Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tried and true tips to land the best internships

So you're a college student and it’s officially time to transition from a free-to-be-me lifestyle to the real-world professional realm. It’s only natural that you are feeling overwhelmed by the process and need some good advice. As a PR pro with more than a decade of experience, I have tried and true tips for success.

First things first, do a self assessment. Jot down a list of your knowledge, skills and abilities. Then take the time to identify what it is that you really want to do. How do you do this? Take courses that relate to your field of choice; Read up on each industry; Get involved on campus; Volunteer; Speak with pros from each sector – get their perspective and ask to shadow them; Understand the four industry types – agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations and government agencies.

Once you have a good handle of the direction you would like to take, make a wish list of companies you’d like to work for and positions to pursue. Having a clear vision is the best way to eventually make your dreams come true.

Clean up your digital dirt now. “But I keep my Facebook setting on private!” is probably the first thing that pops into your head. You’d be surprised how easy it is to find you on the Web – especially if your “friends” aren’t mindful of privacy settings. Trust me when I tell you plenty of companies search to see if there's a reason to toss your resume in the trash. Instead of allowing an employer to find incriminating photos or a questionable fan page, simply remove them. Ask your friends to delete the pics and you’ll be good to go. In the field of advertising and public relations, your image and reputation is everything. Do what you can now to make the best name for yourself versus looking like a fool right out of the gate.

Package, present and pitch your best self

These days your resume is just one of the many documents to prepare as part of the internship search process. As you fine tune your resume add a few others materials to the mix.

Develop the perfect resume

First off, you need to understand there are no rules for resume writing. Everyone has a different opinion. Just remember, it's a tool to get your foot in the door to interview. Ask yourself: will this document persuade the professional, who has the power to hire, invite me in for a meeting?

Below you will find a long list of tips to showcase your experience:
- Limit your resume to one page, unless you have more than five years experience.
- Don't ever let a misspelled word go unnoticed.
- Be conscious and consistent of layout and style. Make sure to use the same or complementary fonts throughout, e.g. the title and headers are in bold and the body font is clean and simple.
- Be sure it's legible. An 11 or 12 point font is perfect.
- If you include an objective, be very specific about your career interests.
--- In the marketing arena, Ad/PR are two different disciplines.
- If you’re interested in working in a particular industry, such as sports or hospitality, mention it in your objective.
- Change your e-mail address to something professional: ryan.sheehy@gmail.com vs. KrazyPartyGirl@aol.com.
- Lead with descriptive action verbs.
- Write the resume in third person.
- Write action verbs in present or past tense.
--- Handles, manages, oversees
--- Handled, managed, oversaw
- If you don't have experience in the field, include a listing of course offerings: writing for public relations, event management, entertainment marketing, etc.
- If you’re bilingual, make sure to mention it.
- If you have technical skills, such as graphic or Web design, include your proficiencies.
- Knowledge of Microsoft Office includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Access. If you know the entire suite, just list Microsoft Office.
- Make sure to mention knowledge/use of new media - social networking, blogosphere, search engine optimization.
- The more you can articulate the scope of the project, the better.
--- Coordinated and hosted luncheon for 300 journalists.
- Consider adding a list of software programs that you’re well versed in
--- Cision, Media Map, Lexis Nexis, Quick Books, CS4
- If you’re going to include your GPA, make sure it’s accurate.
- Always include an expected graduation date.
- Make sure to include the timeframe of your employment and the location.
--- January 2005 – December 2006
--- Orlando, Florida
- If you have sales experience, try to include specific figures.
--- Increased sales by 20 percent and include the amount of time you accomplished this objective.
- Highlight extracurricular involvement and leadership roles.
- Use a quality paper instead of plain white, but nothing too flashy.

Customize your cover letter for each position

This may sound obvious, but you need to cater your cover letter for the position you're applying and the individual who has the hiring authority. In the introduction, reference the position title and company name. Mention of how you learned about it and direct them to your attached resume.

