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As an employer, I LOVE internships.

But this is not about me or other employers. It’s about you. You’re new to the game, still in school, eager to jump in and get your feet wet in the PR world.

An internship is a great way for you to get “doing the doing” and gain the valuable experience you need to get a full-time, paying gig. The problem is that some internships are of that photocopy, file paper and be a human coffee service variety.

And, as you know, it’s a jungle out there. You may not have a choice about where you intern because the market is competitive and most schools now require all students to spend a few months interning somewhere. So start looking early.

If you have the luxury of choice about where you intern (BIG if) here’s a series of questions you should ask before jumping at an opportunity:

  • What aspects of PR interest you? Every organization and company does different stuff and very few do it all. So figure out what things you like first. I know you may be scrambling and ready to take anything, but if you have a choice think long and hard about this.
  • What kinds of PR does the prospective agency/company do? If you intern for a political party’s comms department you will likely deal with a lot of issue management and crisis comms work. At an agency that reps big auto, you may get to see crazy product launches and see pros doing lots of work with area specific journos who focus exclusively on the industry. Interns in my department get experience with event PR, stunts,  and what it is like to work with non-profit clients. You should be able to get a sense of your prospective place of work does via a simple internet search.
  • Who works there and what is the vibe of the place like? Consider the upside of being near a superstar. It’s big. Is Brian Solis going to be your boss? Probably not, but maybe a lesser known but highly talented person is. Being around greatness and being in an environment that is dynamic, fits with your personality etc is  major bonus. Your school should be able to provide insight on this query.
  • Will you be around the Big Kahunas? It could be that you intern in a firm full of superstars but they never deal with interns. What is the point then? In my first job, on the issue management team for a political party, our interns sat in on all departmental meetings. It was great for them. The Director was around and they learned from him. If you are in a situation where big players who are making real decisions are around all the better for you. Former interns are a good source of info on this question.
  • What work do interns get to do at your prospective organization? This is HUGE so try to find out about it. My interns actually pitch small media, go to interviews and are on site for the stunts we do. We’re a small department in a medium sized firm. This means the interns who work with us do REAL WORK. If you go to bigger places or firms with rigid cultures you may end up being a human coffee service. This IS NOT PR and in my very humble opinion is of limited value. Enlightened employers understand that you, the intern, may be the future employee and so they let you get a taste of real work. Ask your school, former interns, or people you may know in a prospective firm.
  • Is the gig paying or not? Everybody’s gotta eat and have a some fun once in a while. Your financial situation is your business. However, if you have the luxury of not worrying too much about the stipend internships offer , then don’t judge opportunities based solely on whether they pay or not. It’s about experience.

That’s my list. You likely have other questions and points to add. Please share your thoughts so others can benefit.

Addendum: Be sure to read this post from PR Breakfast Club before you start an internship

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