FINDING THE RIGHT GIG - THE RIGHT INTERNSHIP - June 2015

There are a gazillion websites, blog posts, articles, seminars, videos and everything in between on how to land an internship. Chances are, you've read or heard 99 percent of this advice before.

• Edit and proofread your resume and cover letters
• Clean up your social media accounts
• Dress appropriately for an interview
• Be 15 minutes early to an interview
• Send thank you notes
• Don't be too shy
• Find a way to stand out
• Look people in the eye
• Have a firm handshake
• Build a network

All good stuff; and I don't want to dismiss this advice, but I would call it common sense. Job applicants who aren't doing these things are little leaguers trying to get an invite to the Olympic trials. If you're in your twenties and this is new information, then take to heart THE LIST.

But this blog is about getting THE GIG, not just a gig.

Unlike jobs, internships (in general) are fairly easy to land, because some small shop in some small town or suburb will let you work for them for free. But is that the internship that will be the most rewarding for your ultimate job search. Reality is, all internships are not created equal...

Many perusing interns have the misconception that the "bigger" the agency, the better the experience. This is not always true. Just because a shoe is expensive doesn't mean it's the comfiest or the right fit. Sometimes the smaller agencies will give you more focus and personal attention than a bigger agency. I'm not suggesting all big agencies can’t be attentive and personal, but it's smart to do research on their internship programs to confirm, as best you can, that interns won’t get lost in their size. Often, you can find others at your school that have already had internships at a variety of agencies; they can offer great advice on how your internship experience may play out. While many people believe you won’t know if you have THE GIG until you actually start your internship, getting a feel for the culture of an agency prior to making a decision will increase your chances of landing the position you covet.

I strongly believe that the agencies who communicate with you the best during your internship search process will probably end up offering you the best overall experience. Listen, I’ve honestly never run across an agency (large or small) that isn’t incredibly busy; so the “we’ve been swamped” or “I didn’t see your email” excuses are not valid responses. The bottom line is if the agency takes internships seriously, they will take your inquiry seriously. When the interviewer or contact at the agency “tap dances” your emails or fails to respond within a timely manner, you can take an educated guess that your internship may also follow that type of urgency or lack thereof. To that end, when pursuing an internship, first identify whether there is an established program in place with a line of protocol to follow.

Of course one in the agency you will truly know you got THE GIG when they immediately treat you like an employee and begin to immerse you into actual client work. Whether it is a legit project or a prototype, it is important to get hands-on-experience and have your project subject to review by the professionals. Many interns only do non-client projects and in my opinion, that does not prepare them for the real world; it is only one facet of the complete picture. However, when you are given real responsibility, you will know you’ve landed in the right place. What more can you ask that to have the chance to showcase your skills, gain the trust of your peers, and learn from seasoned veterans.

If you indeed find yourself in such a situation, seize the moment. Dig deeply into every task you are given. Ask questions. Be bold. Experiment. Think freely. And yes, stay within the lines of what you have been asked to do. This is how interns produce their best work and learn at the same time. Don’t take things personal, it is constructive criticism and you will not be penalized for effort. When an agency makes you accountable for your work, it should give you that adrenaline rush of proving your skills to everyone. Not only do you feel like you are part of a team, but your input matters. You are listened to, challenged, and may be given a different perspective of thinking. Remember, you are the “rookie” and the person providing that alternative perspective; yet you are also a “sponge” that should be absorbing all you can from the seasoned professionals in their field.

The right internship will challenge you to your limits. The internship should make you feel like you are treading in open water, and your agency is the one holding the life preserver. They will throw the life line to you when you start sinking, but that doesn't mean that it will land right next to you. You'll have to push yourself even further to grab the life preserver to accomplish your goals.

A great internship will not only build resume, but it should refine your skills as an individual. Whether the internship is paid or unpaid the experience should be meaningful. Understand that it needs to be a two way street for you to learn, ask questions, and input your knowledge. Each project you work on should find its way to your resume and portfolio. Hopefully your internship will not confine you to just one department. If you notice that you are going in that direction, speak up. The more you learn from the various departments, the more diversity that you learn of the process. Be open to the opportunity and grasp the knowledge and training put in front of you. Every learning block that you comprehend becomes a stepping stone of confidence and strengthens your resume.

One of the most important aspects of a smaller agency is its personal treatment. If you are starting out and "still learning the ropes", then this type of agency may be the best fit. Through experience, I am honored to be able to work with the owner, CEO, and various heads of departments. It is advantageous in a small agency to be able to work directly with decision makers and upper management. The combined plethora of knowledge is “priceless”!

Any internship can give you experience. It can help you with another job, give you the tools to start your own career path, but the right internship will make you feel like this is what you are meant to do. Getting THE GIG makes you realize what you are passionate about the most and calls you to live that lifestyle.

Give us your thoughts.

Steven Phelps
Florida State University
Intern, Chisano Marketing Group
Summer 2015