The way I see it, there are four reasons to do an internship: to make money (if it’s a paid position), to put the work on your resume, to test out a particular career, or to gain experience in that field. In college, (or before, or after) there is so much pressure surrounding how you choose to spend your summer and time. Our youth is perceived as a highly valuable ticking time bomb before it’s less socially acceptable to have no clue what you’re doing. According to society,making the most of each summer by landing the best internship you can is really important.
But what if you can see yourself doing a million different things? A lawyer, a media consultant, a social worker, a journalist, a marketer (who me?). It becomes so much harder to focus your energy on finding an internship that will inevitably lead you to a long and successful career. The approach I took this past summer was targeting a career that I could potentially see myself in, and would give me a chance to utilize the skills I’ve honed so far in college. For me, that was a marketing internship, where I could do some writing and also learn about the field. Though after the summer ended, I still have no idea what I want to do for a career, I learned a ton. Namely, the following:
1) I am Type A
Until this job, I had worked as a hostess and a coach for children’s gymnastics and diving. In these jobs, I had a clear expectation about what was expected of me each day, what my purpose was at the company, and how to accomplish my goals.
However, at my marketing internship at an industrial products company, I was faced with a team of people who all had shifting priorities, varying degrees of stress throughout the week, and a constant flow of half-explained tasks without deadlines.
This structure, or lack thereof, was really frustrating to me. To my team members, this was simply the way work was. It made me realize that adapting to less organized or more chaotic situations is hard for me.
There were days that I wanted so desperately to ask my boss what the heck I was doing there, or even just what the long term goals of the marketing team were. I never had the guts, but on my last day, I did ask about how the team was structured and got some answers that would have calmed my frustrations earlier.
My advice is to know what level of organization you can tolerate. That way, you can communicate with your peers and superiors about what you need to know, and what structure you prefer to be the most productive you can be.
Also, you should expect that any work environment will function on a more day-to-day structure than any class. There obviously isn’t a syllabus and their isn’t a final exam that you’re working towards, which might be cause for a bit of culture shock, but being aware of the different flow of work will help you.
2) Understanding Your Target Customer is the First Step to Successful Marketing
The first project I had at this internship was researching and compiling logistical information about our customers- typical intern stuff that nobody wants to spend time doing. However, when I finished the project, the team was extremely grateful because the better we understood our customers, the more effectively we could produce content that targeted their needs.
My marketing internship was with a company that sold a product to industrial customers. The head of the marketing department, my boss this summer, began his career as a manager of the type of industrial sites that we targeted as customers. This inside knowledge gave him an edge in finding ways to appeal to the customer effectively, and contributed largely to his ability to move up in the department.
Even if you don’t have as much access to the psyche of your target customers, don’t overlook getting to know their needs and perspectives.
3) Cube Farms are Only Lonely if You Let Them Be
Among other firsts, this past summer was my first time working in a cube farm. I’m talking full height walls, no doors, no windows, gray everywhere, cube farm. I was really nervous to be tasked with any form of work in such a grim, isolated environment. I’m such a people person that I used to avoid my desk and opt instead for the kitchen table to do homework, so that I could be around my family while I worked.
At the beginning, I felt like I was playing a waiting game until lunch and then again until 5:00 when I could escape the dungeon. Once I got more comfortable with my coworkers- and learned to squeeze in coffee breaks that allowed me to walk past other people’s cubes and chat- I found that my productivity skyrocketed. Studies have shown that office workers are only truly productive for two hours each workday. Why not use your less productive time to collaborate with others and get another perspective on a project? Don’t think of it as slacking to take a half hour to ask a coworker’s opinion on something you’re working on. As an intern, your biggest resource is the people around you and their experience, so get out of your cube as often as you can and socialize (as professionally and productively as possible).
4) Marketing is Way More Multifaceted than it May Seem
Going into this internship, all I knew was that I liked to design things, correct grammar, and was interested in the psychological aspect of marketing. I had no idea that it takes a whole team to make sure that a company’s message is being heard broadly by the right audience, and effectively promoting sales.
While every company is different, most marketing teams require:
regular online and social media presence
an informative website that answers commonly asked customer questions
content that can be readily used by the sales team when targeting specific customers
up-to-date research on the market the company is pursuing
internally circulated content to keep employees aware and engaged
a constant flow of experimental projects
Each one of these components requires consideration and a variety of skills that could rarely be found in or expected of a single person.
