Internships in the public relations industry are critical for students aspiring to become successful professionals in the field. Internships enable students to gain the necessary skills and experience to be attractive to potential employers and begin establishing a career path. However, as anyone who has held one or multiple internships knows, these experiences can be mixed. A successful internship depends largely on the leadership abilities of the professional mentor or manager assigned to the intern, and not all of these leaders are adequately prepared for the task. What are these qualities, and how can they provide exceptional internship experiences?
A recent Gallup poll found that exceptional leaders exhibit the following traits: clarity, agility, and perspective. Exhibiting these qualities as a leader can greatly enhance an intern’s experience at the company. Professional mentors should set clear expectations with their intern, discussing exactly what tasks are (and are not) expected of them during their employment. A sense of clarity helps the intern adapt to tasks that would be expected of them as a professional in the industry as well as see themselves as part of the solution, rather than feeling like they are doing the undesired work from colleagues. Lack of clarity can make an intern question whether or not they add value to the organization, if not given the proper feedback. Without clarity, an intern has fewer opportunities to succeed.
Professional mentors who are engaged with their interns helps to produce better work for the company as a whole. Continual engagement with an intern helps to surface expectations outside of the tasks that were originally discussed; this requires agility from the mentor. Each individual is unique and each may be looking for a different focus from the internship to set themselves apart from other candidates. The mentor should be prepared to tailor the internship experience distinctively for each intern.
Finally, the leader should consider the real purpose of an internship—that is, for an intern to gain from the perspective and experience of a professional who has had years of experience. Providing frequent guidance with specific examples from past experiences help interns benefit from perspective they may lack early on in their careers. Sharing stories of how personal obstacles were overcome or how new solutions were found for difficult problems may help the intern feel less uncertain about their future.
Good or bad internship experiences can greatly affect the career path of future professionals in the PR industry. Considering how interconnected students are, negative internship experiences can affect a PR firm’s reputation just as much as a dissatisfied client or poor financial performance. As multiple internship positions are essentially a requirement for full-time work in today’s economy, professional mentors and managers should be prepared to ensure that each intern leaves with a positive experience.