From the Intern's Desk

thoughts, tools, tips, and tricks from the perpetual intern

Archive for the category “Career Path”

How to Write a Thank You Note

An intern needs thank-you cards before he or she ever sets foot on the job. Part of being an intern means standing out among all the other potential interns in your supervisor’s eyes. Sending a thank-you note after an interview shows your appreciation for the supervisor’s time. It also shows that you’re detail-oriented and thoughtful. Who wouldn’t want to hire you?

Tips for writing a memorable thank-you note:

  1. Recall something you discussed at the interview – If you learned something unique about the company, mention it! If you learned something about the interviewer (she went to your college, he’s from your hometown, etc.) mention that, too! Include details that show you were paying attention. Try not to go overboard in personal touches because you always want to …
  2. Keep it short and sweet – People are busy. Your interviewer will appreciate getting the note, but won’t want to spend more than a minute or two reading it. A few brief sentences expressing your gratitude for his or her time will go a long way.
  3. Always sound sincere – Saying you just can’t wait to work for the company and are so excited to be part of the team can come across as a little desperate, especially when writing it to every company you interviewed with. Companies know that there won’t be a connection with every potential intern interviewed. Be gracious, even if you didn’t make that connection.
  4. Include your contact information – A business card or just a phone number after your name will suffice. You never know when you’ll come across your interviewer again in the future. He or she might be able to help you get an interview or a position within the company. After I wrote a thank-you note to a woman I interviewed with, she gave me a call and said that I was one of her top choices and if I wanted to intern for them in the future (I chose another company) to let her know.

Here’s an example:

Dear (interviewer’s name goes here),

Thank you for meeting with me on (day) for an interview for the position within your company. I really appreciate you spending the time to learn more about my qualifications and work that I could do for (name of company, dept., etc.). I’m glad I could learn more about/I didn’t know/Thanks for sharing (something you learned at the interview). I’m very grateful for this opportunity and hope you’ll consider me for the position. I’ve included my business card for your reference (if you included it)

Sincerely,

Sara Steffan (Your name, obviously)
(Phone number/email address if you did not include a business card)

A final tip: if you have neat handwriting, write it. It makes it feel more personal. If you don’t have neat handwriting, still try to write it. Typing it seems generic. Do a practice run on a sheet of scrap paper if you’re worried about messing up. And whatever wording you choose, be polite and always be yourself.

Helpful resources:

The Morning News – How to Write a Thank-You Note by Leslie Harpold offers suggestions on how to write a more personal thank-you with tips on what not to include.

Write Express tells you why writing a thank-you note can get you a job.

And finally, you can purchase your thank-you cards from Vista Print, where you can design your own or pick from their styles, choosing exactly how many you’ll need and even the type of paper.

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On Higher Education – Should You Go to Graduate School?

The movie “The Graduate” may feel familiar to recent college grads. Not the having-an-affair part, the “so what are you going to do with the rest of your life?” question asked time after time once you cross the stage. Is it all too overwhelming? It was for Benjamin Braddock:

Mr. Braddock: What’s the matter? The guests are all downstairs, Ben, waiting to see you.
Benjamin: Look, Dad, could you explain to them that I have to be alone for a while?
Mr. Braddock: These are all our good friends, Ben. Most of them have known you since, well, practically since you were born. What is it, Ben?
Benjamin: I’m just…
Mr. Braddock: Worried?
Benjamin: Well…
Mr. Braddock: About what?
Benjamin: I guess about my future.
Mr. Braddock: What about it?
Benjamin: I don’t know… I want it to be…
Mr. Braddock: To be what?
Benjamin: [looks at his father] … Different.

(courtesy imdb.com)

We recently had a guest speaker in my introduction to public relations class. His name is Dan Schawbel, and he’s known for speaking and writing about “personal branding” in many different venues. Dan gave us tips on how to create a name for ourselves in the competitive world of job hunting. He also told us he never planned on going back to school to get his master’s degree unless he planned on becoming a teacher. Our instructor, Dr. Dawn Gilpin, also said she recommends getting experience in the work world so you know what you want to do before you make the grad school investment.

