Internships: The Good, The Bad & The Value (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Paige Dawson

I’ve long been a fan of college internships as both a source of real-world learning and relationship building for young students as well as a resource to handle the multitude of support/entry-level tasks for employers—especially marketing/PR agencies. Over my 20 plus years in business, I’ve had the pleasure to work with easily two dozen interns and may readily relay the good, the bad and the long-term value that may be found through internships. In this post, I’ll share my best tips for interns and for employers as well as share a few personal stories and some well-deserved thanks. Note: you will find my examples of “the bad” have been blinded for good reason.

internship, mentors, Paige Dawson, Trudy O'Reilly, Liz Oliphant

Celebrating my wedding with Liz & Trudy

Personally, I am able to trace my entire career back to my first college internship. At the behest of my fabulous communications teacher at SMU (who has since turned into a dear friend), Janie Bryan Loveless, I set out to secure my first official PR internship. She helped me polish my lackluster resume and connected me with two amazing PR mavens in Dallas, Liz Oliphant and Trudy O’Reilly. They both had their own PR boutiques and shared office space; these women gave me my first introduction into the real-world of communications. They let me try my hand at writing, took me to client meetings now and then, and heaped on tons of admin-related projects that are the basis of the PR world (especially in those pre-Internet days). I’m also privileged to share that these women have been powerful forces in my life the past 20 years—sounding boards as I stretched myself, colleagues I’ve brought on at times to help with MPD clients, and dear friends who traveled to celebrate my wedding in Santa Fe. And way back in 1994, they connected me with their fellow PR friend, Merrie Spaeth of Spaeth Communications, and helped me secure my first full-time, post-college job. With this background, is it really any wonder that I ended up owning my own marketing and PR firm?

And, so, we return back to my tips for interns and employers on how to create the best value from and for an internship experience. In this blog post, we’ll cover 10 tips for Interns and in the next blog, 10 tips for Employers.

Ten Tip for Interns:

  1. Secure at least one internship in an agency setting. This gives you tremendous insight into how agencies work as well as various industries and companies. The vast difference in company culture, practices, budgets, and goals is fascinating. You may well find areas you love, those you tolerate and a few that you care not to visit again. It’s funny where the world takes you; we had one intern (shout out to Austin Hart) who had one project for supporting conference and event sales (it even involved some cold calling, yikes). That experience led him to find a love for events, sponsorships and, ultimately, a career in the field.
  2. Show up on time or call if you’ll be late. This tip seems obvious, but alas some interns fail to think about this courtesy. And, if you are chronically late, please rethink your schedule and proactively suggest that maybe it’s too tight to get from class to the office (or, too early).
  3. Always bring a pen and paper into our meetings. This is a newer tip to share as it seems in the past few years that quite a few interns come into my office to learn about a new assignment with no paper or pen. No, while this is an amazing feat of memory, it’s also quite risky and annoying for your employer to either repeat or have to absorb your time and the rework that may ensue.
  4. Realize that there is much admin-related support work. In our case much of our client work is computer-based creation, research, tracking and organizing. We’re very upfront in the interview process that this is our reality. It’s not glamorous but the reality of almost all marketing and PR entry-level jobs. Our clients do want to see where they are featured in the news, that their email lists or websites are clean and updated, and where projects are in the lineup. We try to balance out the mundane with events, client meetings or internal brainstorming sessions where schedules align, but the bulk of our world is sitting in front of a computer.
  5. Look for ways to wow us in your work or with your ideas to streamline any processes. We had one intern (shout out to Marc Bullard) who went above and beyond on a script where I was seeking a total end time count. He went ahead and did that but also broke the time sequence into sections so I could readily see where the biggest time blocks were situated. AND, as you complete your assignments, let your supervisor know. We often have many projects in play and others may assign work. Speak up to let us know that you’re close to finishing all in your queue and ready to tackle new items.
  6. Ask questions, especially if you don’t understand an assignment. This is a pet peeve for many employers, myself and our entire team included. We all realize that these are new assignments, processes and topics for an intern to tackle. We are all more than willing to spend time and explain an assignment or even review an initial pass or new set of questions as you embark on a project. My advice here is to put aside your ego or embarrassment and ask questions.
  7. Respect the office refrigerator and food. Again, this should be common sense. Most offices these days have some sharable items in the kitchen and then employees’ personal supplies. It’s always best to double-check with your supervisor and ensure you are not the fruit thief in the office.
  8. Send a thank you note…or even an email. You may not have loved every assignment, found that the industry or agency side wasn’t for you, etc., but do realize that your employer took a chance on you, most likely gave you much constructive feedback, and is very likely well connected in his/her space or city. So, I strongly urge you to take five minutes and pen a short thank you note, preferably by hand on a note card. One lovely intern (shout out to Natalie Carlisle) went so far as to use our company logo to create personalized coffee mugs with our logo and each person’s name. Now, this was WAY BEYOND expected and over the top but also immensely appreciated. And, I’m still using that mug daily several years later.
  9. Maintain the relationship. Besides my example of how I’ve maintained, nurtured and leveraged my internship relationship for 20+ years, I have a similar example from one of my past interns (shout out to Megan Salch). Actually, this one dates back to her freshman year in college when I was her senior Panhellenic advisor. We kept in touch periodically after that, so much so that she became an intern for me later in college, I served as a reference for her to get her first job, and then I recruited her to replace me when I was planning to leave Arthur Andersen. Now, approaching 20 years later, she has her own firm as well and we’ve teamed up over time.
  10. Start and build your LinkedIn profile now. We’ve found that most of our interns have yet to explore and build their LinkedIn profiles. I’d urge…it’s never too early. LinkedIn serves as a powerful networking tool as you look for internships, first jobs, future jobs, client relationships and other professional connections. By the end of your internship, set up a profile and request to connect with those individuals in your internship companies.

As employers may guess, it was hard to narrow down ideas for 10 tips. I’d love to hear other examples and ideas to add to our list of tips. What else do you value or include as a pet peeve?

Here’s to a great rest of the summer and a strong start to the fall for interns and employers! And…happy first month to our summer interns Hayley and Preston. And, if you are seeking a fall/spring internship or know a great candidate, please contact us. We always are looking for sharp, smart talent.

In my next blog, I’ll share 10 Tips for Employers.

About Paige Dawson

With expertise in marketing, business strategy and public relations, as well as ‘in the trenches’ experience as a business owner, Paige Dawson brings a unique blend of talent to clients. As president and founder of MPD Ventures Company, Paige works with executives and entrepreneurs throughout the country to develop key messages, marketing strategies and measurable campaigns, driven by client business goals. She has extensive experience providing counsel for professional service firms, technology companies, associations and nonprofits.