There were members of the team that I rarely worked with because of this wide range of tasks. I was blown away by the scope of responsibility that the team managed, and realized that lots of different people might be good fits for different aspects of marketing. Maybe it’s something you never considered because you didn’t know what it could entail.
5) Attention to Detail is Key to Producing Effective Content
There is always some demand that drives the production of marketing content. That demand is then transformed into a concept, which fuels content creation, which then needs editing and proofreading. This process is already long, and when working against deadlines, it can be hard to devote time to the editing process. As an intern, this final step of a project often landed on my desk. I enjoy proofreading, so this wasn’t an issue for me, but when I tore apart a document with edits, my coworkers said they felt way more confident sending it out to customers than before.
6) A Company Functions the Same Way as a Group Project
This may not be as big of a revelation for some people as it was for me, but after working at a company that was trying to develop and sell a product, I realized that a business is just a group of people with different responsibilities working towards a goal. Woah. Crazy, I know. But I had never really thought about it!
Each department has a different job, and they all need to communicate and get tasks done on time for the rest of the company to move smoothly. That being said, the same challenges we have in school with group projects exist at work. There’s always that one team that doesn’t like to communicate regularly with other departments. There are always individuals who wait until the last minute to get their work done. And there are always superiors who are unclear about instructions, deadlines, and expectations.
As much as we all hate group projects, the corporate world is just an enormous version, so watch out!
7) Writing Skills are Valued Everywhere
Communicating a message or an idea is often the key to success in any sale. If you have the skills to make that message come across more clearly, more accurately, and more succinctly, you are an asset. Once my team became familiar with my strengths (wording things and organization) and weaknesses (research and remaining serious), they had me do a lot of editing documents to help readers have the smoothest experience possible with our content.
Through this experience, I realized that almost any company has use for somebody who can write well! This is great news for an English major, and it made me feel like I can work almost anywhere, combining a passion for a company’s mission with my nerdy proofreading habits.
8) The Back-End of the Internet is WILD
One of my team members was in charge of digital media at the company. She taught me about what factors help her decide how much funding to put into various digital campaigns, and it honestly blew my mind. I’m the type of person who gets freaked out by social media ads that respond to something I said out loud, but never understands how that works. Working at a marketing internship showed me part of how the back end of the internet works. Basically, what I learned is that every link and page on the internet is set up by somebody and your activity can be tracked by the creator.
For my company, the marketing team would use that ability to monitor the traffic on the website and on digital media campaigns. Not only does this tracking allow us to know how many people are viewing our content, but also identifies a lot of their demographic, particularly nationalities and whether it’s a company or an individual.
Through this process, the marketing team is able to slowly fine tune the type of content they are producing to increase the target traffic and carry these potential customers through the links that lead to whatever action we want them to take, usually, making a purchase.
It’s a long process, but it’s ruling our digital world today, so it was cool for me to get a look into how it works.
9) Caring about the Company will Get You Far
One of the best pieces of feedback I received after this internship was that it was clear that I was invested in the team and wanted to make a difference.
A lot of people view their jobs as a race towards a deadline, or a tedious execution of tasks. What my boss told me was that taking that one step further and trying to improve the system that people work in, and bringing creative ideas to the table makes an employee worthwhile.
10) Respecting the People you work with Makes or Breaks your Experience
Have you ever had the same teacher for two years in a row? If you were glad you had them again, chances are you respected them and felt you had more to learn from them. If not, you likely learned all of their tricks the first time around and were ready to move on.
With bosses, it may seem clear immediately whether or not you vibe with them. Regardless, I really recommend that you give them the benefit of the doubt, especially as an intern, when everybody has more experience than you. Try to find something about the way the people around you work that you respect and hope to learn from. Focusing on this, in addition to your workload, will make your internship worthwhile.
If you’re looking into doing a marketing internship, maybe these bits of wisdom will help you dive in with a head start. Even if you’re interests lie elsewhere, remember to keep an open mind. Chances are that whatever experience you’re having, you can learn something from it. Make your own list of things you’ve learned from your internships, especially if you’re feeling negatively about it, to remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing.