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Preparing for a PR internship

Find out what companies are looking for in an application as well as how to make a great impression during the interview and on the job

Internships are essential to have under your belt and will be one of the first things employers look for on a CV when they are hiring for graduate positions. The more internships you can do the better you will be placed, as it shows you are keen to work within the industry and build up as much experience as you can.

In this episode, I'm joined by Anna Stark and Tahira Matthews from Stark Matthews to discuss what you can do to give yourself an edge in the highly competitive PR internship market.

“Put an employer's lens on your social media accounts. They are likely to look at them and will want to feel confident if their clients or colleagues do the same, you're presenting yourself in a respectful manner"

What can I gain from doing a PR internship?

The best answer here, is a job. I secured my first graduate role from a public relations internship and I know many others who did the same, or employed people from internships at their agencies. The reality is, companies are more likely to hire people who already have an understanding of how their business/team work so if you prove to be the pick of the bunch during an internship, you put yourself in the ideal position to be hired.

Employment is not the only upside. You have an opportunity to observe what PR professionals actually do, day-to-day. You'll appreciate the likes of why relationships with journalists are so crucial, the value of a well-written media release and tailored pitch and how a PR agency can manage anything from six to sixty clients at one time. It will give you a sense of what PR sector might be the best fit for you or whether you're more suited to inhouse PR or agency.

Which is why it's SO important to do internships in different sectors plus agency and inhouse. It took me three internships during university/college to find the sector I would eventually work in (and love) for the next decade.

Listen to the full episode on The PR Pod podcast for more tips on preparing for a PR internship. You'll also find this episode on your fave podcast players including Apple Podcasts and Spotify, just search "The PR Pod".

How can I make my internship application stand-out?

  • Tailor your cover letter to show why that particular company and/or sector appeals to you.

  • Research what campaigns/clients that company has recently worked on, reference the elements you particularly connected with and articulate why. Did you notice they had at least three pieces of coverage run last week for the launch of a new product? Or just one piece in a really influential publication for that sector? Perhaps the synergy of a campaign across social media and media relations was really impressive. Be specific and be authentic.

  • Show your personality and speak to what motivates you to do an internship with them. What are you looking forward to learning from them?

  • Treat it like a pitch. If you were pitching a story idea to a journalist you'd need to articulate why your client/company would be of interest to that media outlet and what value/utility your suggested angle could bring to their readers. The same goes with an internship application. What value can you add as an intern? You may not have any relevant employment history under your belt but think about your personal strengths and characteristics and highlight those.

  • Follow-up. If you've not heard back after a week and they haven't been clear as to the timings of when you will do so, email a follow-up. When you start pitching to media, you'll find you're constantly following up so it's a good habit to get into. Don't be pushy, just let them know you're checking to make sure they received your application and leave it there. If you finish with a question, people are more likely to respond than if you write a couple of paragraphs repeating what you said in the original email. People are busy and sometimes they appreciate that extra nudge to respond to something.

What kind of preparation should I do for the interview?

  • Practice questions they're likely to ask. Use your common sense as to what they might be or ask a friend or family member if you're struggling. They may ask you about previous internships, how your studies are going, what subjects you've most enjoyed and why, how you consume news, which media outlets you regularly read both professionally and personally or what your strengths and weaknesses are. Rehearse the answers so you feel comfortable with them.

  • Research the company. You should have done this for the application process but dig deeper now on campaigns and clients and identify what it is about them you like or interests you.

  • Be presentable. The company you've applied to may be very laid back and casual but you still need to show them you know how to present yourself professionally.

Once you're through the interview, send a follow-up email by the end of that day to thank them for the opportunity and recap on why you're looking forward to working with them (keep it very brief).

If you feel you didn't answer a question as well as you would liked to have done during the interview, use this as an opportunity to say you've had a further think about that particular question and provide some extra thoughts/examples. We all know it can be nerve-wracking in interviews and it's very normal to forget key things. By acknowledging this and following up with an articulate answer, it shows you've got attention to detail, you care about presenting the best possible answer and you're a proactive communicator.

Once I've secured an internship, how do I make an impression on the job?

  • Ask questions. You'll probably be appointed a manager who will provide you with tasks, check your work and be your point-person for any questions. Be honest with them if you don't understand something. They'd prefer you to get it right and take 45 minutes to do a task than to spend three hours trying to stumble through it.

  • Show eagerness to learn. If there's tasks or elements of the business you're not responsible for but would like to know more about, ask your manager if they would have some time during your internship to explain it in more detail. You might not get the opportunity to be part of it but it will help your understanding, which may prove valuable in your next internship.

  • Develop time management skills. Once you've been doing an internship for a little while, you'll get a sense of how quickly you can complete certain tasks. If your manager delegates a few to you that need to be done while they're out at meetings for a few hours and you know you can complete all of them in an hour, let them know in advance. They'll appreciate you having the initiative to make the most of your time. If you miss the opportunity to chat with them and you have a big chunk of time with no tasks to do, ask any team members if they have work they need assistance with. Or look at how you can be useful around the office.

  • Observe everything. Some tasks will be mundane but look at every task as an opportunity, it doesn't matter how small or trivial it is. If you're taking notes in a meeting, observe how the flow of a meeting runs, who delegates the tasks out, what kind of things team members are expected to contribute. If you're sorting out the magazine library, take note of the magazine titles relevant to the company/sector/clients.

  • Be indispensable. You want your manager/team to feel like they would struggle doing their jobs well if you weren't around. If you're proactively making tea and coffee, or asking to take a small boring job away from somebody else or are the first to put your hand up to stay back and help pack bags for a product send-out, it will be noticed and you'll make a strong impression.

  • Be memorable. Take the time to introduce yourself to the broader team and show interest in what they do. You want to make people's life as easy as possible and add value to the work they're doing or how the team functions. If each person has a positive relationship with you, however small, it all helps.

  • Say yes to as much as you can. Just make sure if you're getting delegated multiple tasks from people other than your direct manager and are feeling overwhelmed or like you won't complete everything required of you, you chat to your manager. Explain you've got quite a few things to do and is there a priority you should work to. Then communicate that back to the other people who have asked you to assist so they know you can help, but can't do so until after lunch...

  • Have a positive attitude. If you're giving the impression every task you're delegated is a chore or 'beneath you', it will be noticed.

  • Have a competitive edge. If you're at a large PR agency which has hired a number of interns as part of a summer program, the reality is you'll all be compared to each other. So, you need to make sure you're standing out as the best of the best. Observe what others are congratulated for and if you feel you're weak or inexperienced in that area or task, ask your manager for some extra opportunities to get better at it. When you see others not completing a task to the standard required, make a mental note of how you could do it better next time. Go above and beyond to be conscientious, diligent and available.

If you've already got a few internships under your belt and are at the point of applying for jobs, you'll find this episode - Tips for Landing a PR Job - really helpful.

Or, if you're keen for some insight into different PR sectors and what life is like working within them, you'll find some episodes dedicated to that, here.


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