Eight Questions to Ask Before Accepting an Internship

Once again internships are prominent in the news. Just last week, we learned from an article in the Atlantic that barely one-third of the U.S. Senate pay their interns. The White House also was recently chided about not paying interns.  Even the foundation of the COO of Facebook has finally and reluctantly relented and has announced that the foundation will begin paying interns.

I have written before about the internship on behalf of the Public Relations Society of America and have not changed my opinion one iota. Internships are legitimate work and should be compensated. PRSA is so adamant about the issue that it published an advisory nearly three years ago for its 30,000 members about internships. As noted in a past post  on internships, PRSA believes it is ethically improper to employ anyone who adds real value to a public relations agency or department without compensating them for their work – whether that compensation is monetary or in the form of educational credits. If billable work is being performed by an intern, he or she deserves some form of legal compensation.

There was a time many years ago when internships were employed by organizations to give back to society by offering summer employment to students in disciplines related to their academic studies. Later, the internship evolved to a way for organizations to solve interim staffing issues. On the candidate side, the internship was a way to get practical, real-world experience in the field that would supplement academic training. Somewhere along the way, internships started to be viewed as a volunteer function and organizations treated them as such.

Let’s be clear though what constitutes volunteerism. Helping a charitable organization tend to the needs of the underserved is volunteerism. Assisting an organization to sell books or some other product or service is not.

As young professionals, your goal is to secure a full-time professional position in public relations. Here are several metrics for evaluating the efficacy of internships after you have graduated.

  1. Is the internship a paid position? And is it well above minimum wage? This is a critical question for which the answer is simple. If it is not paid, steer clear.
  2. Is the compensation reasonable for the role? You should expect no less than $25 per hour, particularly if the job involves content creation, including writing releases, case studies, blogs, speeches, tweets, Facebook posts and yes, even questions for Quora or content for Pinterest.
  3. Is the internship/job a 40-hours-a-week gig and/or are you expected to put in inordinate time that is not compensated? Most jobs are reasonably 40 hours a week or at max 50 hours. Investigate if there is the opportunity for paid overtime or compensatory time.
  4. What is the probability that the internship will lead to a full-time position? Assuming you excel in the job, will the employer agree to put it in writing ahead of time? As Ronald Reagan once said, “trust but verify.” If a permanent position is not in the cards, make certain other conditions are sufficiently compelling to make the internship worth your time and labor.
  5. Is the organization a leader in its category, whether a non-profit, corporation, institution or agency? Your credibility, integrity and personal brand are all built on your associations. Make certain that the organization is a thought leader or at least “reputation safe.”
  6. Will the internship help to appreciably increase your skills, broaden your understanding of the field and augment your network and sphere of influence? These are all vital characteristics that should be inherent in your investment in the internship. If they don’t contribute, think hard and long before you accept.
  7. Can you use the content you create as part of your portfolio? Will you be able to take credit publicly for your intellectual labor and resulting product? It is wise to have some evidence that you can use to validate your accomplishments.
  8. Will your employer give you time for other pursuits, including volunteer work, professional affiliations and networking? Don’t be chained to your desk. Make sure there is adequate freedom to network, volunteer and attend to other professional endeavors.

If you decide to go the internship route while you job hunt, exercise caution in doing internships that do not help fulfill your career goals and strategy. What other red flags have you seen associated with internships? Have your internship experiences proved valuable in your professional growth?

 

Gerard CorbettGerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is 2013 immediate past chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America; chair and CEO of Redphlag LLC, a Silicon Valley Strategic Communications Firm; and the PR Job Coach.  He can be reached at gerard.corbett@redphlag.com

Intro to Political PR

Growing up, I knew I had to be involved in politics. From the time my mom took me to a presidential rally when I was only five years old, her political enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I helped knock on doors to get out the vote in high school and registered to vote the day I turned 18. There’s nothing like the thrill of election night, when all the hard work pays off and the candidate you believe in is allowed the privilege to work on behalf of the people.