Personally, I intend to graduate from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master’s in Mass Communication. Concurrent degrees, four years and a scholarship and I’ll be done. My major reason for doing this is that I think it’ll give me a competitive edge when I apply for jobs. I want to make the most out of my experience here, and (of course) the most out of my tuition.

Not everyone is in the same boat as I am when it comes to getting a graduate degree. How do you know if it’s worth your time and money? We all may have the desire to learn, but not always the resources to do it. Here are some reasons why graduate school may be right for you – even if it isn’t for Dan Schawbel:

  1. You don’t have a full-time job (or you have the opportunity and the means to be without one) – Unless you’re lucky enough to work for a company that will pay for school,  you need to make a plan as to how you’re going to get by without one. (Speaking of companies paying for school, see this great article to find how to get someone else to foot the bill.) Being a fresh graduate can be an advantage in this case. Look around and see what’s required of your desired career. Experience can range from having 3-5 years in corporate or an advanced degree, so evaluate your situation. Are you willing to go through more schooling? Bringing me to my next point…
  2. You’re a hard worker who doesn’t mind the idea of being a student – If you couldn’t wait to get out while you were still in high school, going to graduate school may not be the best for your mental health. There comes a time when what’s on your résumé isn’t as important as your personal well-being. You won’t want to put in the effort that grad school requires if you dread being there.
  3. You have an unbridled passion for your chosen field – You’d know this if it applies to you. You majored in something that you really loved. You breezed through your intro classes and relished completing the projects that few were brave enough to tackle. You’ve had at least a few internships in your field and plan on keeping those relationships for the next few years. If this sounds like you, your love may translate well into a higher learning environment, where you can blossom with your peers in geekdom.

But the number one reason grad school might NOT be for you:

  1. To you, it’s the destination, not the journey that matters – Dan Schawbel brought this up in his presentation. I think it’s his excuse for never wanting to get more education. Relish the experiences grad school brings. You never know who you might meet. If you’re focused on getting to X company and being in this position by X year, start getting jobs that will put you there. Intern, network and establish your identity. Grad school can wait until you change your goals to reach higher things.

What are some other reasons why you should go to grad school? Why you should not? Leave your answers in the comments.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite “Graduate” quotes. For Benjamin, the game wasn’t worth it. But is it for you? Only you can answer that.

——————

Benjamin: It’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up. (imdb)

Interviewing Tips and Tricks

“How many job interviews should you expect to have before you land an actual job?”

This question came up in tonight’s #prstudchat. Many people had different answers, but the 5-6 range seemed common.  All the great networking you’ve been doing (after learning some great techniques, of course) is paying off. Now you’ve landed multiple interviews. What should you do?

Don’t Sell Yourself Short.

Come up with a game plan in your head. Role play. Imagine yourself walking through the door, into the interview. What are you wearing?

Look professional when going on a job interview

Tips On What To Wear:

Men – You can never go wrong with a suit. I define a suit as a jacket, dress pants, button-up shirt, tie and well-shined shoes. The jacket and pants match. The tie and shirt coordinate. Suits are impressive, regardless of whether the job would require you to wear one every day. If it’s too hot for the jacket, bring one anyway. Some places are cold and air-conditioned. You don’t want to be shivering in a thin shirt. Plus, jackets hide sweat stains.

Other accessories: belt, cuff links if necessary and a watch.

Colors must be subtle yet refined. Dark navy, brown and grey are the most neutral. Black may be too formal. As for the tie, ditch the happy face one your grandma gave you for Christmas. Stick with a small pattern or stripes. The shirt should be an accent color in the tie.

Remember, these are just suggestions, but together they create the most basic look that you will certainly feel confident wearing.

Women – Stay conservative. No short anything, no low-cut tops, no stilettos. If you wear a dress, make sure you can sit comfortably in it. No spaghetti straps. Bring a cardigan. Suits are also a good choice. Lighter fabrics like linen are great for the summer. Wool is a classic for winter.

