How To Get The Most From An Agency Internship
By Danielle Chase*
Here at Burson-Marsteller, no two days are the same. Every day I am assigned a completely new project. While having to acquire the skills and content knowledge necessary for these tasks, I’ve also had to manage the demands of graduate school. There have been many bumps along the road. That being said, I’ve learned a lot about best practices for agency interns. Considering that many frequenters of this site are probably communications students, I thought it might be beneficial to share a couple of these best practices.
- Be proactive. Speak with your managers early on about your interests and your goals. Ask them their advice on which projects or clients you are best suited for. Meet as many people as you can. Practice your three minute pitch (your background, your short term goals, and your long term goals). Have a CV and digital portfolio on hand if and when an opportunity presents itself.
- Take responsibility for your learning. If you don’t know something, figure it out. Be resourceful: Google it first, then ask for help. Research. Take notes. Find a mentor—or two. If you find that all you are doing is faxing and fetching coffee, it’s likely because the team doesn’t think you’re capable of much else. Prove them wrong. Go above and beyond what they expect from you.
- Give thoughtful input. Always listen more than you speak. When you have something worth saying, say it. Even if they think your idea was awful, at least now they know what your voice sounds like. Be sure to find opportunities to showcase what you do well. For example, I have an education background, so I presented about twenty suggestions on strategies we could use for a financial literacy program. They didn’t take any of those ideas, but they did use one sentence from that e-mail in a Reuters Op-Ed. Speaking up can have surprisingly good results.
- Manage expectations. If you have too much on your plate already, say so. When you take on too much you do things poorly, you fail to earn respect from colleagues and you can potentially threaten agency-client relationships. Do what you can, and do it well.
- Grades first. In the same vein as “managing expectations”, be sure to be clear with your team about your academic responsibilities. If you have a midterm that day, tell your supervisor. Not only are you incurring a great debt for that degree, but you likely won’t get the job without it.
- Know your stuff. Every morning scan at least three news sites—I recommend The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. If your company delivers an email digest, read it. If your agency has a public blog, subscribe to this as well. Also, if the CEO of your organization wrote a book, you better at least have a working knowledge of its content. (Special mention to Mark Penn’s Microtrends and Harold Burson’s E Pluribus Unum.)
- PROOFREAD EVERYTHING. Spell check is your enemy. Print everything and go over it with a red pen. Know the rules regarding quotation marks, commas and parentheses (Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and the AP Stylebook are great resources). Check all formatting (common day practice is to use only one space after each period, but this is personal preference). Know your contractions; there is nothing worse than reading a “you’re” in the place of a “your” or an “it’s” in the place of an “its.” Also, figure out which font, size and header your supervisor prefers. Arial 11 seems to be the BM fav.
- Be professional. Regardless of what you hear, don’t use lewd language or attempt to win friends with distasteful jokes. Don’t engage in office gossip. Regardless of the casual nature of your agency, dress for where you want to be.
- Be NICE. This seems obvious, but always remember: your resume will get you in the door, but whether or not they like you will get you the job. Smile, be personable, and don’t forget your thank you cards.
Now you may not sleep much. You may be in a constant state of anxiety and approaching deadlines. You may long for a meal that isn’t a microwaved frozen entree. But if you made it a point to learn as much as you can and make the best impression you possibly could, your experience will far surpass your expectations.
Without question, my experiences at B-M have far surpassed mine.
*Danielle is the first recipient of the Harold Burson Fellowship program through The LAGRANT Foundation.