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A Look at PR Internships

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

I’ll admit it’s been a long time since I was an intern, but frequently I talk to PR students who are starting their careers and the topic invariably comes up. In fact, these days it’s just about unheard of to work in PR without first having at least one internship. Internships provide real-world experience that can help candidates stand out in PR job interviews and help interns build their professional network.

Since internships are so common now, there are a lot more formal processes in place for them too — particularly at big PR agencies. For instance, if you’re planning on applying for an internship for the summer, you need to get to work now. Most agencies start accepting applications right after winter break, and by May they’ve selected and signed on their interns for the summer. A typical agency internship lasts 8 weeks, after which most interns either: a) go back to school; b) are offered a full-time position at the agency; or c) look for another internship or job.

One trend I’ve noticed is that more recent college graduates are applying for internships rather than full-time entry-level positions – even if they’ve already built up PR experience with other internships during college. I think that reasons for this trend could include:

  • The perception that the only way to be hired for an entry-level job at a big agency is to first work there as an intern.
  • Students who want to work in a new city, i.e. not the one their college is located in, feel that they need to make new connections in that area.
  • Studying PR in school exposes students to a broad range of practices and some still aren’t sure what they want to focus on in their careers by the time they graduate. Internships are a way to get practical experience that will also help them narrow or select their career path.
  • The economy is still in poor condition and the PR job market is still tight so new graduates are scaling back their expectations and aiming for intern-level positions instead of entry-level jobs

The economy may also have had a hand in the increase in unpaid internships in recent years. Some industries, such as the music and film industries, rely on unpaid interns and can offer valuable experience or connections in lieu of pay. While some unpaid internships can be categorized as educational and may even qualify the intern for school credit, if the work is menial it violates federal law not to pay the intern and several states are cracking down on this practice.

Legal or not, unpaid internships exist. Kent State University professor Bill Sledzik offers this summary of the pros and cons of both paid and unpaid internships.

Lauren Berger, founder of InternQueen.com, has had positive experiences with her unpaid internships at organizations such as MTV, Fox, BWR Public Relations and NBC. She says, “Unpaid internships can be the best experiences of your life. They were the best experiences of my life. They should be just as valuable as paid opportunities. Remember, unpaid internships should be only 12-15 hours per week. You can manage a part-time job, internship and school at the same time.”

She also comments on virtual internships, “Virtual internships can be amazing opportunities as well. A virtual internship means you work from home instead of from an actual office. Normally, virtual interns communicate with employees via Skype, texting, phone and email. Try to look for a virtual internship with structured hours.”

Want to weigh in on your intern experience?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.

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