What I Learned From My Less-Than-Spectacular Internship

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Last fall, I interned at a small public relations agency. In all honesty, I didn’t know much about the company. I knew I needed an internship and I really didn’t care who it was with or what I did. Throughout the internship, there were days I sat at my desk wondering, “Am I the problem?”

Below are lessons I learned during this internship, from the interview process to day-to-day interactions that helped me realize what I should look for in future positions.

Interviews reflect the company too.

A mentor told me, “You can learn a lot about a company usually in the first interview.” I have never given that comment much thought until after my experience. The initial interview with this company was my first Skype interview ever. My nerves were unreal. I waited and waited for my interviewer to call me. They ended up being over 15 minutes late. I brushed it off and thought it was okay. I noticed a few things during our Skype call: she was hostile, loud and disorganized. Keep in mind this woman owns a successful agency. I gritted my teeth and got through it somehow. She threw me curveball questions I’ll never forget like, “If you could be any color skittle, what color would you be?” Despite our first interaction, I still wanted the internship. She called days later to say I got it.

Know when to say, “No.”

The first few weeks were spectacular until I realized I was running myself ragged with taking on projects left and right. I felt exhausted and drained but I kept telling myself this was my career on the line. I had to do these projects to make my boss happy. Naturally, I am a people pleaser so you can imagine the word, “no” isn’t exactly in my vocabulary.

By the end of every week, I was so torn up over how the days went by at the office. Looking back now I wish someone would have said it’s okay to say no at times. Saying yes to every project will not jumpstart your career; your happiness in the workplace matters more.

Mistakes happen.

As the intern, no one wants to mess things up. I get that but hear me out when I say it’s okay not to have the answer to every question or project. In our minds, it’s unacceptable to screw things up especially if you are the new intern. No matter how long you’ve been with a company, mistakes can happen to anyone. It’s not only the new intern.

My boss expected perfect pieces every single time. She would throw the biggest fit like a child not getting a toy or the perfect birthday. There were many days at the office I saw my co-workers in tears. They weren’t alone — the yelling and screaming over an Oxford comma had all of us on edge.

Lessons Learned.

It’s okay to walk away when things get rough. Mistakes don’t validate who you are as an intern or a person. Research is the backbone of public relations. Don’t just say this, implement it when you search for your next internship or future career options. Know your limits with project and task management. Doing 50 things at once won’t help your career if you don’t pay attention to the details. Take your time and perfect your craft.

Erin Morris is a senior Journalism major at Middle Tennessee State University. She has worked at an event firm, portrait studio, and a local newspaper. Her interests include global strategic communication, international relations, and the arts.

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