Written by Christy McDermott
As a communications major, gaining relevant experience is essential to landing your dream internship. The more selective the program is, the less likely your intro PR class is going to stand out on your resume. One of the biggest things on my resume is my work through my university’s magazine, and it has been almost equivalent to an internship with the skills and opportunities I’ve gained through it. Here are my five major takeaways that helped me land my dream internship this summer.
1. Writing Clips
For any type of journalism or communications internship, there’s a good chance you will be asked to show some published clips of your writing. I’ve had many articles published through my university magazine’s website and print edition and having those clips really shows the quality of your writing and gives you more credibility as a writer. I always keep a magazine copy with me and hand it to interviewers, and not only does it spark a great conversation, it gives them physical proof that you have what it takes to write for them.
Regularly having articles to write has also given me enough practice to improve my writing and have the opportunity to see the editing process that goes on behind the scenes. I’ve gained some of the most valuable feedback from editors through the magazine, and they can even become mentors that can help you build your writing and connect you to different opportunities.
2. Interview Skills
I’m awkward. You’re awkward. Interviewing people can be a very awkward experience — especially if you’ve never done it before. There’s really no other way to practice interviewing people other than to go out and get hands-on experience with it. I have interviewed so many people — from the mayor of our town to professors to random students — and each one posed its own difficulties. But once you put yourself out there and gain some confidence, it can be a really worthwhile experience not only for gaining some great quotes but for building your communication skills. I’ve found that I have a much easier time talking to people that may seem intimidating, and it has given me a lot of ease when I go in for interviews myself.
3. Working on a Deadline
A major skill internships look for is being able to work on a deadline. Through the magazine, I’ve been accustomed to pitching multiple ideas and writing one article per week. Making a habit out of being accountable is key to being able to move up and work with a business or company, and it helps you figure out how you need to manage your time and workload. While still in college, you may be forgiven for turning in an article a few hours late, but maybe not so much for an internship.
4. Managing Relations Between Different Divisions
Throughout my semesters working with our magazine, I’ve been able to move up from all kinds of different positions. As the current managing editor and soon-to-be editor-in-chief for next semester, it has been essential that I’ve worked with all of our different divisions. Not only do I work with writers and editors, I help manage relations between our PR, business and creative staff to help put together one cohesive magazine. Seeing the other side of what goes into creating a magazine has been incredibly eye-opening and has given me a lot of respect for each person that puts their hard work into our magazine. I don’t know much about business or how to handle finances, but getting to talk with people that do and hearing how they are able to budget our money, set up events and pay for the magazines to get printed are things that I wouldn’t have learned in any of my classes.
This kind of experience will really come in handy for an internship, and it’s always important to never lose your curiosity. You never know what you might learn and when that’ll come in handy later! For any internship or job, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked to do something that wasn’t in your contract or something you have no experience in, so staying curious and learning new things will never hurt. Ask someone to teach you how to use Photoshop, take an Excel course, edit some video clips — internships look for people who aren’t afraid to say yes to a new challenge.
5. Learning A Brand Voice
Learning the voice of a brand is essential to maintaining one consistent voice for an entire company or publication. When I first became a writer for my university’s magazine, I was handed a style guide filled with endless pages of the “do”s and “don’t”s of the magazine’s brand. No oxford comma, AP style, using “says” not “said” — tiny details I never knew mattered were shaped to fit the brand and image of the magazine. Even the voice and style of our writing had to all be similar — not that we couldn’t have creative freedom, but it was clear that a five-paragraph formal essay wasn’t going to fit in on a life and style magazine.
Learning the brand voice of the magazine has been a huge skill that has definitely helped me, and it played a huge role in getting my internship this summer. All of the potential interns had to create a sample email along with potential subject lines, and right away I was able to learn the brand’s voice and create a sample that was consistent with their style. While your own unique voice is very important, it’s key to be able to write in different styles based on the company.
Christy McDermott is currently a junior at Penn State and is the Managing Editor for VALLEY Magazine, Penn State’s only student-run life and style magazine. Passionate about fashion and storytelling, she hopes to write for a major fashion magazine or create her own successful blog in the future. You can connect with her on Instagram @chhristyy or on VALLEY’s website.