Colors are more flexible for women, but stay in the neutral range. Add an accent color with a bright blouse or accessory but nothing too overpowering. Keep the patterns to a minimum. Heels must be a comfortable height for walking and in good condition. Flats are also perfectly acceptable.

Grooming Tips for Men and Women – Neat and clean. Brushed hair, brushed teeth. Tamed facial hair for men (preferably none) and light makeup for women. The best tip is to look natural.

[I borrow some of these tips from Virginia Tech’s Career Services office, where you can also find more detailed suggestions]

Continuing with the role play, you walk into the office and greet your interviewers. What do you do?

Be confident when shaking hands and introducing yourself

Shake Hands: Grip firmly, but not too tightly. Look directly into the interviewer’s eyes or at the space between their eyes (they won’t know the difference) and smile. Pump once. Let go. Remind yourself to breathe.

Introduce Yourself: “Hello, I’m Sara Steffan. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to meet with you today.” Be sincere. Make them have no choice but to like you.

Back to role play. After you greet, now what? Follow their lead. If the interviewers sit down, sit down as well. Make sure everything is prepared to give to them: your résumé, cover letter, writing samples, etc. Also, make sure you have enough copies for everyone who’s interviewing you. They don’t like to share.

Question time. Are you prepared for everything they’re going to ask you? This is where the role play comes in handy. Imagine the kind of questions they’re going to ask you. Maybe they’ll ask about your experience, or what you’d bring to their team. Write down a few key points and memorize them. You want to sound natural, so don’t memorize a whole speech.

For a more detailed approach on what to do during every step of the interviewing process, I like these points from the Connecticut Department of Labor. They offer several different strategies, like arriving early, that will help get you the job.

Before you know it, the interview will be over, and you’ll be hearing, “You can start on Monday.” With these tips, you’re on your way to getting the job.

What are some other important things to remember when interviewing?

Networking Techniques

Everyone talks about it. No one defines it. It’s extremely important when looking for a job, but what exactly is networking? I define networking as pursuing relationships and maintaining them on a professional level. Meeting new people, promoting yourself and creating connections are the building blocks to landing a job.

Exchanging information is key when networking

Important Things to Remember about Networking:

Take advantage of the 145 Million registered Twitter users – This statistic gives you a HUGE reason to be on Twitter. Your chances for networking with the right people go way up when you use Twitter effectively. Interact with future employers by using hashtags and retweeting their posts. Have a complete profile so employers can visit your blog and see your bio.

Success story: A Cronkite School student saw a retweet from Cronkite Student Life about USA Today looking for college life writers. She told them she would like to write for them and pitched her idea to them. The editor accepted it. She got published because of Twitter.

Overcome shyness – Being shy will only hold you back. Think of networking like dating. If you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll never meet your match.

Never feel like you have to apologize for asking for help. According to a CIO article, don’t see networking as imposing. See it as building relationships. You can learn a lot from a person just by having a conversation.  And one day, you might be able to return the favor.

Go to events – Besides Twitter, the best way to find professionals all in one place is to go to a conference. ONA is both a conference and online journalism awards. It takes place in Washington, D.C., in October. If online is your field, everybody who’s somebody will be at this event. You’ll be guaranteed to meet people who have contacts in high places.

Organize yourself – Get into a routine when you meet someone new. Write his or her contact information down. Terry Lynn Johnson of PRSA suggests writing on the back of the person’s business card 1 – what you talked about and 2 – how to follow up with that person. Attach his or her business card to an index card and write more details about the person. File it away somewhere important.

Watch this informative video from Howcast about the basics of networking. It may be simple, but it refreshes principle ideas that everyone should know.

How to Gain Valuable Internship Experience

Seek and you shall find ... if you're looking in the right place, of course.

