The other day one of my best friends, who attends a UW university that shall remain unnamed, called me to give me an update on her newly declared major, public relations/ web presence. I always love to hear what she’s doing because I think there is a lot that can be learned from the perspectives other colleges are taking on the industry.
Our conversation was going great until we started talking about internships. I asked her what she was planning on doing for the summer, hoping to hear about an awesome opportunity she got in her college town. Instead, she replied with, “Internship? Where the heck do you expect me to get one of those? We don’t have to get internships here.”
It took all I had in me not to scream at her. But, that would not really help anything.
The sad thing is that there are a lot of students, across the state and our country, who are graduating with degrees in the public relations/communications field and feel the same way. It doesn’t matter where you go to school, internship experience will be required at almost any place you apply. After working at my internship at Weidert Group for seven months, I can’t stress enough how important it is for college students to secure internships before they graduate.
Because if you don’t, you will be stuck interning after you graduate, in order to obtain the necessary experience for entry-level jobs in this industry!
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Here is my list of the top five things (that employers see as necessary skills) that you won’t learn in the classroom:
1. How to pitch the media. This is something that many of us will be doing everyday after we graduate, and it is one of the main skills that prospective employers look for when they are hiring. Have you had success pitching the media? Do you know what goes into a proper press release or media alert? What’s the difference? My internship has provided me with the ability to pitch print and digital media, as well as form relationships with local media professionals. Now, I can go into an interview and show them my media placements, display my media contacts and discuss their preferences in press release layout.
2. How to network. Networking is one of the most important skills that a PR professional can possess. After all, one of the biggest parts of our job is managing relationships, right? My internship had provided me with the opportunity to attend countless networking opportunities ranging from client/ corporate events to fundraisers and Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) meetings. At these events, I have met PR professionals in our community that have big influences at their companies (something that will be nice when I am a professional myself).
3. How to plan implement and measure a PR campaign. Yes, our classes give us a lot of theoretical practice when it comes to PR campaigns. But, what they don’t give us is the experience owning a campaign, approaching a business with a plan and making countless adjustments to the plan when the business says, “Sections B, D, F and G don’t work for us.” While interning, I have had the chance to work on PR campaigns from beginning to end. Unlike in the classroom, I get to go to client meetings, see their reactions and make changes to the document as they happen. You tell me what class allows you to do that.
4. How to track social media and campaign results. This goes way beyond Hootsuite analytics, people. One of the things that I was most overwhelmed by during my first few weeks on the job was the outrageous number of analytic, measuring and marketing platforms that different companies use. Being that I work at an agency, we have to know them all, because our clients all use different ones. During my time at Weidert, I have used Vertical Response, Google Analytics, Survey Monkey, MyMediaInfo, WordPress stats, Pitchengine and, yes, even Hootsuite analytics. One platform that I need to learn in Radian 6, and you should consider learning it, and the others mentioned, too! The more you know, the more attractive you are to employers.
5. How to be professional. Yes, there is a certain way that you have to act around your company’s executives and CEO’s. There’s also a way that you have to act around clients. These personas differentiate quite a bit and it is really something that you have to learn as you go. Thankfully, I have been able to make mistakes at my internship, an extended learning environment, versus my first professional job. Mistakes in the real world tend to me more embarrassing and come with heavier consequences.
So, I encourage you to look for an internship if you were previously opposed to one.