Working on campaigns, Capitol Hill and in the executive branch has given me a unique perspective on how the political world works. Political PR is not for the faint of heart – expect long hours, unexpected demands and job uncertainty because of elections. However, it’s incredibly rewarding when you see major legislation, which you helped guide through, passed and signed into law.

As I knew the natural progression of working in political communications leads to Washington, D.C., or a state capital, I have learned a few things throughout my journey that can help tremendously if you’re looking to break into political PR:

1)     Always network. In an extremely competitive environment like politics, it may seem tough to break into the industry. Not having many political connections myself, I worked hard to connect with anyone and everyone who would meet with me. Make the most of your friends, classmates and their connections. Once you identify someone whose work and experience interests you, ask for an informational meeting and always be thankful for their time. Even if a position isn’t open at the moment, there might be one down the line, and that person can help you land it.

2)     No position or task is beneath you. Although you may have graduated from college, politics is all about working your way up the totem pole. Many young professionals make the mistake of thinking they are qualified to be a press secretary without any experience. It’s important to find solid internships, perhaps on the Hill, which will help you gain skills applicable to a legislative office to be considered for entry-level jobs. If you want to do communications, ask to help the press secretary or communications director with drafting press releases or coordinating social media.

3)     Join a campaign. Often, some of the best hands-on experience you can gain is to join a campaign and work on the trail. A lot of people begin their political PR careers on campaigns, which always need extra help. If you join a race at a more local level, you are more likely to earn more responsibility.

These are just a few takeaways from my time spent in Washington, D.C. One of the most important rules is to have fun. I’ve had made some of my best friends through working in politics. Also, pay it forward – someday, when you’re a big shot, remember there will be people looking for their start and how you have been in their shoes. Happy politicking!

 

Kate EnosKate Enos is currently an account executive at GYMR Public Relations. Previously, she served as deputy press secretary for the federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service. She also has several years of varied legislative and political experience, working on Capitol Hill and on several state and nationwide political campaigns. Enos is the PRSA New Professionals Section mentorship co-chair.

March Twitter Chat Highlights: Personal Branding vs. Personal Marketing

We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the March #NPPRSA Twitter chat.

Specifically, we’d like to thank our co-host for the month, YouTern and their #InternPro chat for joining us.

Join us again on April 11 at 9 p.m. ET for the next #NPPRSA Twitter chat.

Review highlights of the chat below. What did you learn from the March chat? What do you value in a personal brand? How do you identify and use your unique value in marketing yourself to others?

 

 

Amy Bishop is the digital marketing manager for Cru Global, a faith-based nonprofit. Bishop helps align Cru’s global marketing, branding and digital strategies with new technology systems to move Cru toward a social business strategy that improves customer experience and increases revenue. She is the social media chair for the PRSA New Professionals Section. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Professional Devleopment Brown Bag: “What PR Bosses Wish Their New PR Pros Would Do But Won’t Tell Them” with Michael Smart

All of us have different relationships with our bosses. Many new professionals hear from their bosses more than they’d like, while others may not hear from them enough. Some can walk into their boss’s office anytime to ask a question, while others need to get on their schedule and prepare a little bit to speak with their boss. Regardless of where your relationship with your boss falls, one thing is true – your boss is not telling you everything he/she appreciates or wishes you wouldn’t do at work.

Our next New Professionals Section Brown Bag features someone who has not only worked with countless PR executives, but has also mentored several successful young pros (who have gone on to Edelman, Waggener Edstrom, Fleishman-Hilliard and Harvard Business School). In working with these PR executives, Michael Smart has often heard them rant and rave about their young employees. Now he’s here to share it with us – the good and the bad – in our upcoming Brown Bag, “What PR Bosses Wish Their New PR Pros Would Do But Won’t Tell Them.”

Don’t miss it! Join us Monday, June 11 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EDT. Register here.

