When I started the position as an intern at the integrated digital marketing and PR firm c21, I was thrilled and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with this team of talented, experienced and skilled communicators. As the worrier I am, however, my first concern was how I would be able to prove myself.
So, to address my worries I compiled some thoughts on how someone can contribute to the team even when you are still learning the ropes. (I am someone who talks a lot but I also love to read, so you’ll see I included quotes within each piece of advice to expand the perspective beyond my own.)
- Give the work your best effort and give yourself grace.
Remember that you are new to this position, workplace and – as an intern – likely to the entire career field. Everyone in the office knows this, so the best way to demonstrate what you are capable of is to do your best. Regardless of the task, own your work and give it your all so that you (and your assignments) will continue to grow and improve.
One of my professors often shared the quote, “The best indicator of future performance is past performance.” If you start off your internship with energy, focus and attention to detail, your co-workers will notice that effort. A key component of this, however, is to maintain quality over quantity. Rushing to complete work for the sake of finishing to move on to another task is a poor use of everyone’s time, as someone will then have to spend additional attention correcting or improving the hurried performance.
At the same time, do not fall into the trap of perfectionism. Perfectionism is an enemy of productivity and can make you feel discouraged. You are training, learning and experiencing this industry’s work as an intern, which means (contrary to the taunts from the little gremlin in my brain) it is okay to ask for help! It is also acceptable, if not expected, that you will require time to adjust and match others’ efficiency levels, so take a deep breath. Giving myself grace often means reminding myself to take a step back and look at the bigger picture: if I were my co-worker, would I consider answering the intern’s questions a nuisance? No. I would much rather teach someone the process or best practices than correct poor quality work due to an incomplete understanding.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” -Maya Angelou
2. Do your research – and then do some more.
You probably reviewed the organization’s website relentlessly before your interviews, but now it is time to take a real deep dive from your new perspective as “one of them.” Imposter syndrome, step aside! You are on this team, in this office and at this table for a reason! Most PR firms or agencies’ online presence tends to highlight completed campaigns, meaning once you are hired and begin, you open a whole new can of worms in terms of research. The clients are new to you!
For me, this looked like reviewing and familiarizing myself with c21’s current clients – including existing media coverage, social media, brand history and projects. A great starting point for any assignment is to review the organization’s previous work. Though this is not a simple task nor one you can ever be completely ‘done’ with, it is incredibly important and makes a difference in the long run. A solid understanding of the client, their brand, their voice and their approach on different platforms will enhance the quality of your contributions. Exploring industry terms, trends and best practices to refresh your memory and stay up-to-date throughout your work is always a good idea too.
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with purpose.” -Zora Neale Hurston
3. Take notes!
Just because you’re not in the classroom does not mean you should stop utilizing the art of effective notetaking. Whether you have a great memory or would forget your head if it weren’t attached to your neck, this is a crucial skill. Bring a notebook and writing utensils. I was lucky to upgrade my well-loved yellow journal to a sleek, red notebook on my first day as an intern. Not only was this a neat gift, but it helped me adjust to the office customs of the team, as the whole team writes down important items in meetings in these notebooks! Additionally, notetaking signals to others that you are paying attention, are engaged and care about the conversation.
Exposing yourself to new projects and clients will inundate you with logins, training information, and all sorts of multi-step processes. On top of that, you will probably be excitedly overstimulated, so to prevent yourself from asking your teammates to repeat themselves, write it down! This won’t save you from having to ask occasional questions about what you have learned, (which is okay, we are all human) but it can reduce the number of basic questions. By improving your memory and retention while you learn, you can train yourself to become more efficient. I cannot tell you how many times I look over my notes for guidance and can solve the dilemma without needing to ask someone else for help.
“You fail only if you stop writing.” -Ray Bradbury
4. Show initiative and offer support.
Once you have completed some training and gained an understanding of the clients and projects your organization works on, you can begin to offer your support to the team wherever your capabilities align with needed tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try new things, as every experience adds to your skills and abilities. Showing initiative to assist with work you are unfamiliar with is also mutually beneficial because it offers you the chance to expand your skillset by learning new capabilities and provides a teammate the chance to delegate more work to lighten their load.
As you continue working, to deepen your impact and demonstrate attentiveness, try to notice what tasks routinely need to be done and offer your assistance ahead of time. Or try to note when your supervisors mention tasks that need to be done “eventually” or “if I ever have time” and bring them up if you have extra time between assigned tasks to support the organization’s long-term functionality.
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is victory.” -Mahatma Gandhi
5. Communicate with confidence!
When I was coming into the office for the first time, it reminded me of the feelings I had as a college freshman in a massive lecture hall: intimidation, uncertainty and fears of inadequacy. This time around, though, I recognized these anxieties as unfounded and used them as a reminder of the lessons I have learned since then – especially regarding communication. Just like professors, the professionals around you have knowledge that they want to share with you and you are not a burden for reaching out to them. They likely remember what it was like to be in your shoes too.
Consistent dialogue about projects, issues and solutions offers the exchange of ideas and improvements. Ask those clarifying questions. Identify insights you want to know more about, then ask to discuss them with the respective team members. Request honest feedback from your supervisors and teammates on your work and take it as guidance to improve going forward. If you are struggling or have concerns, it is important to address them in a timely and professional manner. Being present is more than just showing up at your desk, so socialize and connect with your team to get to know them and allow them to know you.
“We don’t have to do it all alone. We were never meant to.” –Brené Brown
As a Type 3 Enneagram, aptly named “The Achiever,” I am motivated to be productive, achieve success and avoid failure. (I am also the third child of five, so I like to think the number characterizes me well.) These are also contributing factors to my desire to work in the field of public relations – I want to help people, organizations, and brands share their stories in a way that is heard and understood. I hope my tips help you showcase your clients’ value so you can in turn become a more valuable employee – even if you’re “just” a summer intern.
About the Author: Maggie Martin is a May 2023 graduate of the University of Georgia where she earned two bachelor’s degrees in public relations and political science, as well as a professional certificate in public affairs communications. She is one of two c21 interns for summer 2023 and will return to UGA in the fall to begin studying for her master’s degree in journalism & mass communication with a concentration in public relations.