This spring, I’m going to start applying for summer internships. To scout out my selection, this winter break I went a-shadowing. And I highly suggest that every other student looking for an internship — or even a job — should do the same.
There are a few reasons it’s great to shadow. Of course you get an inside view of how the agency operates, what your job might entail, and how early in the morning you’ll have to arrive. But you also get to see the agency’s culture, which is incredibly important.
Culture can change a dead-end job to an awesome job, but it especially helps in the creative industry. You’re hired to think and create for a living — how are you going to do your best work if you don’t feel comfortable at your job? I tend to do my best thinking while I’m in the shower or lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. A cubicle is the farthest thing from my bed, know what I mean?
So, culture is important. The other thing that’s important about shadowing is that if you’re lucky to get an all-day job shadow, it’s almost like a day-long job interview without the pressure. The agency has a no-strings-attached option to try you out, see if you fit in, and throw you in headfirst if they like. And that’s great. Because you might have uncles who know so-and-so and professors who have a student at such-and-such, but nothing compares to meeting people face-to-face.
I think it’s safe to say that I visited both the biggest and the smallest agencies in DFW. The big one I visited — that popular one with the cows — practically buzzed. It was humming, moving, alive. Even a week before the holidays, things were going going going. It was invigorating, inspiring.
The smallest agency I visited had about 8 employees. They worked out of a house, not a high-rise. The cool thing was that a lot of the time they were all focused on the same tasks at once. They worked synchronously and harmoniously, like an agency family.
I visited one agency on the low-middle end and one agency on the high-middle end, and they both pulled characteristics from the size they gravitated toward. As in, the low-middle agency was more like the teeny agency, and the high-middle agency buzzed like the huge agency. But they weren’t exactly like their extreme counterparts. The low-middle agency was more competitive in the national market, and the high-middle agency was more relaxed and fun-loving. This is good news for you, because it means culture is a continuum, not a “choose one.”
There’s something addicting about the buzz and the rush of the larger agencies, and something relaxing about the smaller ones. It’s up to you to decide what type of atmosphere (or blend of atmospheres) is most conducive to loving your job. If you don’t love your job, you won’t do good work. If you don’t do good work, your career will bomb, no matter how smart you are.
So, go shadow at an agency. Let me know if that doesn’t help.