At Lasa, a charity which helps thousands of charities across the UK, I’ve recruited and managed a number of PR and marketing interns over the years. The voluntary sector has never been more competitive and with a third of graduates still unemployed after six months applications for our internships have skyrocketed.
So how do you distinguish yourself from the pack, whether you are trying to get your foot in the door for an interview, or looking to impress now that you’ve secured an internship? In my view, this is what successful interns should – and shouldn’t – do:
- Do be professional. Whenever we advertise for internships, we get a lot of applications. I’m often impressed by the quality of candidates. Yet people occasionally fail to get the basics right. Whether it’s typos, bad grammar or using the wrong name for the charity you are applying to, it looks sloppy. Responsiveness is important too; if your plans change at the last minute and you can’t, for example, attend an interview, call to let the organisation know. Remember that it’s a small world – especially the charity sector – and you may well come across the same people again.
- Do ask questions. One of the first things I always say to new interns is, “I’m often very busy but never let that stop you asking questions. I will make time whenever you need help.” I ensure that interns know what they need to do, but everyone gets stuck sometimes, and a good intern is one who comes and asks questions straightaway rather than spending ages trying to fix the problem themselves. Yep, it’s all about communication.
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. See above. Again, communication and attitude is everything. I don’t expect interns to turn out 100% perfect work from day one, although I do expect them to aim for high standards. I look for interns who listen to the brief for their work then get stuck in and give it their best shot.
- Do listen. One of my best interns was characterised by her ability to listen to what was required of her. Like all of us, she found some projects harder than others, but she listened every time I gave her feedback, then took it on board when she produced her next piece of work. By the end of the internship she had acquired some excellent skills, had some good experience on her CV and was noticeably more confident. I was really proud of how she had developed.
- Do use your initiative. One of my interns once took a phone call from a journalist whilst I was in a meeting. The journalist was on a deadline and was somewhat flustered, but the intern didn’t panic. He calmly established what the journalist needed and then came to find me to check that his proposed response was the right one. If you can show that you are proactive about solving problems then it will take you a long way.
- Don’t forget attention to detail. Whether you’re emailing a journalist, or drafting some copy for a webpage, the devil really is in the detail. Learning to check your work thoroughly before it goes anyway is an important skill, particularly in PR and marketing.
- Do network. A good internship can be the gateway to new opportunities. Do try to get to know your colleagues, as well as contacts you may meet through the organisation you intern with. And do get out there yourself too. There are lots of great (and free!) events in the sector, from NFPTweetup to Bright One socials.
For all of you applying for or starting an internship this summer, good luck. I hope you enjoy your first steps into PR and marketing as much as I once did. If you are ever interested in interning with Lasa in the future, drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org
This guest post was written by Zoe Amar, Head of Marketing and Business Development at Lasa, a charity which provides services to Shelter, Age UK and thousands of other charities across the UK. She is also on the Bright One board and she is a regular personal commentator and speaker on charity marketing, contributing to The Guardian and Charity Comms. Zoe is also a Chartered Marketer and tweets from @zoeamar