…without killing yourself. Here are some tips from my own experience as well as from other bloggers:

  1. What’s your value? Job experience, career exploration, résumé building – there are many reasons why you should intern. Determine the most important one to you. Tailor your cover letter to each employer – don’t just send out a generic letter. Show an employer why you would add value to their company.
  2. Where to intern? Analyze your needs and wants. Do you need a paying position? Do you want agency experience? Nonprofit experience? There are many outlets to develop your skills, but not all will be a perfect fit. Many internships are unpaid, but they offer college credit. Make sure to talk to your major adviser so they can approve your enrollment and even give you suggestions as to where to apply.
  3. Who can help you land your dream internship? People with contacts in your field, like a professional who can mentor you, would be great. You can develop contact at organizations that may have a local chapter, such as PRSSA or IABC. And of course, there’s always the career services office like the Cronkite Career Services Office for example that have a wealth of information. Make sure you’re on your college’s mailing list!
  4. When should you apply? EARLY. Early, early, early. Internships have deadlines. When I applied to an internship I saw in a career services email, I heard back right away because I was one of the first ones that applied. A job won’t wait around forever, especially if it’s one a lot of people want. Research upcoming opportunities, and if you see one you like, send in an application. Even if you don’t, anticipate the needs like how this One Day One Internship post said to search the Wayne Gretzky way. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
  5. What can you do to standout? Be creative. Emphasize your strengths by creating a social media plan for yourself – your Twitter page, YouTube, LinkedIn and how you communicate using these tools. Tell your employers how you did it. Advertise yourself. Use Prezi to put together a unique résumé that employers will remember. Reach out to employers on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter. (see other good Twitter resources below)
  6. How do you move on if rejected from an employer? Don’t give up! Every setback is a new opportunity to find a better fit. Change your approach to networking. See if you get results. Internships are not jobs, so not as much is on the line. Read more blogs, comment and interact with others. Now is the time to take chances – establish yourself as a brand and identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Before you play the game, you must know the rules. Internships are competitive, especially in public relations. You have to be known before you’re considered for the job. The best way to get known is establishing yourself in the digital world. Use #prstudchat and #internchat hashtags to join the conversation, and find good people to follow.

Follow on Twitter

@YouTern – YouTern is effective because they tweet both companies to intern for and articles about interning. They have a blog offering tips and advice from experienced people that’s updated regularly.

Similar: @VoxPopPRCareers; @PRWork; @InternAlert – All update regularly with job and internship opportunities in the US (and even the UK for VoxPop).

@ComeRecommended – Offering several how-to articles, ComeRecommended works for both interns and their future employers. Their posts offer advice tailored to almost any situation you may find yourself in. You can join and interact with other interns and reach out to employers on their site.

@InternQueen – Lauren Berger, aka the Intern Queen, has years of experience. She had fifteen internships while in college. She offers tips and tricks for breaking into the internship world. Her site allows you to directly fill out applications for internships, even in fields other than PR.

Advice for the Recent College Graduate

Here is a blog post I wrote a few months back for PR Breakfast Club (you can find them on their homepage and more about them on their facebook page) about not just public relations, but everyone experiencing the shock of being thrown into the “real world” after college:

May 26

Everyone’s talking about the harsh realities of the real world these days, and now that I finished my first year of college and I’m beginning the process of building my future career, I’m starting to listen. Is the real world only for grownups? What is this “real world” exactly? I’m trying to find out, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

The real world isn’t something you get into after graduating from college, facing the daunting task of getting a job and supporting yourself. Financial independence is a scary thing, and no one has the answers as to how it can be achieved. I definitely don’t know, but what I do know is that I get “I’m so jealous of you for having three years of college left” and “you get to spend all that time just enjoying life and living it up” a lot. And I’m sick of hearing it. Truth is, the way you can feel more secure in graduating, ready to begin your new life and career, is by starting early. No, the real world is something you live in, all the time, constantly seeking out opportunity, making connections and networking without even trying.

I just completed a five-month internship at a PR firm where I was the youngest intern there. I loved my experience – not at first, but eventually when they started trusting me with more responsibilities and tasks that a more seasoned intern would breeze through. But I spent my time poring through the intern handbook, reading blogs and other first-time intern accounts of their experience. I chose to write my paper for a journalism class on internships for fun. So when they gave me more challenging tasks, to say I was prepared would be an understatement.

