Remember how easy it used to be to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “A teacher,” “a veterinarian,” “a doctor,” “a fireman,” “a princess,” or my personal favorite (once my brother’s dream) “a bus driver.” The question was never intimidating when we were young, it was truly a dream, an aspiration.
I wish I could say that I am one of those girls who had her dream set in stone when she was in kindergarten, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. I changed my mind exactly 15,128 times up until now (I’ve counted) and I think I’m finally pretty close to where I’ll end up.
When I entered college in the fall of 2012, I was an undeclared major with scattered passions, uncertain as to where I would go, or if I would even like the school I committed to. After crying myself to sleep the first night of homesickness, I felt extra unsure as to what my “end goal” would be, only becoming fuzzier and fuzzier as I glided through the first semester taking the array of core classes— a mixture of theology, philosophy, math, science, english, and history— and eventually dabbling in microeconomics, which funny enough, was an elective I chose for myself back when I thought being an Econ minor was a good idea… it wasn’t.
Eventually, I started to realize what I truly enjoyed and what I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life doing— writing. Whether I was good at it or not didn’t matter to me, I just knew I wanted to practice and eventually work my way up the ladder, hoping to eventually publish my work. I wanted people to see what I was doing, whether that would eventually be writing for a TV show, magazine, newspaper, or even a book, I did not know, but it was going to happen.
Not knowing where to begin, I started… everywhere. I tried everything my first few semesters in college, none of which lasted more than a semester, but which brought me that much closer to knowing what it was I actually wanted to do. Since it all helped me realize what I don’t want to do.
To my surprise, with very little on my résumé aside from what I naively thought were dinky extracurriculars, I scored my first internship at Inside Edition the summer going into my sophomore year and my future became clearer with each consecutive position.
After leaving The Rachael Ray Show the following summer and missing the application deadlines for the summer going into my senior year, I thought my life was over. “You need an internship every summer,” is what I pressured myself into thinking, but, after not hearing back from anywhere I applied, I decided to create my own opportunity.
I created several blogs (none of which really stuck) and spent my extra time freelancing for various startup blogs and publications, leading me to Spire & Co., I AM THAT GIRL, and even my hometown’s newspaper, which eventually landed me an internship the following fall in the beautiful Hearst Tower.
Since then, my entire senior year has been both hectic and exciting— full of experiences that I never dreamed possible, especially with the number of detours I took before getting here. From the print version of Marie Claire to the digital version of ELLE magazine, I’ve been able to experience the magazine industry from the inside, like living my own 13 Going On 30.
While I have no idea where I’ll end up post-graduation, I know the opportunities I’ve had will one day lead me somewhere wonderful, even if not right away. But for now? I’ve enjoyed every minute of the ride and below I have highlighted the things I’ve learned along the way, in the hopes of being able to inspire all of you to create your own path as well. Trust me, it’s so worth it.
Create your own opportunities.
It is easy to sit back and feel hopeless as you wait for the perfect opportunity to come to you, but this is one of the biggest mistakes people can make. I remember one summer I didn’t have an internship for the first time and no matter how many places I applied, they all already had their interns. I watched as all of my other friends went back and forth to their “official” internships and I stayed back. Eventually, I got a grip and began searching for writing opportunities to spice up my writing portfolio. This is when I began writing for I AM THAT GIRL, Spire & Co., and my hometown newspaper and even editing a book for an author I’d met.
With 30+ clips by the end of the summer and editing experience, I began feeling much better about my (at first) unappealing decision to write the whole summer instead of having an in-office job. This actually ended up being one of my best decisions because my writing samples were what helped me land the internships I’ve had since and also gave me the freedom to explore and enjoy the summer while doing what I loved.
Do not fear a non-linear career path.
It is very difficult to find someone who could say they graduated from college and immediately were in their dream position. Or someone who could say they had all of their dream internships in college and loved every one of them. Jobs and internships are very much learning experiences, whether that is learning what you love or learning what you strongly dislike, you will learn something.
Not going exactly where you want at the pace you want to get there is not a problem. Most students take a very non-linear path when it comes to internships and jobs because very few people know exactly what they want (I know I was all over the place). But, eventually you will know where you want to be— whether that’s during your second internship or after quitting your first job post-grad. You don’t have to go straight to your dream job to be successful, there will most likely be many stops along the way and that’s totally ok.
Don’t let your résumé discourage you.
Nobody’s résumé is ever fancy when they first start out, so don’t worry if yours isn’t either. I remember applying to my first internship experience and being very hesitant because I was just finishing my first year in college and my résumé wasn’t all decked out in jobs and internships like some of my other friends’ résumés were. After accepting the position, I was so excited and found how completely qualified I was for it, even though I had psyched myself out when applying.
Everyone has to start out somewhere and with extracurriculars and a passion, your drive will be recognized by employers— you just have to put yourself out there.
How To Apply
Stick to deadlines.
