This is the last thing I shall ever write from my (adopted) desk at my first internship at an advertising agency. Well, possibly. It’s only 11 a.m. But the melodrama is hard to resist.
In all seriousness, I’m really going to miss Firehouse. They’ve been welcoming and friendly, offering a perfect balance of advice and companionship. I’m so glad I had the chance to start my career here. I’ve learned a lot — about myself and about agency life. The things I’ve learned about myself, I’ll keep to myself, but I thought other students might like to hear some of the things I’ve learned about working in an agency. Especially as an intern.
Being an intern is a strange position. Everyone knows you’re not (necessarily) going to be around very long. Some internships do lead to jobs, but not always, so it’s kind of hard to get settled. Not to mention, you have to learn a much different way of thinking than at school. Here’s five lessons I learned that helped me deal with the switch.
1. Look for trends.
The ultimate goal of an internship is not so much to teach you the finer points of the job, but the overall way of thinking. Obviously you have to know how to do the finer things — develop a survey, design a logo, write a conference report — but in order for you to become an Account Planner (or whatever you are), you have to learn to think like one. So watch how your supervisor reacts to different circumstances. What do they do first? How is that different from your first instinct? That way, when you’re facing the world on your own, you’ll know how to react.
2. Brush up your communication skills.
It sounds kind of silly, but many of us have a hard time expressing ourselves extemporaneously. In school, we write essays, we give presentations. We don’t often share our ideas on the fly. And we definitely aren’t used to doing it in as few words as possible. No email should be a 500 word essay. Ever. Think about what you want to say before you say it. Write short emails. Fast.Co has a great article about writing better emails — take it to heart.
3. Have an opinion.
This is a total diversion from the way many classes work. The professor gives us information, we write it down and try to remember it. That’s not how the real world is. Whatever’s going on, you need to know what you think about it. Do you like it? Is it helpful? What would you do? You might not always be asked to share what you think, but having an opinion won’t just help you be prepared in the event that you’re “called on,” it will help you learn to be more engaged.
4. Own your work.
Being an intern is a great opportunity to make a difference in an agency, but it’s not going to happen if you keep that “assignment” attitude. In school, we often do things that are just “good enough,” that will “work.” Found five sources? Cool, you’re done. We’re all about quantity over quality. We don’t even think to ask, “Are they good sources?” As an intern, it’s easy to fall into the same trap. Instead, think about each project as if you’re the only one working on it. What would you do to make this a success? Your ideas might not get picked up, but they’ll notice your enthusiasm. And eventually, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. That’s what an internship is all about.
If you’re anything like me, it’s such a temptation to sit in your assigned space and watch your computer screen, waiting for someone to come tell you what to do. Don’t do that. Get out there, talk to people. At Firehouse, people often eat lunch together in the common area. Don’t wait for an invitation. Join them. Chances are you’ll have some great conversations and you’ll meet some great people. Community is a huge part of agency life, especially in a small agency. This is how you’ll make the connections that further your career. Don’t miss out.
I’m starting another internship next week at another small agency in Dallas. I’m looking forward to my next adventure, but parting is oh-so-bittersweet. I hope I can carry the lessons I learned at Firehouse into next semester, and come away with even more to share.