Lost before they began – the intern trap

Outsource blog: Lost before they began – the intern trapI get approached by eager young things looking for an internship pretty much every day. Now, without sounding too self-absorbed I do run a business, I do have a couple of children and I do live in Sydney where the daily commute is enough to make your blood boil – on a good day. And I know I’m not alone when it comes to other agency owners. We’re all under the pump.

Then, in comes an email or a letter from a bright, cheery intern enquiring about the chance to work with us.

First, let me say, I’m always flattered. I may be self-absorbed, but I’d hate to wake up one day and find out that no-one would ever want to be an intern at my firm. It’s always flattering to think that someone would trust you with their first impression of an industry by working in your business.

However, that’s not the point here. The point is this, there’s a right way and wrong way to apply for an internship.

The wrong way gives me a new job to add to my to-do list, and unfortunately it’s going to be pretty low down on it. The right way makes it really easy for me to say ‘I’d love to have you on board.’

So for good or evil, here goes the checklist that I hope some of the budding young stars of the PR industry will review before they get in touch.

a) Find out who owns the consultancy or manages or is responsible for hiring interns before you email or write a letter. Nothing says ‘I don’t actually know the first thing about your consultancy (and therefore what I could do assist it) than a note saying ‘Dear madam/sir’. Ring our receptionist first. She’s lovely and won’t bite your head off if you just ask who the best person is to address a letter to regarding an internship. You may have worked out by now that it’s me.

b) When you send your letter and CV make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors in them and that they make sense. You’re trying to get a gig at a place that specialises in communication. If it was me applying for a job I’d make sure the first writing example I presented had been reviewed within an inch of its life. Get someone else to proof it for you too.

c) Tell me stuff I need to hear that will make it easy for me to just say ‘Yes.’ I do actually like having interns here so just give me the info any business owner needs to make an easy decision.

So what do I need to know? It’s really simple.

Are you looking for a paid position or happy to just lend a hand and get some experience? Straight up I can make some decisions depending on how cash flow, budgets and current client loads are. I’ve got no problem paying some interns if we need them and they have some skills already, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

What days and hours can you work? I need to think about how you will fit in with the rest of our team. Is the person who needs to supervise you going to be in the office those days for example.

When can you start and how many weeks do you want to work? Again, unless you want to be in charge of collecting the milk and keeping the white boards clean, we’d like our interns to be on deck when we’ve got people around to set you tasks and give you some basic consultancy training and answer your questions.

What are you interested in doing? Do you have a passion for writing? Are you doing research for a uni paper? Would you like to learn about consulting? Give me a sense of what you’re looking for. If we can’t give you the experience you want, we’ll say so.

Tell me why you want to work in our sector. Agencies often specialise in different industries. Our agency specialises in the technology and corporate sectors. Are they areas you are interested in? Do you actually know what those sectors are? Find out before you write in. There’s no point doing an internship at a B2B agency if you love fashion. The DNA is completely different in those agencies and you’re not going to get a good feel for what your future career will be like if you don’t get the right picture up front.

Last, tell me some things about you. What uni marks have you been getting? What do you do outside of study? Do you support yourself with a part-time job (big tick if you do by the way … demonstrates a good work ethic, autonomy, initiative, maturity and knowledge about how hard money is to come by). What’s your general attitude to life?

In conclusion, I like having interns around. It’s always good to have new, fresh faces in the office who want to learn. It’s good for our existing staff to remember where they started and how far they’ve come. I also think agencies have a debt of duty to help excite and motivate our youngest colleagues so they feel passionate and engaged about our industry. Finding staff is always problematic in PR and marketing and the more people who choose it as their career because of a positive internship experience, the better off all agencies owners will be. So, please do get in touch, but tick all the boxes if you can and make it easy for me to say yes.