Last month I had my own little intern – a fifteen year old on work experience for five days. It got me thinking about my first time on work experience, when I was the same age and interning at a PR agency in Belfast.
It feels like yesterday I tried to find my way around the streets of the city and nervously rang the bell to the office. But that was five years ago now and I’ve come such a long way from being that shy, ‘What the hell am I doing here?!’ girl who had no idea what on earth PR even was.
From interning at a lot of other places since, there are a lot of things I would change about the way I carried out my work experience back then. So I thought I’d do a little post about some things I would try and avoid doing when on work experience, and some things to make sure that you do, do.
1. Don’t forget to research the company you’re interning at
It’s not only embarrassing to not have a clue what the company does or what brands they work with, it’s just plain ignorant. The people that have hired you for the week will expect you to know a thing or two about the company you’ve come to work for, otherwise you’ll seem unprepared and just uninterested.
In this day and age there’s no excuse to not know who you’re working for or what breed of dog the boss owns. If you’re working in Influencer Marketing, you need to have good stalking skills. If you ask any of my friends they’ll tell you the job was basically written for me. Maybe I should have applied for the CIA instead.
2. Don’t be late
This one I shouldn’t have to list, but it’s probably one of the most important.
I don’t know what it is but I seem to have this genuine fear of being late, especially when it comes to things like work experience or internships. I usually turn up half an hour early for things like this just in case there’s delays on the trains, bad traffic, I can’t find the office or a freak accident. None of these things ever happen but it’s always better to be early than late, right? Even if you are there an hour before sunrise.
Being early shows respect to the people you’re working for, a good impression and also shows that you’re organised. It also helps with your nerves as once you have found the office and signed in, you can calm down as you have time before you meet the manager/owner.
Maybe you get there so early, you can grab a Starbucks before you head to the office. Win win, am I right?
3. Don’t be unprepared
Before you start your work experience, email beforehand asking if you need to bring a laptop with you or if one will be provided. Bring a notebook and a few pens. This may seem like a minor thing, but when you get there and need to take notes and realise you haven’t brought a pen with you – you’re going to look pretty stupid.
4. Don’t be too underdressed
Especially on the first day. If you’re unsure about the dress-code of the office, it’s always safer to turn up dressed professionally, rather than too casual. It’s always better to feel overdressed than underdressed, trust me.
If you’re working in a fashion/beauty PR office, maybe ditch the heels for the first day. You might be running over town or on your feet for a lot of the day, so heels wouldn’t be very practical. Get a sense of the dress code on the first day and take the rest of the week from there. You might have this vision of everyone running around in Chanel clothing and Louboutins but trust me, it’s more Stan Smiths and jeans than designer heels. But don’t take my word for it. This is only from the experience I’ve had. If you’re interning at Vogue, things may be different there.
Your first day is also your first impression, so it’s always good to look smart.
5. Don’t be afraid to speak
I know during my first work experience at a PR agency I was scared out of my wit. I was 15 and had never seen the inside of an office before since my mum worked in a hotel and to this day I’ve never actually seen the building that my dad works in, never mind being inside his office. He could be unemployed for all I know and spend every day playing golf. Now I’m wondering if the last 20 years of my life have been a lie… I’m kidding, he works in Belfast. In an office. That’s all I know. Maybe he’s a spy.
Anyway, when I was 15 I was shy and awkward. I had nowhere near the confidence I have now. I couldn’t go up to a stranger and initiate a full blown conversation. Any task I was assigned, I did it. Quietly. I would then email the girl who looked after the interns when she was sat at the other side of the same room and ask if there was anything else I could help with. She was sat a stone’s throw away from me but I felt uncomfortable breaking the silence of the room, afraid my voice would crack and thus die of embarrassment.
Don’t be afraid to ask if you can help with anything. Even if it is via email. The worst thing you can do is sit there doing nothing. Your work experience is your time to learn and experience everything you can about a certain industry so that you have a good understanding for your future career path.
If you do sit there on your phone, or doing nothing at all, the manager will assume you don’t want to be there and you will seem like a waste of their time and your time. Be productive. Make the most of your five days. They’ll be over before you know it.
6. Don’t forget to say thank you
These people have opened up their office to you for five days, let you see how they work and the secrets that happen inside those four walls. Let them know you appreciate the insight and their time that they have given you.
You can do this by bringing in sweets on your last day (this always seems to be a winner), a thank you card or a thank you email once you have left. You can even pop a ‘PS. Would it be possible to get a short reference for my last five days?’ I would recommend doing this if you’ve made a good impression and the team liked you. Hopefully the sweets will help with this one.
7. Don’t forget to enjoy it
Hopefully the industry that you’re interning at is a field that you are interested in, otherwise what’s the point of you being there. If it’s something you’re passionate about and intrigued by, ask questions. Make the most of working with people in this industry. Ask questions, ask about how they got to their position, what they love about it and what they don’t like about it. You want to get as much of an insight as possible so it’s always good to hear the negative parts of the job as well as the good parts, to see if it would really suit you.
Try not to think of your 5 day work experience as a 5 day prison sentence. Those five days will fly past and you don’t want to regret sitting in a corner and getting nothing out of it. Don’t let the week be a waste of time for you and the employer. Be productive, help out with as much as you can and you might just realise you’ve found your dream job.
Oh and make sure you connect with people on LinkedIn afterwards. It’s always good to have them as a contact for the future.
Experience is everything
I’ve always spoke of how important work experience and internships are to your future career. Not only does it look good on your CV, it allows you to get a better understanding of what you want to do in the future. Don’t think of the work experience as another stint to add to your list. Choose companies that interest you, within industries that you think you want to work in. A lot of people have had times when they were so determined to follow a career in a certain path, only to experience it first hand and completely change direction.
I was always good at math at school and thought being an accountant would be a reasonable choice for a career path. Working with numbers, good opportunities for jobs, stable income and I also have family members that are accountants. It seemed like the right choice for me. That’s until I spent two days gaining ‘work experience’ in an accountant’s office and made a swift U-turn on that career path. Sitting in an office 9-5, working with numbers for the rest of my life, I soon realised, would be my worst nightmare. Hugely relieved I switched those Accountancy course options to Public Relations.
So there you go, you might think that a certain job is perfect for you, but until you actually try it out and see what it’s really like, you’ll never really know.
There are a few posts on my blog detailing work experiences and interning opportunities I’ve had. You can find them below:
- One week interning at Influential PR, Liverpool
- Six months as Internal Communications Assistant at MDIS, Liverpool
- Four weeks interning at Bold Management, Liverpool
- One week interning at London Fashion Agency, London
And of course, I’ve been detailing my entire placement year in monthly roundups, which can be found right here: London Placement Year