If you’re trying to apply for internships in the media industry, you’ll want to start looking months before your expected start date. Looking for a fall internship? Begin searching in June or July so that you know when each company’s deadline is. Spring? Some deadlines are as early as October or November so begin planning early! As for summer deadlines, most interviews take place within March and April, so plan your application accordingly! Make sure you are searching websites throughout the semesters so you don’t miss the deadlines for your dream internships. Great sites to do so: Ed2010, Media Bistro, and LinkedIn.
Prepare writing samples.
Every editorial internship application asks for at least 2 or 3 writing samples so they can see your writing style and voice. This is where “creating your own opportunity” is most important. Whether it’s writing for a school/town newspaper, online publication, or even your own blog, make sure you’re constantly producing pieces to show for yourself!
As for other, non-editorial internships, it’s important to have projects to show for what you hope to do. If you’re going into video production, have some projects saved to show for your work. Anything to add to a portfolio is extremely important to share with a company! Don’t be afraid to show off a little.
Check your social media.
I cannot stress the importance of this one. If you are trying to get a job in the media, whoever is hiring you is most likely going to look at your social media accounts. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Meerkat, you name it— make sure your accounts are appropriate because you would not want that to be the reason you could not land your dream job.
Review your work/résumé.
I’m going to be very honest here and say one of the most embarrassing interview experiences I had was when the interviewer asked me about a piece I had written and I could not remember for the life of me ever writing it or what piece she was talking about…
I had spent so much time reviewing the company and their values and different questions I thought I would be asked and forgot to look over my own work. That’s definitely a mistake I will never make again.
Study the company.
Interviewers often ask you questions about why you are choosing that company or internship specifically. Don’t say “because I qualified” or “because I applied to everything,” just don’t. Show your interest in the company and prove it by choosing a particular thing about the company or business that intrigues you or you know you’ll enjoy. They will completely appreciate your passion and interest and you’ll be that much more likely to land the job.
Come prepared with questions for the interviewer.
At the end of every interview I’ve ever done the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions for me?” and my answer is always “Yes, yes I do!” Okay no, not that
Having questions proves your interest in finding the perfect position for you. Try to think of questions that aren’t things you can find online. Maybe things like “What is the typical workday like for an intern?” or “How did you land the job?” People love talking about what they do and showing interest in their daily work-life and career path is never a bad idea.
Before hanging up the phone, ask the interviewer if it’s okay to follow up via email if you have any other questions.
Never forget to follow up with a thank you note or email to the person who interviewed you. Ever. If they say they will get back to you with a decision in a few days, an email is probably best so you know they receive it before they get back to you, but if you think there is some time before you hear back, a written thank you note is most personal.
If you still have not heard back after 2 weeks or so, it is absolutely appropriate to follow up with them, re-expressing your interest in the opportunity.
*Always remember: rejection ≠ failure. If you don’t get the internship after having a really great interview, your life isn’t over. There are plenty of opportunities out there and you will find the right one. Interviews are learning experiences and often help you meet some of the most fascinating people.
It’s important, really in any industry, to do things before they’re asked of you. If you know something has to get done, don’t wait until someone asks you to do it, just do it.
After an internship is over, you shouldn’t completely move on. Make sure you stay in touch with the people you’ve worked closely with throughout the semester. Ask to meet for even just 10-15 minutes to catch up and get coffee (both during the internship and after it’s over). It is incredibly important to maintain the relationships you form during internships so don’t forget about anyone you meet! Collect business cards/emails and stay in touch!
Carry a notebook everywhere.
You will be asked to do many things at once and even with the best memory, you won’t remember everything. Carrying a notebook everywhere you go will ensure you won’t have to keep asking for the username and password or instructions you’ve already been given. Make to-do lists and add all details/due dates for each item. You will thank yourself later.
Stick to two days a week–not three.
If you have the option of how many days to work, choose two. Three days can get very overwhelming, especially with classes, homework, studying, and extracurricular thrown into the mix. Even if you have a third day off in your schedule, it’s important to give yourself some room to breathe and catch up on any missed assignments. Choosing to do two days instead of three will definitely make a difference and give you some time to relax and have fun!
Arrive 15 minutes early, leave 15 minutes late.
One of the best things I’ve learned is that showing up 10-15 minutes early and leaving 10-15 minutes late can make a world of a difference. This shows that you are dedicated to getting started on time and willing to leave a little late in order to guarantee you are available to help after you are expected to leave.
With that said, it is important to make sure you aren’t staying in the office too late. If there is a project you couldn’t get around to, tell your boss you will pass it to the intern(s) in the next day so you’re not staying in the office far later than you are supposed to.
School comes first–they know you’re a student.
When it comes to staying late, your boss knows you are a part-time intern for a reason and that school is your priority. Make sure your boss knows you are willing to stay a little late to finish something up if necessary, but you cannot spend your entire night there because you have other homework to do and sleep to catch up on (hopefully). They will be very understanding of your schedule and as long as you show initiative and determination in the workplace, they won’t hold it against you if you leave 15 minutes late instead of 45 because you have an exam for which you have to go home and study.