Graduating from college with a degree in philosophy, Jeremy Pepper didn’t envision himself as a public relations professional. However, a friend that worked at Edelman suggested an communications internship to Pepper, who ran student government campaigns and wrote for his campus newspaper.
Pepper applied and got his first and only internship at Miller Shandwick Technologies, now known as Weber Shandwick. Through that experience he learned a new career, and has been a tech public relations professional for more than 15 years.
“I found a career that let me be creative, use my writing and speaking skills, and was somewhat a meritocracy — you could get ahead by doing good work,” Pepper said.
Internships might not be as life-changing as Pepper’s, but they are central to forming a career path. Internships can provide the necessary experience an individual needs to secure a dream job or position. Lisa Beauclaire, sourcing and diversity specialist at American Family Insurance, said that internships allow students to find the industries and positions they like.
“It’s important to get exposure to different employers and different work cultures,” Beauclaire said.
There are a few fundamental steps to getting an internship and making it the best experience possible. Mark Babbit, founder of student career service YouTern.com, said these five tips are critical to securing and excelling at an internship:
1. Interview well.
“Interviews are not supposed to be a nerve-wracking interrogation,” Babbit said.
Pepper said the best interview advice includes not over sharing during the interview, and researching the company beforehand. That way, questions can be asked to the interviewer as well.
“Always be prepared for the biggest weakness question,” he said. “The answer is to take the weakness and turn it into a positive.”
2. Prove yourself.
Pepper said his internship was made great by proving he could handle responsibilities and assignments. While working at Miller Shandwick, he was put on accounts such as Compaq and started building relationships with staff in other offices as well as the head of the tech practice.
“By proving my ability to do good, quick work, I was rewarded with relationships with senior staff that I still speak to today,” he said.
3. Refine your skill set.
Skills such as leadership, problem solving, communication and collaboration are critical during internships and afterwards as a member of the workforce. Babbit said employers look for workers who have these skills and can effectively transfer their knowledge to co-workers and clients.
“Development of transferable skills is a huge issue in our competitive marketplace,” he said.
4. Be pushy.
The best American Family interns are those that ask a lot of questions, Beauclaire said. Creating a good relationship with a mentor and being aggressive is key to not only making an impression, but also learning important career skills.
“Every intern should ask what’s in it for [them],” she said.
Networking is crucial to success both during and after an internship. Babbit said individuals should network for themselves as well as for their employers.
“With 80% of job offers coming from our personal networks, there is no such thing as too much networking,” Babbit said.
Beauclaire said individuals breaking into an industry need to network with people in the profession to build connections and learn more about the career. This requires taking initiative, and students should be open to making connections, especially through social media.
“It’s still a lot of who you know,” Beauclaire said.
BYU Career Services offers semi-annual career fairs as well as other services such as resume writing, interview preparation and job search strategies to help students get the experiences they are looking for. The rest, however, is up to the student.
“An internship is only as good as you make it,” Pepper said. “So make it killer, network with staff, and look for that internal mentor.”