Agency Internship Realities

As someone who has worked in three different agencies and witnessed the hiring process change and develop during the past three years, I wanted to offer some advice to those applying for internships with public relations agencies. To properly disclose, this post is based on my perspectives, as well as those in my network. This is by no means absolute scientific, but I noticed some incorrect perceptions from current students.

Here are some of the most important things students applying for agency internships should understand:

  • Seniors only: Many midsize and large public relations agencies will only consider your application if you are a graduating senior. This is probably frustrating for sophomore and junior overachievers, but it’s important to keep in mind. That said, some agencies may offer you an internship before your senior year if you have previous agency experience.
  • Number of applicants: Large agencies in major cities will probably receive nearly 1,000 applications for internship positions. It’s rare than an applicant who simply submits a résumé to an agency’s website will get the job. The single most effective way to get your résumé on top is to know someone within the company. Don’t be afraid to reach out to employees on LinkedIn and Twitter and begin building a relationship.
  • Length of the internship: Because so many people are applying for agency internships, agencies are lengthening internships to six months. If you are planning to work for an agency after graduation and you are moving to a new city, it’s important to know how much you will be making before you sign a lease for an apartment.
  • Hours: Most agencies will guarantee 40 hours, and some internships will require overtime. Think of the overtime as more opportunity to demonstrate your skills.
  • Salary: Most agencies in big cities will offer $10–$15 per hour, and agencies in smaller cities tend to offer less. Some agencies will not offer any salary at all.
  • How to get a job after the internship: Work hard; keep a positive attitude; remember the details; repeat the next day. Most companies, if they have the business, will offer fulltime positions to interns if they work hard and are well liked by colleagues. As an intern, you are not expected to completely understand strategy, but if you can demonstrate a willingness to learn and an insatiable curiosity for understanding the work, you will succeed.

Do you have questions or anything to add? I would be happy to offer advice in the comments section below.

18 thoughts on “Agency Internship Realities

    • Author gravatar

      This is really great advice as I am a senior looking for an internship! Thank you for posting! I do have a question, what do you think about personally dropping off an application or resume at the agencies hiring versus submitting it online?

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Mirela, thanks for the question. I would recommend asking to set up an information interview with the HR rep or an intern/entry level employee. This will help you in two ways. First, you’ll meet someone in person and they will be able to put a face to your resume. Second, it puts you in a better position to stay in contact and makes it easier to follow up. Good luck!

    • Author gravatar

      I really appreciate your response, this is really useful! Thanks so much!

    • Author gravatar

      HI Nick-
      I’ve got a question too. What is the No. 1 reason why most applicants never hear back? Is it because they aren’t qualified? (Do agencies even look at their resume if submitted via email/application) Or there are too many applicants? Or there wasn’t a follow-up email?

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Nick,

      Great post! I wanted to add something else to this post that I have learned from working at a few large agencies.

      There always is a general assumption that large agencies only offer full-time internship postions; however, that is not always true! Some large agencies offer part-time unpaid positions and that is how I “got my foot in the door”. For istance, in the Chicago market both Edelman and Ruder Finn offer part-time unpaid internships and I’m sure there are more.

      I would suggest researching as much as possible and building a network with the individuals at an agency you would consider working. Even if their website only states “full-time and paid” if your relationship and work experience correlate with what they are looking for you never know what might happen!

      Don’t get discouraged if you are a sophomore or junior and can’t fulfull the typical “post-grad” internship opporunity, like I said keep researching other opportunities, you never know where they will lead you!

    • Author gravatar

      Victoria, I wold say the number one reason is the high traffic of applicants. From what I understand, when you apply online, your materials are probably sent to an HR rep’s inbox. If you were that person and had to sort though 800+ resumes, it would be nearly impossible to get back to every person. Again, I want to emphasize the importance of having a connection with the company. It always helps to have your resume be put on top.

    • Author gravatar

      Great tips, Alyssa. And you’re right. I think the point of this post is that there are always exceptions to these rules. I’m glad things have worked out for you!

    • Author gravatar

      Great observations.

      How many internships do people normally have to complete in PR, paid or unpaid, until they are hired on salary?

      I’ve had one PR agency internship but I’ve had a total of 3 intern experiences. I want to know if I am only marketable for more internships or will anyone be willing to give me a chance as a real employee?

      Thanks for your input!

    • Author gravatar

      This is all great advice. I think that candidates considering entering the PR field at an agency should also look into new media fields that use PR tactics such as internet marketing and website promotions. For instance, my organization offers a great internship program and many public relations skills apply such as writing, distributing press releases, online copy writing, social media marketing, blogging etc. Taking an internship at an agency like this might also be a good idea. Best of luck to you all!

    • […] jobs, tips and internships will begin to come to social media users. The other day I came across an article that someone had posted on their Twitter about trying to get a job with a public relations agency […]

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Kelly, thanks for dropping by. There will never be a golden number of internships you reach until you’re ready for full time employment. I think if you have graduated and you’ve worked hard in your undergraduate years to ensure diverse experiences, you will be ready. Good luck!

    • Author gravatar

      In an attempt to not study for finals, of course I started reading my usual blogs. I just thought I would point out that the Department of Labor has started investigating the legality of unpaid internships (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html). Aside from some ethical dilemmas I personally find exist with some of these opportunities, it is worth knowing your rights and an employer’s responsibilities. From what I understand, unless you are receiving academic credit for the internship, there are not many situations for which unpaid internships at for-profit organizations are legal.

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Jarrett, thanks for adding your thoughts. I am also distracting myself with finals (just 24 hours left until it’s over!). Anyway, I think you’ll find that even though the DOL has began these investigations, significant changes probably won’t be happening any time soon. Good or bad, that’s another topic for a blog post. Anyway, it’s important that you’re getting great experience no matter what. Thanks for reminding us about this, however.

    • Author gravatar

      Thanks again Nick-
      These are many questions that pre- and post-graduates have. Let’s keep the convos flowing!

    • Author gravatar

      Great advice! Just started an internship at an agency a few weeks ago. Your advice is extremely relevant and spot on!

    • Author gravatar

      Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

    • Author gravatar

      This is excellent advice. Here are some more internship tips.

    • Author gravatar

      Great tips, Alyssa. And you’re right. I think the point of this post is that there are always exceptions to these rules. I’m glad things have worked out for you!

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