Bruce Pinkleton is a professor and head of Strategic Communication in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. He teaches public relations and research methods courses and directs the public relations internship program. He is coauthor of Strategic Public Relations Management and his research interests include campaign evaluation, media influence and individuals’ use of media for decision making in health and public affairs.
The team at Weber Shandwick is making what’s become an annual trek to Pullman to discuss careers in public relations with WSU students (Go Cougs!). These alumni and friends are a few of the many generous people working in PR who care about students and want to give back to their universities and profession. One of the best ways professionals give back is through internships. If you’re a public relations student, there’s nothing more important to your career than completing an internship.
The benefits of an internship are too numerous to discuss here but I’ll outline 5 reasons a PR internship will jump start your career, and a few key benefits as I see them.
- First, they provide you with some real experience to go along with your great education. I have no doubt your education is excellent, but nearly everyone looking for work in public relations has a college degree. Internships provide you with relevant professional experience beyond what you’ve learned in class. Internships are an important part of your resume-building activities and help set you apart from the competition.
- Next, internships provide you with great examples of the professional-quality work you’ve done. My advice to all public relations students is the same these days: Buy your name as a domain name and build a website that showcases your skills. In the old days, public relations practitioners hauled around a hard-copy portfolio to every job interview (the remnants of mine are sitting on my shelf; we both look like fossils). Back then, portfolios were filled with your best work examples and published clips. Today, you can put it all online along with that great blog you’re writing and links to your social media. An internship should provide you with some excellent work you can showcase on your website.
- Along with this, internships help you build a network of professional contacts. Getting a job is a challenge these days. While an internship may not turn into a job, it should help you develop a network of professionals who will help you along the way. Many of these professionals are people who remember what it was like when they were in your shoes and want to help you succeed. People who will give you advice and help mentor you in your career are invaluable and an internship should help you begin to develop this network.
- In addition, internships allow you to apply your education to real-world work and develop relevant skills and expertise. Most often, your practical experience in public relations is the key to finding a job. If you’ve proven yourself through an internship in small ways, managers are more willing to give you a chance to prove yourself in bigger ways. As you gain experience, you begin to develop relevant skills and expertise that can benefit agencies and their clients. The more skills and expertise you have, the more valuable you are to an organization.
- Finally, internships are a great way for you to learn what you like and don’t like on the job. One of the best things about our field is its incredible breadth. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s relatively easy to change career directions in public relations. An internship can be a great way to help you figure out what you like and don’t like about various career possibilities. This learning process helps you determine your career direction as you move forward.
Here’s a final thought to consider as I wrap it up: If you have a bad experience when looking for an internship, forget about it and move on. We’ve all been turned down for a job and experienced other rejections. When I was in college, the girl of my dreams dumped me twice! Don’t get discouraged or take it personally when you don’t get an internship or have an otherwise poor experience. There are many reasons an internship might not work out. The best response is to use it as a learning experience and move on to the next opportunity. No matter what happens, don’t give up! Remember that girl of my dreams? We’ve been married 27 years now.