Michael SmartMichael Smart teaches PR professionals a smarter way to get PR results. He’s regularly the highest-rated speaker at the industry’s largest conferences, including the PRSA International Conference last year. He has trained more than 4,000 communicators from Frankfurt to Bangkok how to land top-tier media coverage. Smart also coaches communications execs at companies ranging from Fortune 200 firms, such as Aflac and GlaxoSmithKline, to mid-sized companies and PR agencies. Follow him on Twitter.

The Brown Bag is only available to New Professional Section members.

Three Reasons to Get a Graduate Degree in PR by Whitney E. Gray

When I entered the field of public relations at the ripe old age of 22, I felt like a latecomer. I had just moved to Washington, D.C., for an internship in PR at a theater (as I thought I wanted to work at a theater, but did not know in what capacity) and quickly realized how exciting and creative PR could be. With no formal PR-focused education, I decided to take an introduction to PR class in a strategic public relations graduate program at The George Washington University, which turned out to be a great career decision.

PR is a field that doesn’t require post-graduate degrees, and professionals in the field have a variety of undergraduate majors and minors. A lot of schools do have PR undergraduate degrees, such as the Newhouse School at Syracuse, as well as PRSSA chapters. Many people, though, come to PR with a strong background in writing, speaking or community outreach and may be looking for more formalized training, which was exactly what I needed. Benefits from obtaining a master’s degree include:

Learning from classmates

Much of the knowledge I gained from attaining my master’s degree in PR came from speaking with my fellow classmates. In my introduction to PR class, filled mostly with part-time students with full-time jobs, I met people working as press secretaries for senators, account executives at PR firms, graduate interns in formal government postings, sole PR practitioners at non-profits and in a host of other positions. The class also included some less experienced people such as myself, but class conversations were more often carried by people with experience, and it was interesting to hear their thoughts. Though my classmates’ collective experience intimidated me, I appreciated being able to learn from the stories and ideas they shared.

Connecting to internship and networking opportunities

Experience is key in PR. Internships can help a new professional determine what kind of place at which he or she would like to work. (Agency? Non-profit? Government?) They can help a new pro get his or her foot in the door. Networking is also a good way to gain knowledge about the PR field in a specific area and meet people who can connect you to a job. Combining networking and the experience of obtaining a graduate degree is sure way to achieve success, and, in fact, networking and getting experience can be much easier to do through enrolling in a graduate program. Many companies may require internship candidates to be enrolled in a graduate program, such as government Student Career Experience Programs (SCEP), and university career centers often help connect students to internships or full-time positions. Graduate programs or university career centers often host helpful networking events as well, free to students. Take advantage of these if you enroll in a program.

Getting an edge on your resume

Toward the end of my graduate program, I began to look for a full-time PR position through the career center at which I worked. I found a position that required applicants to have either a certain number of years of experience (which I didn’t have) OR less years of experience and a master’s degree. Since I would had the degree, I was qualified…and got the job! In other situations, when your resume may look nearly the same as another candidate’s, but you have a master’s and the other candidate does not, you’ll come out on top.

 

The decision to get a master’s is a big one to make. Aside from assessing whether it will help you improve your job prospects, you’ll have to consider the cost–what program to choose (PR, communications, perhaps even an MBA), which schools to apply to, whether to go full-time or part-time and if you’ll be able to handle the work load. Try applying for a job at the school you decide to go to. After I started working full-time at GWU, my tuition costs were almost completely covered by the school. Whatever you end up deciding to do, make sure it’s something that will add to your career, that you’ll be learning new information that you didn’t know before and that you’ll enjoy the program. If you apply and get in, make sure to go out and have fun with your classmates—they’ll be your future colleagues!

 

Whitney GrayWhitney E. Gray, communications specialist for Easter Seals, a non-profit disability services provider, works for Project ACTION, which promotes cooperation between the transit industry and disability community. Hailing from the snowy state of New Hampshire, Gray has been working in Washington, D.C., since 2008. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts and American studies from Brandeis University and has a master’s degree in strategic public relations from The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Gray is the PRSA New Professionals Section membership co-chair.