Before, During and After the Interview: The Diary of an Internship Expert Part Two
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 the second post in a series of three on her internship experience.
Towards the end of my fall semester of my sophomore year at Mount Union I started searching for my second internship (yes, I was paranoid; I stressed about internships this early). I wanted something in Alliance, or even better on campus, and after picking many of my friends’ brains and experiences, I decided that I wanted to intern at the office of marketing for the University of Mount Union.
After browsing through the Internet, I realized that there were no advertised internship positions available. With my confidence still fresh from the previous summer at the library, I did some poking around (I swear I did not stalk anyone) and uncovered the email of the intern supervisor for the office of marketing.
Then, I took a leap of faith and constructed the most professional email I could muster, and sent it to her expressing my interest in pursuing an internship with the UMU office of marketing. I literally (seriously) did a “happy dance” in my dorm room when she kindly invited me to come in for an interview.
Now, the preparation work commenced. I took the time to sit down and to polish up some of my press releases (both from my public relations classes and my previous internship for writing samples), pull out some of my most successful social media posts with their associated analytics, and I contacted some of my favorite professors asking if they would be a reference for me if the office of marketing chose to contact them.
With all of these components, I printed them all out neatly with my résumé and organized them into a paper report folder to hand to my interviewer. I also took the time to research the UMU office of marketing. I followed them on all of their social media platforms, and most importantly, I took ten minutes before my interview to read its latest press releases and blog posts.
*This step is CRUCIAL regardless of the internship, job, or field you are involved in!* This is what can make you stand out from other applicants by showing that you actually care about and know what this organization does. And reading its current news and watching its latest videos only takes about ten minutes! Also, this preparation will help to decrease your pre-interview nerves and anxiety. Honestly, there is nothing to lose by doing this, and there is so much to gain.
Additionally, no matter where and what you are interviewing for, from a waiter to a scientist, ALWAYS prepare questions to ask the interviewer. A dynamic of interviews that many seem to forget is that an interview is a two-way street. Yes, you are ultimately the interviewee being interviewed, but just as the interviewer is trying to determine if you are a good fit for the position and organization, you have to determine if the position and the organization is a good fit for you. From inquiring about company culture to what exactly the position entails, asking questions not only provides you with more information, but shows that you are prepared for the workplace.
I dressed professionally, but comfortably (I didn’t want to awkwardly squirm in a dress where the left strap kept falling off). I arrived at the office of marketing with my portfolio folder in tow ten minutes before my interview time to check in with the secretary. I wanted to communicate with my actions that I value and respect their time and schedule just as much as my own.
When I was led into my interviewer’s office, I followed her direction. For example, I did not sit until she had welcomed me to be seated. In addition, I did not sit all the way into the seat. I know this sounds ridiculous and way over-analyzed, but by seating halfway on the chair, you naturally have better posture, and your body language conveys that you are more attentive to the interviewer than if you are sunken into the chair. As minute as this sounds, sometimes it can be a big enough advantage to make you stand out from the crowd in a professional and courteous manner.
I am thankful that I am usually (knock on wood) relatively calm in interviews. However, if you become anxious or nervous, one of the best ways to cope—without showing your anxiety to your interviewer—is to press your thumb into your palm of your other hand.
You have a natural pressure point in the middle of both of your palms, and if you press your thumb to your opposing palm it will immediate release some of your tension. I learned this clever hack from my chiropractor (no joke), and I actually use this trick all the time when I am taking a final exam to steady my nerves and clear my head.
After my 15-minute interview and my questions, I shook her hand and walked back to my dorm room where I immediately wrote a “thank you” card to the interviewer. It is CRITICAL to send a thank you note to your interviewer at the least within the few days following. This follow-up set is a HUGE element that can either make or break this process for you. A “thank you” email is appropriate; however, a physical “thank you” card is even better. Remember when you were little (or right now like me) and LOVED receiving mail? We live in a work filled to the brim with emails, notifications, and other digital reminders all vying for our attention. A tangible note stands out to the interview and shows your true appreciation to them for making the time to interview you.
I have sent numerous “thank you” cards to interviewers, and I have received nothing but positive results from it all. Once I interviewed for an internship for a magazine company in Cleveland, and although I did not receive the position, I received another “thank you” note back from the interviewer asking to stay in touch with me after I graduate. This is HUGE! One “thank you” card that took me ten minutes to write and put in the mailbox turned into a phenomenal network connection without me having to leave my dorm room. Stand out from the other candidates in a kind, professional, and mature manner!
I was elated to receive my second internship, especially at an organization that was on campus. I LOVED being able to write about various topics about an organization I was passionate about. My editing skills became EXTRMELY refined. So much so that I christened the AP Style Guide as “The Bible.” I greatly enjoyed working independently and with my fellow peers on materials that we all enjoyed.
Working in the marketing office groomed me to meet deadlines dead on time (sorry, punny again). Of course I always had due dates and such in school and college classes; however, until this internship, I had no idea that I could write an effective press release in ten minutes. It was both thrilling and stressful at times.
This internship also allowed me to dabble into the statistical side of content marketing through constructing marketing plans and REALLY learning how to use Google Analytics appropriately (found out that I was using it all wrong last summer … oops). Through this I was also reminded why I choose to major in communications: numbers don’t like me, and I’m not fond of them either.
One of the greatest takeaways from ANY career-related experience (and even non-career-related experiences) is that you will learn what you like and don’t like; what you love and what you hate; what you can learn and what you need to learn next. Every single experience allows you to focus more and more on what you actually want in your internship, job, work atmosphere, and career. Every experience good or bad is a step closer to realizing and reaching what you REALLY want.
And of course, ANY experience will never be free from mistakes, and boy did I make one. I wish it were something as simple as missing a deadline or even misspelling a person’s name (which is like breaking a cardinal rule of PR). But it wasn’t. I made the biggest mistake of my short career so far, and I beg you not to make the same error: I made a verbal commitment to the office of marketing to extend my internship into the summer, but one month into my extended internship I left without fulfilling my two-weeks notice to pursue another internship.
Now, this probably sounds quite minor in the realm of things I could have possibly screwed up, but because I did not leave on a professional note (nor did I tell it to the correct person in the chain of power) I unintentionally burnt many bridges there amongst many of my coworkers. Although I was never rude or mean to them, it was the fact that I did not leave in a respectable and professional manner that left a bad taste of myself in their mouths.
In the heat of the moment and excitement of receiving another (higher paying) internship, I did not take the appropriate steps I should have to leave my current position gracefully. It has taken me over one year after my departure to reestablish my relationships (professional and friendly) with some of my coworkers. Risking those networking relationships and my young reputation in the communication field was not worth the decision I made so I could start the new position two weeks earlier than expected.
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.