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Building a Dynamic Internship Program

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When it comes to most jobs, we can all agree that experience is king. Through internships, companies are able to invest in the future of the PR profession by cultivating inexperienced practitioners and providing the training that most just can’t learn in a classroom.

By offering career training to students or those new to the profession, internships are often the first rungs on the career development ladder and the quality of an internship program often determines how a person will fair in their early career.

Whether you manage the intern recruitment program for a large company and are faced with weeding through hundreds of applications or you’re in a small startup cherry picking a few select applicants from a pool of local talent, you know that internships are equally as important for your company as for the lucky few who land them. recently published the results of one of the largest student internship surveys ever conducted. In it they highlight which professions are attracting the most interns (spoiler alert: public relations and marketing top the list), interesting statistics regarding what size companies are the biggest internship targets and how an intern’s age and experience plays into the internship opportunities being sought.

Among their top findings was that “a key to getting hired (after college) was not only internship experience, but paid internships” – a topic near and dear to our hearts.

With public relations and marketing receiving top billing as the professions attracting the most interns, we thought we’d take a look at what the current internship marketplace means for PR companies and the profession as a whole.

For those of you planning or managing an intern program, we spoke with President, Co-founder and CMO, Nathan Parcells, regarding what you can do to attract the best of the best when doing your part to develop the next generation of industry leaders.


Q. Internships are obviously important factors for learning about PR and eventually landing a job in the field. For that reason, the competition among students for prime internship opportunities seems to be increasing. What should companies be doing to separate themselves from their competitors and landing the best internship candidates?

Nathan Parcells> Finding the best internship candidates in such a crowded pool is obviously a tough task. The important thing is to structure your internship program around the needs and wants of the most highly motivated interns. In the 2014 State of the Internship Report, we found the most important attribute of an internship was the opportunity for long-term career advancement. Further, 51 percent of interns want access to executives and mentorship opportunities.

To attract the best interns, you need to make your internship program one where students know they’ll have opportunities for advancement, mentorship, and on-the-job training. You can do this using brown-bag lunches, assigning each intern a direct mentor who they learn from on more than just work assignments, and much, much more. Although compensation isn’t a top five concern, 47 percent of students deemed compensation very important; paying interns will allow for a more skilled and diverse talent pool to apply for your positions.

Q. How much of the internship market is made up of post grads (1-2 years out of college)?

NP> While exact numbers do not exist, we see this as a growing trend. More than 50 percent of graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are still seeking a way to break into their ideal career. In addition, according to our State of the Internship Report, 74.7 percent of seniors said they’d be willing to do an internship if it helps them get a foot in the door. Students are basically not ruling out whatever it takes to get their first job.

Q. Midsize companies seem to be winning top billing among intern candidates? Why is that? And should large companies be concerned?

NP> We found that midsize companies are by far the top choice among students at 42.2 percent. In comparison, 20.2 percent of students want to work at small companies and just 18.8 percent at large companies. Millennials are highly independent and want to make sure their impact is felt, so it’s natural they want to work at midsize companies which typically offer more responsibility and independence than large companies.

Large companies should be worried about missing out on candidates, but can improve their odds by understanding the underlying motivations of Millennials. They should create intern programs and entry-level jobs that empower young talent to have a real impact rather than be a cog in a big corporate wheel. Companies like Citrix have succeeded in doing this by creating business units like their innovation lab that operate like startups within their larger corporate structure.

Q. It’s great to see that PR/Marketing ranks high overall, but when paired out by gender, it is highest among women and falls second-to-last among men. Why do you think that is?

NP> Our survey found that men are far more interested in technology and business and women are more interested PR and fashion. Many of these differences are based on students conforming to cultural stereotypes that still exist and get reinforced throughout high school and college years.

Q. While paid internships get students hired, it seems like many companies are still opting to offer unpaid opportunities.

NP> For companies, it often comes down to economics. It’s far cheaper to offer unpaid internships, especially when interns are asked to do basic activities instead of developing industry-specific skills. Some companies might look at an intern as someone to make copies, get coffee, and update the filing system. This is certainly not the best use of intern talent. The student won’t acquire any relevant industry knowledge, and the company will lose out on fostering great talent.

Q. What benefits do companies see when they offer paid over unpaid internships?

NP> There are many benefits of paying interns for the work provided, including quality of hire. One thing to consider is that, according to the 2014 State of the Internship Report, the importance of monetary compensation rises sharply with age.

While just over 40 percent of freshmen candidates considered compensation important, more than 48 percent of seniors and nearly 53 percent of graduate students cited compensation as very important. The importance of compensation also rises for students who have already completed one or more internships. So, by offering compensation, a company is more likely to attract candidates who have more experience, both in an academic and professional setting.

Q. The wage gap disparity seems to start at the internship level with men being much more likely to get paid at their internship (60.6% vs. 40.2%). What should companies be doing to change that?

NP> Companies should work to make their internship programs as diverse as possible. One way to do this is to offer compensation so interns from lower economic groups can afford the same internship opportunities as their more affluent peers. Another way is for companies in male-dominated fields, such as STEM, to make a concentrated effort to attract and hire talented female and minority students. Everyone benefits from a more diverse and inclusive environment, and this should start as early as the company internship program.

Q. Anything else to add regarding how businesses can make the most out of their internship programs?

NP> Companies need to make their internship programs, first and foremost, relevant learning experiences for students. This is the best way to attract the kind of internship talent you want to your open positions. Offering skills, mentorship, and opportunity will not only allow interns to grow, but will also give companies the opportunity to groom future talent for the organization. Don’t look at interns as the bottom of the corporate food chain, but as future superstar employees in training.


Check out the infographic outlining the key survey findings and then take a look at the full 2014 State of the Internship Report for more details. With public relations, marketing and advertising being among the most popular industries for students looking for internships, it’s up to the agencies and companies to make sure these early experiences translate into long-term professionals.


Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, a LookSharp company. You can connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Laurent Lawrence is associate director of public relations at the Public Relations Society of America

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Laurent Lawrence, APR

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