By Janet Northen, EVP, Director of Agency Communications at McKinney
Going to industry conferences gets old fast once déjà vu sets in and you swear you’ve heard it all before. But I perked up at 4A’s Accelerate when Hearts & Science COO Kathleen Brooks shared this pearl, “Own your own career.” I put the pencil I was writing with down and picked up a pen instead. Kathleen, if you’ll allow me to seasonalize your wisdom for the thousands of students trading the beach for business life this summer, I’d like to suggest “Own your own internship.”
Students, you landed the gig with your shiny resume and “can do” attitude. Your interview was all about what you can do for the internship. Now it’s time to figure out what your internship can do for you. Here’s how:
- Stand Out — You went to J. Crew, you bought the suit. Given the ultimate outcome, you may never have to wear it again. But you did demonstrate you could dress the part. Now it’s time to break the mold and be the intern everyone remembers. Be the one who shows up first, agrees to go first, sits on the front row, leads the team assignment, and asks the tough questions. You’re not an ass kisser — nobody likes those. You’re simply excited to be on board and that excitement is contagious to everyone around you.
- Get Up and Out — Ace the work you’ve been assigned to do. But right from the start, ask your supervisor if it’s OK, after your work is done, to job shadow in other departments. Don’t leave it to chance — recruit your supervisor to help you schedule these stints throughout the internship. Introduce yourself to department heads and let them know you’re a “gun for hire” on any projects that need extra hands. And if there is a new business pitch, volunteer your nights and weekends and then some. Collate, punch, make coffee, make the late-night FedEx run. Nothing says driven like sharing the story with a future employer about your contributions to winning the company’s newest and largest piece of business.
- Zuul the Gate Keeper — If Ghostbuster trivia isn’t your thing, just remember Zuul was scary as shit. But not as scary as your CEO’s executive assistant. Just like Zuul possessed Dana Barrett (look it up), these assistants possess their boss’ every movement. That’s why you must do some very serious sucking up to get on the CEO’s calendar at least two times during the internship. “But what am I going to say?” you gulp. Who cares? The point is the CEO knows you and you know her. Tell her why you’re excited about the internship. Share what you’re working on and how you’ve impacted the project. And when the summer is over, be sure you have connected on LinkedIn, and even asked for an endorsement. This may be your only chance to have zero degrees of separation between you and a CEO. Make it count.
- Get Social — Use the company’s branded shared and owned channels to get your name established on Google. If they let you write a bylined column on your experience as an intern, all the better. It will impress your mother and recruiters looking for smart, young talent. Be sure to share these posts on your personal pages.
- Break Out of the Box — Last summer, I was proud to score an outstanding intern for our agency communications department. We chugged along happily for a few weeks. She was efficient, attentive, and eager to contribute. But then the lightbulb sitting around the corner from me went dim. I asked her why. She bravely told me she was not suited for my department for the very reason she was suited. While she was happy to be on the team, she was using skills she already had. She wanted something different, and that was to fulfill her dream of becoming an art director. It took guts to tell me that what I offered wasn’t for her. I told her she had chops and we had plenty of time to get her infused into the creative department during her time with us. In no time, she was back to being the bright light I had come to value on my team, and she was building a solid portfolio of creative work to boot. Win for everyone.
- You Matter — Oh, yes you do. Just ask the intern who undervalued his worth to the agency. With no warning to me, he called in three hours late. “It was a rough night,” he lamented. “I will probably be in after lunch.” I assured him that if he didn’t think he or his work would be missed, then he probably shouldn’t bother coming in at all. He arrived in the office within the hour. You matter and so does your work. So act like it matters to you.
Students, do these six things and, when we all end up working for you, you’ll know your internship didn’t fade like the tan you didn’t get in the summer of 2018. Happy interning!
Janet Northen is EVP, Director of Agency Communications at McKinney. This summer, the agency will celebrate 20 years of “Mterns,” including the third recipient of the Joni Madison Diversity Scholarship, our 10th MAIP intern, and our first-ever army veteran Mtern.