Big agency? Small agency? Any agency? These are the questions we can’t help but obsess over when trying to secure an internship that will deliver the most return on our investment of time and effort. As a student, you may not have the luxury of getting to choose from a long list of agencies, but it’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons of every internship you pursue and the likelihood of it parlaying into a full-time position.
When I was a graduate student, I accepted an invitation to intern at Reilly Connect, a small, privately held agency in Chicago with a seasoned team of senior-level professionals. The return on my internship investment was huge. During that time, I was able to:
1. Wear Many Hats
Small agencies are known for being flexible and efficient. You were chosen as an intern for a reason (i.e., you have talents and potential), so prepare to have your talents tapped and your potential nurtured (and your resume fill up with experience). Over the course of my internship, I was able to participate in a wide range of work, which included face time with clients in a safe, supportive environment.
2. Speak Up and Be Heard
Going from the classroom to the boardroom can be intimidating, but small agencies aren’t interested in the silent type of intern. As champions of creativity and experimentation, they welcome ideas from all levels of the hierarchy, knowing that the best solutions can come from the most unlikely sources (i.e., me). I was encouraged to speak up in meetings from day one.
3. Be Known
Far from being relegated to a dark, lonely cubicle, small agencies offer you an opportunity to join a close-knit community. Your colleagues and superiors will quickly learn your strengths and interests, which can lead to more opportunities and responsibilities. And, with less separation between the rungs of the corporate hierarchy, you can look forward to an emphasis on collaboration and communication. When I had a question, I didn’t have to go through five different people to get an answer. My boss always had an open-door policy, and I was never made to feel like a nuisance, regardless of how little or large the query.
4. Access Senior-Level Strategic Thinking
Speaking of bosses, at a small agency, you are much more likely to get one-on-one time with senior leadership. Being able to learn from the best of the best in your field, people with extensive experience and vast resources, is priceless. You get ample face time with the person who ultimately decides whether or not you get a job offer and/or a glowing reference if you choose to go elsewhere.
At the end of my internship, I had lifelong friends, an impressive range of experience, and a full-time job offer at the agency I’d come to love. While it’s true that not all small agency cultures are created equal, you should be able to assess during an interview and office visit if the above perks apply to your prospective workplace, and if you’re not sure—just ask.
What’s most important to you when it comes to choosing an internship?
Sarah Dowdy is content developer at Reilly Connect, a digital marketing communications agency based in Chicago, Illinois. Sarah received her bachelor’s degree in English and organizational communication from the University of Missouri and her master’s degree in health communication from DePaul University. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.