You guys. I hired an intern. My first one.
She started a couple weeks ago which got me feeling the pressure to be a good boss. I started thinking about the internships that I’ve had and what made certain ones stand out above the others. I want to try and give her significant work experience while also exposing her to a peek into the career.
Out of six internships, here are some of my most memorable moments.
Being exposed to high-level events. When I worked as press intern for Senator Ron Wyden, I worked daily on a team of five. My main project that summer was a research project, so most of the time, my day was spent chipping away at a massive undertaking. One day, my boss, the communications director, popped her head in the press office and said, “Want to see a press conference that the senator is doing? Can you be ready in five minutes?” Yes,” I said as my eyes lit up. I ran to the bathroom and checked my hair and make-up. I went back to my desk and took a deep breath. Before I knew it, she came and picked me up.
We walked over to the senate hearing room where they were just finishing up a session. Outside of the room in a large hall, reporters were gathering around a collection of microphones. Senator Wyden, Reid and others gathered behind the mics to discuss a bill that they were working on. As Senator Wyden stepped up to the mic, complete chaos ensued among the reporters. Questions were fired and one by one, he answered them. Then the other senators took turns sharing their perspectives on the bill. Afterwards, Senator Wyden gave a couple short personal interviews in the hallway.
All this was guided and managed by my boss. I saw her in action and it was incredible. My boss, Senator Wyden and I then stepped into an elevator on our way back to the office and my boss and the senator debriefed on the press conference. He then was kind enough to ask about me and asked kind and thoughtful questions about my life and my time at the UO. We walked back to the office and the whole time I kept thinking, “Is this really happening right now?”
When I got back to my desk I thought, “Wow. That was too cool.” What made it so impactful was that I saw my boss at work. Not behind her desk, but doing something I’ve never seen done and man did she do it well. I was in awe. I wanted to be just like her. It was a meaningful moment for me, because it was in that was a moment that I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for my profession. I had my boss to thank for her thoughtfulness to expose me to that experience.
Maturing my people skills. In my first internship, my boss gave me a list of names and publications and asked me to call each contact and make sure our media list was up-to-date. I made the first call. It was to a major publication in New York City. The person who answered the phone said, “Hello?” Suddenly, I had to say something in return. I was representing not only my employer (an agency), but also our client. I’ll admit I stumbled over my words. I hung up the phone and was embarrassed. I worked my way though the list. It was an arduous task that took several days, but by the time I was finished, my ability to speak professionally and politely (on the fly) had dramatically improved.
During college I worked at a student-run PR firm all four years. It was there that I learned another dimension of PR and customer service. In four years, I represented a variety of clients and my senior year, I led the agency as firm director. In that position, I was the liaison between the agency and potential clients and members of the city and community. From day one at the agency I learned about customer service. First it was through watching older colleagues, then little by little I was given leadership opportunities to try it out for myself. This was incredibly valuable. I grew a lot professionally in those four years of working there. I learned this skill because I was given opportunities.
Putting on an apron and serving burgers. During one of my internships, I helped plan and execute a massive, luxury tailgate event for dealers of home theatre products for the tech company I was working for. Event planning is a significant aspect of the PR profession and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was an incredible opportunity to test out and develop that muscle. At the event we grilled up burgers and showed more than five college football games on a variety of our products. I put on an apron and served burgers for the afternoon, but I wasn’t really just serving burgers. With each burger I served, a conversation began with a dealer and I was put on the spot to answer questions about our products. I was exercising my people skills within the context of an event. When it was all over, I celebrated with the team. Months of planning (SO many little details) and much hard work paid off. It was a good feeling. While I cannot assume what my boss’ intentions were, I’d bet that she brought me into the event planning process because she needed the extra set of hands. In the end, it was a significant opportunity and showed me another dimension of the profession. For that I’m grateful.
Learning that the best writers are the best editors. In my second internship, I got my first writing assignment. It came far before I’d taken any PR writing courses. At another internship, my supervisor asked me to take a stab at writing a PR plan. I remember telling her, “I don’t know how.” She handed me an example and told me to just give it a try. After my first draft, we met and she helped me refine it step-by-step and after many many drafts, I had a finished product. Looking back now I realize just how much time she spent with me and how much faster it would have been for her to just write it herself. I’m so incredibly thankful for her graciousness and her willingness to teach me how to write and write strategically. In internships that followed, I was thrown into opportunities to write and I could be more grateful, especially for the supervisors who walked with me through the process.
All this to say, while the extra set of hands may be very welcome for your drowning workload, remember what it was like when you were an intern.
Give that person you hired opportunities, meaningful opportunities. Have patience and give them the grace to learn.
You’ll of course give them a significant amount of grunt work, but be sure to weave in some opportunities for them to learn more about the industry.
Internships are ultimately a chance for young people to try their hand at a profession. Be sure to give them a glimpse of what it’s really like.
I hope to give my intern meaningful experiences that broaden her view of the PR profession as well as help her make her decision as to what she would like to do after graduation. (Obviously I hope she picks PR. Now, I just need to figure out a way to be more subtle and let he go her own way.) It is simply my job to help her along the way as much as I can.