This summer we'll be sharing 'Intern Insights,' a series of guest posts all about internships, from students enrolled in UC 225. Today's post from Katie Trucco, an English major interning in Chicago, offers some great advice from her own experience on how to approach your internship search. Thanks Katie! For more insights, be sure to check out other posts in the Intern Insights series.
It goes without saying that the search for a worthwhile, interesting internship is a long and sometimes frustrating one. Students spend hours on the internet, filing through job search engines and different career pages, hoping there is a position that fits their professional interests. I know I spent many nights delving into whatever information I came across, even just the results of a simple Google search like “Chicago Public Relations Firms.” While the actual application process is heavily focused on detail, I learned that the beginning of a search should be broad. To find opportunities to submit carefully crafted cover letters and refined resumes begins with a open-minded hunt for the right position.
I grew up just outside of Chicago, and I wanted to experience the city in a different way by working somewhere within the city limits. Along with that criteria, I knew I wanted to find an internship in public relations or marketing. I’ve always been interested in finding a way to spark interest among a group of people, and I enjoy brainstorming with others to generate positive energy. After looking for many months for a position fulfilling my personal criteria, I was finally offered a position at a public relations firm specializing in theater and hospitality. I’m not necessarily a theater buff, and I can really only name a handful of hotels in the city, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to work in an unfamiliar field, all while gaining skills and proficiency in public relations and marketing.
While conducting my search, my dad always reminded me that sometimes, you have to “start small.” Often, the term ‘internship’ paints images in our heads of brewing coffee, taking meeting minutes, and performing other menial jobs. These are not acquired skills, but rather small tasks. Many times, this might be what “starting small” means. You meet a few people, hope you make a good impression, and cross your fingers that they remember you as the guy who refilled the copy machine toner every once in awhile, and now you’re looking for a job post-graduation. This summer, I have learned that “starting small” is just the opposite. The company I’m interning at does not employ hundreds of people, but rather a small but powerful ten. Smaller firms work in an intern's favor, as I’ve learned from my own experience. My fellow interns and I often say that sometimes we feel like associates because of how involved we are in the day-to-day business. We sit in on every conference call, reach out to every client, attend every opening night of the current play we work to promote, and craft promotional events just like the full-time employees do. I know that my experience at a smaller firm will serve me so well in the future, because I’ve built a set of professional skills and confidence that I don’t think I would have at a larger firm.
Before you begin your search, talk to someone in the field. This past winter, I met with a girl who grew up in my neighborhood who now works at a major PR firm in Chicago. I had applied for an internship position at that company, and was definitely interested in an opportunity there, but I really found that just picking her brain about what she does everyday was the most worthwhile form of networking. Over lunch, she told me what she did to build her resume, how she prepared for interviews, and what she plans to do in the next few years. It really helped me form my own career plans when I heard what someone else’s were. We still keep in touch every once in awhile to talk about what we’re doing. I have found that it invaluable to have a resource like this, just to even to simply bounce questions off of and help organize my career plans.
A concern among many students looking for internships is the issue of paid vs. unpaid. I am lucky enough that I can live at home and don’t have to factor in certain expenses like rent and groceries, for the time being. But not everyone is lucky enough to have their mom making dinner for them, or being able to grab a ride home with their dad from the city. My internship is unpaid, which is a bit of a change for me. Growing up, I’ve always had some source of my own money during the summer, whether it was babysitting for neighbors or working in retail. Taking kids to the pool on a hot summer day for some cold hard cash might not sound too bad as I sit at a desk and type all day, but let’s be honest, I’m not learning anything that will move my future forward. I’m not getting paid in currency at my internship, but everything that I’m learning is well worth it. My suggestion to students looking for an internship next summer: don’t let “unpaid” worry you! You will be amazed at all of the details about your position you will be able to talk about in a future interview, or highlight while updating your resume. Not paid rarely means not worth it.
In short, any advice I would offer when looking for an internship is to not freak out. There are a ton of opportunities out there, and you have to go into your search with an open mind. Size does matter, so if it is not as recognizable of a company, don’t immediately leave their homepage. Starting small is important, so be open to all opportunities. Research many positions, and talk to someone who has been an intern before. And last but not least, unpaid doesn’t mean unworthy!