The Perfect Internship (Hint: It Doesn’t Exist)

PR majors need to do internships.

Notice the plural? A completed internship used to set candidates apart from the pack, but in today’s uber-competitive job market a single experience doesn’t go as far. Employers want to see that your college career has given you the knowledge and skills you need to do real work for real clients. Classes can give you plenty of knowledge, but aren’t going to cut it when it comes to know-how.

So how do you find the perfect internship? You don’t. Instead, you build upon your skill-set with multiple experiences and mold yourself into a qualified job candidate. Here are just a couple of considerations while looking at position postings:

Paid vs. Unpaid

Loans pile up while you spend your time at an unpaid internship. Most students simply don’t have time to juggle classes, an internship, and a paid job. While the vast majority of internships are unpaid, if you dig you can find those minimum-wage gems. However, there are a lot of amazing positions out there that don’t pay. If you happen to find a posting that you know will give you the skills you are looking for, consider your options. Can you take it for credit? Will one semester of not making money ruin your finances? Ultimately you need to decide if putting in hours of unpaid work now will better your chances of getting that amazing entry-level (read: paid) job later.

Agency vs. Company vs. Non-Profit

In my own job searches and experience I’ve noticed differences between the types of places of work. An agency internship will look great on your resume and may include a small salary. However, these positions are highly competitive, and depending on the size of the agency you may be stuck in a lot of support roles rather than working on real strategy and content development. Positions within a company are a lot more likely to be paid. They range in competitiveness depending on the profile of the company, and they can also vary a lot in terms of job responsibilities. Check job posting for the types of tasks you’ll be assigned to in order to gage your level of responsibility. Non-profits can be a great experience, but they are rarely paid. However, there are many of opportunities out there and you’ll usually be given more important tasks; I’ve even seen instanced of interns at non-profits being completely in charge of the public relations program!

Some internships truly are better than others. Spend plenty of time exploring job postings to get an idea of what you are looking to get out of your experience. When you spot a great position, apply! You’ll never find one perfect internship, but if you combine a few great ones, you’ll be well on your way to landing a job in the real, working world.

About the Author
Erin is a senior at  the University of Minnesota where she is working on her degree in Journalism with a focus in Public Relations. During a study abroad experience she completed an internship at a boutique PR agency. She is currently interning at a commodity exchange corporation in a marketing role, while writing her honors thesis and finishing up classes. Contact Erin on Twitter via @ErinMillard or on LinkedIn

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14 comments on “The Perfect Internship (Hint: It Doesn’t Exist)

  1. Erin, excellent advice to your peers looking to get into the public relations industry. As you seek your internships, be sure you aren’t causing your company to break the law. In California, labor laws require that you either receive payment for your internship, OR that you be getting college credit. You cannot simply intern for free. Check to be sure you aren’t starting off your career in an unethical situation unknowingly. Your local PRSA chapter’s Ethics Officer can help you if you aren’t sure.

    • Thank you for the reminder, Gayle. Many of the postings I’ve seen in MN have read “Must be taken for credit”, so I believe the law is the same here. I’ll be sure to bring up the issue in my next PRSSA meeting to make sure my peers are aware.

  2. Great post Erin!

    I’m based in Australia, but found the exact same thing. While completing my Master’s degree, and even following my study, I sought out all the work experience and internships I could get.

    The truth is that no two companies/agencies/not-for-profits are alike. Expanding and diversifying your work experience while study opens your eyes to the great possibilities out there in the world of PR and communications, and gives you more of an idea of the sectors and areas you enjoy.

    Each and every day in these new environments is also the perfect opportunity to learn if you are open to all the possibilities that present themselves – but it looks like you’ve already gained a great amount of experience.

    Thanks again for your post, and best of luck for the remainder of your studies and job search!

  3. Gayle- Thank you for the reminder. I’ve seen many MN postings that list “must be taken for credit”, so I assume the law is the same here. I’ll be sure to bring it up in my next PRSSA meeting to make sure my peers are also aware.

    Jamie- I absolutely love Australia. I interned at a PR agency in Sydney last spring and hope to move back someday. Thank you for the encouragement!

  4. Great post! Every student can take away something from their internships. I found myself interning at a few different places to get a variety of experiences and it helped me figure out what I really wanted to do after graduation! Each internship can teach new things – try a few out!

  5. Erin, thank you for your insights. Though I might add that many of the PR agency recruiters I have talked to specifically want agency experience, even for their entry-level jobs. They tell me that while a PR internship with a company or non-profit could be a very good experience, it may not use the tools, computer software, etc. that are used at agencies. And if an agency (especially the big ones) have the option of hiring someone who has done an agency internship and knows those tools, they’re going to choose that person because it will, theoretically, be less risky and require less training on their part.

  6. Erin,
    Great insight and advice for those who would someday like to work in the industry. As far as paid vs. unpaid internships, I for one have struggled to find a paid internship. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed working and learning for my unpaid ones. Students are looking for experience at the end of the day. Sure paid experience would be ideal, but in honesty you have to start somewhere. I think my hours of unpaid labor will certainly pay off in the future.

    In addition, having several types of internship experience will only help you down the road. I have found my true passion in career by working with several different offices and practitioners.

    Once again, great job!

  7. This is a great reminder on how important internships are. In the PR (or any agency profession) YOU MUST HAVE AN INTERNSHIP.
    I was looking for a “perfect” internship but today, especially in this economy, it is hard to find. I now have had two unpaid internships and they could not have been better. At the end of my first internship, they offered me a job for after I graduate and that definitely makes it alright that it was unpaid. I learned so much from them and can apply it all to my current internship. I have made so many connections, learned so much and was reminded of the importance and value of hard-work and dedication.
    Don’y worry if it is unpaid, you are paid in other ways!

  8. Erin,
    Thank you for the internship advice. I am a senior year and I did not realize I was going to need more than one internship until it was too late. I think you are right that PR students need internships (plural) because this is the only way to get the real-world experience necessary. It’s also important because there are so many option in PR and you need experience when deciding where you want to work after graduation. I liked the advice about deciding whether to intern in non-profit or agency. This is something I have also thought a lot about when getting ready to apply for internships.

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  10. Pingback: The Benefits of Working on Political Campaigns for Entry-Level PR Pros | PR at Sunrise

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