This time of year reminds me of when I first started working at Spectrum as an intern during my senior year in college. In some ways, I feel like I was more buttoned up with my PR know-how then. I mastered Grunig and Hunt’s four models of public relations and could outline an RPIE approach to a campaign in no time.
After being in the “real world” for a few years, I know that PR cannot be so easily defined or broken down into four simple models. And there’s never as much time as I’d like to R (research), P (plan) and E (evaluate)—which is unfortunate, really.
Securing a PR internship and capitalizing on the opportunity is one of the most important things PR students need to do to land a job after college. It’s the time when you begin to learn those invaluable out-of-the-classroom lessons. Below is a list of ways for students to distinguish themselves from other internship candidates and leave a good impression:
1. Know your audience. Just like any proper PR campaign, researching and understanding your target audience—in this case it’s the people you are interviewing with—is essential. It’s helpful to read about the company and see what it’s saying on its blog and Twitter. If you know who in particular you are going to be speaking with, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do a little cyber-stalking to see what’s of interest to him or her.
2. Build a portfolio. Compile your relevant class assignments, screen grab some of your best tweets and pull together any blog posts you’ve written. Showing you have an array of writing experience and knowledge in the digital media space will help you stand out during an interview.
3. Prepare your “pitch.” Before the interview, plot out the questions you expect to be asked. Develop talking points that will help you give polished answers with clear examples. Practicing these beforehand will make the interview process a lot easier. Even if the interviewer doesn’t ask the exact question you prepared for, you will still have a go-to story that you can tie back to the question asked.
4. Diversify your experience. When reviewing student resumes for Spectrum, we always like to see agency experience. Having previous agency experience, paired with corporate, non-profit, government or even related experience from an on-campus job, can really help. Landing your first internship can be tough without industry experience on your resume, but see where you can get your foot in the door. Try to position classroom experience or a PR-related project for a student organization as relevant.
5. Develop a “specialty.” For me, health care became the focus for my job search. While I was obviously not an expert in health care as a student, this passion allowed me to target my job search for applicable positions. I studied public health as my minor (paired with my Communication degree) and had several health-focused internships, so I was able to show experience in this industry.
Once you land an internship, making the most of your time there is vital. Having the experience on your resume is one thing, but being able to speak intelligently about your experience at your next interview is that much better.
During your internship, regularly communicate with your internship supervisor to receive feedback and express any concerns you have. If you are interested in gaining certain experiences (e.g., more social media exposure, a chance to write a press release, or an opportunity to sit in on a brainstorm), don’t be afraid to speak up.
Kaitlin Doody (@kaitlin_doody) is a senior account executive at Spectrum, one of the nation's leading health and science communications agencies. A version of this article first appeared on Spectrum’s blog.