How is your organization adapting internships and early career opportunities for young workers during the COVID-19 crisis?
As many offices remain closed, and some organizations look to cut costs, some work opportunities for new grads have been rescinded or postponed. However, some organizations have opted to move ahead with their programs in a virtual capacity.
We caught up with JConnelly’s president, Ray Hennessey, who shared how his firm is thinking about internships for the summer and beyond.
“Since we don’t know how accessible our offices around the country will be, we will bring them on virtually,” Hennessey explains when asked about how he is adapting his programs. “Like everyone else, we went from five offices to nearly 70, with everyone working from home. But we were quick to make sure that we meet as a company in a daily Zoom call, and the individual teams meet more frequently.”
The key for new employees is to make sure they feel a part of the organization, something that requires intention and energy when new workers can’t be brought into a central location.
“We are spending very little physical time together anyway, so in some ways we just have to be mindful of making sure that they are engaged, and we are checking in with them virtually a lot more than we otherwise would have,” says Hennessey.
“Ironically,” he adds, “I feel we are more connected as an agency nowadays, because we are creating more opportunities to gather and collaborate internally. That’s a great learning ground for interns, who are going to benefit most when they are working with engaged, connected teams.”
Hennessey also asserts that interns won’t necessarily be missing much, despite the lack of an in-office experience.
“The PR business is about relationships,” he says. “I think we’re all learning collectively how to stay connected and close with our clients and partners and the media, so they will be at the ground floor of a new way of proceeding for our industry.”
Rather than focusing on how nascent PR pros are missing out on the big gatherings that individuals and agencies held just a few months ago, Hennessey says, new practitioners will get a close look at how the industry reinvents itself.
“I doubt we will be in a place anytime soon where we’ll see the big events that are typical of this business, and I also doubt newsrooms will want us bringing in a stream of clients for desk-sides and such,” he says.
“So these interns will have a fresh look at how PR is keeping up with this changing world,” he continues. “These are not interns who’ll be spending their time counting media packets at a press conference. These are interns taking part in the evolution of how we communicate. That’s exciting.”
Hennessey is worried, however, that new grads and early-career pros are missing out on opportunities for learning and growth on the job.
“I’ve seen that some of my colleagues in the business have had to lay off staff at their own firms, and I imagine that hurts the emerging generation of professionals worst of all,” he says. “This is a business that is hard to teach in college, and certainly no university had coursework on PR in a global pandemic. This is a business you learn by doing.”
It was this concern that drove Hennessey to commit to bringing on his interns this year, despite the pandemic.
“We have been fortunate to stay intact and grow through this, and it was the fear that interns would lose an opportunity that really made us commit to bringing them on,” he says. “In our case, we have two graduating seniors. They won’t have a graduation. Their college experiences ended with more of a whimper than a bang. We really didn’t want their careers to get sidetracked.”
Other organizations are also trying to tackle the challenge of lost opportunities for young PR professionals. The PR Council launched an “agency-ready” certificate to help pros missing their chance to intern at an agency an opportunity to prove their chops for later job opportunities.
Hennessey applauds that move.
“I think it’s a great idea to keep students and new graduates involved and excited in the business,” he says. “I hope the industry looks at the certificate as a sign that, when they’re ready to hire, they’re getting talent who were committed enough to the profession to take that extra step.”
Any advice for young pros who have had their internships rescinded or are looking for other ways to break into the industry?
“This is a perfect time to build networks and relationships,” Hennessey says. “I’m amazed how few candidates coming out of college have built a LinkedIn presence and used it to make connections and engage. I get remarkably few connection requests from college students or recent grads.”
He suggests that young pros who have yet to land somewhere make it their vocation to develop a network and connections that will prove valuable down the line.
“When you don’t have a job, your full-time job is to find a job,” he says. “That takes networking. Particularly now, it’s a great time to interact. Build a network. Find a mentor.
“There are also a ton of digital events they can attend to learn more about PR or individual industries they want to serve. We anticipate tremendous pent-up economic demand as we come out of this pandemic. Now is the time for a candidate to position herself to take advantage of that.”