Where Exceptional Begins

A Tale of “Big Kid” Beginnings: The Diary of an Internship Expert Part One

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As the job market grows more and more competitive, internships are becoming a very valuable asset to any resume. Many employers want potential applicants to have a few years of experience before they’ll hire them, and internships are a great way of gaining real-life training in your field, while still being able to complete your coursework.

Abby Arner, a senior at the University of Mount Union, who has completed three internships, one of which leading to a full-time job, tells her story of earning quality and meaningful internships. This is her first post in a series of three on her internship experience.

Before I jump into my tale of internship triumph and woe, I have to state something that is fact. Something that has taken me way too many months and emotional breakdowns to fully grasp: There is and there will never be “one right way” to earn an internship and job.

Let me expound on this fact. This fact of internship and job searching is both wonderful and quite awful. As the obsessive planner and Type A personality I am (my poor husband), this fact unnerves me. How on earth do I go about starting my career without a solid step-by-step blueprint? This question would keep me up too many nights than I would like to admit.

As much as I wished it to be, the real world—where all those impressive corporations and inspiring nonprofits thrive—does not work like that. There is no sure-fire, guaranteed way to earn an internship or job. Yes, this seems blatantly obvious; however, I was left feeling completely lost and desperate wondering what does one do to break into the “big kid” world?

Here is the other side of the coin, the most positive side that we must capitalize on: there is NO ONE right way to get an internship or job; thus, the path to earning your first internship or even your dream job does not look the same for everyone. Although the job market is overwhelming, and the economy is … well, you know … this unique state of the job market is the best time in years to find your place in a multitude of different ways. This is something to be celebrated, not feared! Now more than ever a candidate (you and me) can use our talents and skills to gain employment in an original way that is more personable and exciting than uploading your résumé.

Now do I mean that you should play basketball outside of the Quicken Loans arena to grasp the Cleveland Cavaliers’ marketing team’s attention? No, not exactly. But making a Cleveland Cavalier fan website where you’ve compiled all of the team’s stats and latest news to keep Ohioans in the loop with everything Cavs? Now that’s a slam-dunk that’s bound to make them interested. (I’m so punny; it’s bad.)

Of course there is a plethora of creative and effective ways to earn an internship, including the tried and true methods such as shadowing and networking, but you must understand that your path will not look like anyone else’s path. Most importantly, please understand that your path will definitely not look like the one you’ve been envisioning in your head—and that is more than okay—it is expected to diverge from the beaten path so to speak. So please, take my narrative with a grain of salt. Please learn from my mistakes and heed my warnings, but at the end of the day, you will reach where you are going through your own path, and the journey there is the exciting part!

My first internship was at the Louisville Public Library in Louisville, Ohio. I was thrilled to have this internship (it was my first one!) especially since it was about five to seven minutes from my house. I had earned this opportunity through a combination of lucky timing and having a grandfather that actually read a physical newspaper (which is a great habit to pick up by the way). He showed me the internship advertisement in The Harold, my hometown’s local paper.

In the hype of the online job searches, I NEVER would have noticed this position without my grandfather. Realize that I lived in a small city, thus this occurrence seems less uncommon, but it opened by eyes to the gamut of avenues one can venture down in search of a job or internship.

After my interview and one week later, I was hired as a public relations and accounting intern, which did strike me as a strange combination, but I just rolled with it. Since I was employed by a public library, the library only had the resources to hire one intern, so I was blessed to wear many different hats!

At the time I did not realize how beneficial this was to learn so many different tasks in areas I had never experienced before, namely accounting and IT work. I was frustrated at first because I was a public relations major at the time, and I wanted as much exposure to “real PR” as possible. I viewed experience and learning much too linearly then. If I would have taken the time to absorb how to appropriately repair a 2003-Dell tower, I could have added a valuable skill to my résumé and know-how.

Another mistake I made in this internship was being too prideful to ask questions. I have never considered myself as a prideful person, but I was terrified that my supervisors would regard me as “inadequate” if I did ask for help or clarification, especially on tasks that were quite simple. I would feel stupid for forgetting how the in-house accountant filed the paid-bills so I never asked and kept incorrectly filing them. It wasn’t until a month and a half into my internship that I realized the gravity of my mistake.

My supervisor was upset that her files were a mess, and it took me over six hours to pain-stakingly go back through to amend it all. I could have avoided this headache for the both of us all together if I had just asked that one little question at the beginning. Thankfully that was about the worst of my mishaps there.

Unfortunately, I was quite shocked at the incredible lack thereof a public relations specialist to mentor me. I was hired with the responsibilities of maintaining the website, news releases, events and social media (cue hyperventilation).  At this point I hadn’t even taken a public relations class, let alone know the first thing to do as the “head” of public relations for the library.

Despite the overwhelmingness of it all, I quickly learned how to use InDesign, what Facebook statuses generated the most reach, what events six year olds (and their donating grandparents) love to attend, and how to post to a website.

I DO advise that you try to find an internship were you can shadow and learn from a mentor who knows what they are doing—but by being thrown to the wolves without a single idea about what to do—I learned a LOT. But most importantly, I gained confidence.

By using Google Analytics, I was able to chart my effectiveness with my target audience and feel excited about the work I was doing. And goodness, my writing and social media skills became refined faster than Pokémon Go became viral (okay, may be not THAT fast, but faster than you can track down a Mewtwo).

And you can bet that I made a TON of mistakes trying to launch the library’s PR off the ground, but a blessing about the situation was that no one really knew if I made a mistake (they would notice a big mistake of course) with a hashtag on Instagram, or if I accidentally left that controversial Oxford comma in my press release. Having that flexibility to make little mistakes like that was critical for me to grow and improve without fearing major repercussions from my errors.

After three and a half months interning at the Louisville Public Library, I returned to Mount Union feeling much more prepared for my classes and with a better sense of what “public relations” actually was. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a magnitude to learn, but this internship provided me with a starting place I yearned so much for. It gave me basic knowledge of communications, PR, internships, and a taste of what a “big kid” job environment is really like.

To hear more about Abby’s internship experience, and to get even more advice, be sure to check back for our next post in the Diary of an Internship Expert series.

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