It seems like you can’t get a job (let alone an interview) in PR without a couple of internships under your belt, yet many students opt to skip the internship process until the last minute, squeezing one in right after college in hopes of turning it into a full time job (or never interning at all).
Let’s answer the question – I’ll address both the “yes” and “no” options…
Yes, You Need an Internship
Employers want to know you have the skills to pay the bills. Internships demonstrate to a potential employer that you can do the work expected of you in an entry-level role. The more-impressive the internship experience, the better your chances of landing your first gig.
For starters, make sure you pick an internship that is going to give you real-world experience. If your interning in public relations, make sure you’ll get plenty of opportunities to produce written materials you can take credit for. You’ll need to demonstrate that you can write in PR, so real-world writing experience in an internship is a must.
It’s also a good idea to look at PR internships where you will be able to work with the media. The best internships are those that allow you to work on real client campaigns and secure real coverage for clients. Just make sure you’re going to get the mentoring and development guidance you need to get started on the right foot. If your employer hands you a media list and a press release and tells you to hit the phone, push back on them to train you some more on the right and wrong ways to approach media relations. Have them do a dry run with you on the pitch – you’ll have a much better experience.
While the number of internships you complete is important, the work you complete at those internships is more relevant. Make sure you leave the last day of your internship with examples of work you’ve completed – for bonus points, get a letter of recommendation from your internship supervisor.
If you play your cards right and intern each summer through college, your chances of getting a decent entry-level job are much (much) better.
If you’re already done with school, but having a hard time getting an entry-level job, consider trying to work as a paid intern after college. This gives you a little money to live off of, while giving your employer a low-risk option to give you a trial run. More often than not, this will turn into a paying gig.
My internship leading up to my final semester in college resulted in a job offer. I was able to work through my last semester while I finished my degree. Once graduation rolled around, I had already been working for six months. This is the ideal scenario and not outside of the realm of possibilities when you get started early.
No, You Don’t Need an Internship
Believe it or not, everyone working in PR today did NOT intern before getting their first job. Some didn’t even major in PR, Advertising, Journalism or Communications. How did they do it? Here are the most common scenarios (with some off-the-beaten-path advice sprinkled in):
- Family and Friends – if you’re fortunate enough to have family or friends that own a business, consider approaching them for your first job. This is your best chance of getting a first job, and an opportunity to gain real-world experience. You may stay in this job for years, or you may be in better shape a year from now to get a higher-paying junior-level position.
- Start Your Own Firm – more and more students start student-run PR firms while they’re in school. This is great experience for students and often serves small businesses and non-profits in the community. Do the work for dirt-cheap and build up a portfolio.
- Build Your Own Portfolio – as an alternative option, start a blog while you’re in college. Write about public relations, journalism or social media topics. Write about your love for plants, BBQ or classic cars. Whatever your passion is, show that you can produce engaging content on a regular basis, build and audience and wield social media tools with ease. Showcase for potential employers that you have the discipline, knowledge and experience they look for in potential hires. Self-starters and entrepreneur-types are often welcomed into the agency environment. If you can build an audience for yourself during school, it’s safe to assume you could do the same thing for clients.
- Network – as I pointed out in my recent post on networking, it’s important. Attend local public relations and media professional association groups. Get to know people in your industry and build a network of potential employers. Many of these relationships can turn into your first interviews, often leading to your first job. It’s much easier to get an interview at a company where you already know somebody than to approach the pursuit blindly.
Is it harder to get a job in PR or journalism without internships under your belt? Yes. Is it impossible? No. What’s my advice? If you don’t have an internship lined up for this summer, and you want to get a job after college, pick up the phone and start calling around to see if anybody is looking for an intern.
What advice would you like to add for interns? Do you think internships are important? Can you get hired without them? Share your advice and tips below.