Your letter should exude a passion for the field and/or a specific reference to why you are qualified. In the body, showcase why you are best for the role and interested in working for the company. Highlight specific experience and/or skills you bring to the organization. Provide examples of projects you’ve successfully executed. In closing, provide final remarks, include contact information and thank them in advance for the consideration.

Prepare a portfolio – with writing samples and examples of your creative work

What should you include?
- Resume
- A list of three to five references – professors, advisers, mentors, employers
- Examples of campaigns
- News releases
- Press clippings/media coverage
- Pitch letters
- Photo captions
- Biographies
- Fact sheets
- Media advisories
- Newsletter articles
- Design pieces
- Web copy and/or layout

Always keep professionalism top of mind. Purchase a nice portfolio to showcase your best work and consider adding tabs for easy access to your materials. You'd be surprised how impressed professionals will be that you've taken the time to wow them. It can only lead to greater opportunities down the road - like an excellent internship and/or your first "real world" position.

Are you ready for the interview? If not, it's time to prepare

So you've prepared the perfect portfolio and are darn proud of your resume. Now it's time to review what questions you might be asked, thoughtfully prepare your responses and carefully craft your own questions. Here are some suggestions to get you ready for the big day.

- Research, research, research.
- Review the company Web site in detail.
- Google executives who might interview you.
- Read news stories about the organization.
- Prepare questions for the employer.
- Understand the job responsibilities, nature of workload, organizational overview and reporting structure.

Make sure you have the right interview mindset
- Remember: You’re interviewing the employer, too.
- Observe the 50/50 rule of speaking/listening.
- Take 20 seconds to two minutes to answer questions.
- Be a part of the solution, not the problem.
- Bring evidence of your work (portfolio).
- Do not bad-mouth previous employer(s).

Some questions the employer might ask
- Why are you here?
- What can you do for us?
- What kind of person are you?
--- Strengths
--- Weaknesses
- What distinguishes you from 19 other people who can do the same task?

Questions to ask yourself

- What skills are essential to this position and do I have them?
- Will I fit in with the culture?
- Can I balance my course load, part-time job and this opportunity?

Taking the extra time to ask yourself the tough questions upfront will only prepare you for the curve balls. It's better to have already thought them through, in advance, rather than appearing like you haven't a clue.

Make a positive and lasting first impression

Professionals consistently say they assess a student's willingness to take an internship seriously based on their dress and personal image. Below you'll find tips on what to wear and what to avoid.

DO:
Carefully select your attire.
Carry a pen, planner, and portfolio with plenty of resumes.
Dress conservatively.
Groom your hair.
Iron your shirt.
Keep it basic with your the jewelry selection.
Make sure your colors coordinate.
Remove piercings.
Stick with basic colors: black, navy, gray, brown.

Ladies should wear:
dark closed-toe shoes and avoid stilettos.
pantyhose with skirts.
skirts at or below knee length.

Men should:
shave or trim facial hair.
wear a tie.
wear a sports coat- if you have one.

DON’T:
Dress as if you’re going to a nightclub.
Soak yourself in cologne and perfume.
Wear revealing clothes.
Wear spaghetti strap tank tops and limit cleavage.
Wear short skirts.
Wear excessively tight clothes.
Smack on gum, candy or other foods.

Bottom line: first impressions are lasting. Take a few extra minutes to reconsider your dress. You'll appear ready to take on a professional opportunity that could very well catapult your career.

Be professional, persistent and be sure to follow up

So you're probably wondering if there is a follow up process to all of this? Yes, and be sure to do it.

- Make sure to get business cards of those you meet.
--- Send a thank you e-mail to those you meet casually.
--- Send a thank you note in the mail to those who interview you.
- Be sure you truly understand the position and job responsibilities.
- If you happen to cancel your interview, do call to inform them.
- It’s OK to call about the position a week later to determine if they selected a candidate.

Professionals are extremely busy and have little time to waste. Maximize the interview experience and be sure to express your gratitude for considering you. If you are professional, confident, prepared, inquisitive and considerate, you will be well poised as a top candidate for the position.