weight of day-to-day tasks off his or her shoulders.
For those in the field who do work in a non-traditional workplace, you can offer a very unique experience to the students who are open to trying this new type of internship. Adding a virtual internship to your company can be a great thing for you and the intern. However, you do need to be willing to put in the work to make sure that there is that one-on-one connection and that every project is a unique learning experience. Don’t just decide to take on an intern because you can’t afford to hire another employee.
Remember that interns are not just an additional hand for a few months, but they will also be are professionals representing our field in the future. Do we really want to give interns experiences that won’t benefit the field as a whole?
James W. Ernst, is the communications director for the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, a recent graduate of St. John Fisher College and founder of the PR Blog, Do it in Public 2.0. Follow him on Twitter.