With social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn at my side (contrary to a Criminal Minds episode, they’re not just places where creepers hang out waiting to kidnap you if used effectively) I’m setting out to establish my place in the public relations world years before stepping off the stage as a college graduate. Internships are getting increasingly competitive, not to mention the overwhelming scarcity of entry-level jobs, so I’m looking to have as much experience in my arsenal as time allows. But I don’t want just a laundry list of places I’ve worked and minimum wages I’ve made. How do I expect to have a packed resume plus some achievements that will stand out to a future employer? Again, by starting early.

I see college as a really powerful tool in building the house of my career. Internships are like the raw material: the wood, the plaster and the concrete that puts it all together. College makes it into something that can be used productively, like a drill or a hammer and a nail. Both things together will allow me to get comfortable in my house and have a good job that’s fulfilling and open for advancement. Right now, I barely have a roof over my head. But someday, I hope to have a big mansion. Maybe some recent college graduates have a shack that will barely withstand a thunderstorm. That’s OK. Just keep working at it and getting more experience and soon you’ll have a cozy abode that will get you to the next level.

I’m expecting that college graduates of the future will do nothing but follow the “starting early” philosophy. My advice for current college graduates is to take the time between finishing your degree and getting a job to really fine-tune your resumes and portfolios. What makes you stand out? It’s easy to deny that you’ve been living in “the real world” for your entire life, and not so easy to look at your work and ask yourself what you did with all those years. Maybe you won’t have to look too hard to find something that would make you an exemplary employee. Things that you do for free are a great start – volunteer positions, internship work, apprenticeships, job shadowing – all of those things will make you seem dedicated and engaged in your community. Highlight those things and if you don’t have them, start doing them. It’s never too late to start building your mansion.

Read more: The Real World: Stop Avoiding It and Start Early : PRBreakfastClub

Why I want to be in PR

As a journalism major, I often get asked why I’m choosing public relations as my specialization. Why don’t I just major in advertising or communications or special events management or marketing? Am I selling out?

Absolutely not. I don’t want to major in any of those other things because I want to write first and do PR second. A classically trained journalist learns the ins and outs of AP style, politics, media and how to be aggressive to get a story. At least that’s what we do here at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Comm at ASU. I don’t want to sound clichéd, but isn’t there that saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?  While I’m not calling journalists the enemies of PR professionals, I do think there’s something to be said about their tumultuous relationship. The only way I can think about being the best at my profession is if I learn how the other side works. Being submersed in a school full of journalists will open my eyes to their practices, their strategies and how we both can benefit in the future.

Not only am I learning to write, but I’m learning how to deal with people. First and foremost, PR is about relating to people. Relating to the media, relating to the public and finding a balance between the two. Journalists have refined the most expressive forms of communication. It’s not so vague that when I graduate I won’t have something reputable and specific to fall back on, but it leaves the door open enough that I’m not going to be stuck being a reporter for a floundering newspaper, or an anchor of the five o’clock news. Future employers will know that I know what I’m doing in a newsroom, so if they send me there to defend their company to the public, they’ll know I’ll be able to hold my own.

But why PR? PR is being an advocate without getting into politics. It allows me to take a stand and do public speaking, which I’ve always loved. It makes me spend time on Twitter and Facebook and blogs, which I do anyway. Plus I get to see both sides of the coin – the intriguing big business people and the familiar man on the street. Somebody needs to be a liaison between the two or else the world would be a pretty confusing place. I want to be that link that allows both to function. PR gives me the flexibility to work for basically anybody – whether it’s the federal government, a big box company, a hotel chain or even a local boutique firm. There’s agency PR, there’s corporate PR … the opportunities are endless. What I like changes daily, and with PR I don’t have to be locked into accounting, forensics, psychology, Spanish or hospitality. I can pick one or all of them, and still the options are wide open.

I’m looking forward to exploring these options, now while I’m still in college and after I graduate with hopefully a bunch of experience in my back pocket. And although I may not be ready to choose what I like just yet, at least I know I can always be a journalist.

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