Having completed four internships within the space of three years, both in the US and UK, Leoni Jay has developed an understanding of the work experience industry and what it takes to secure that all important placement. She interned in Los Angeles over two summers for various PR and media companies where she gained a wealth of knowledge and industry experience.
Further, she also held a work experience position as a Fashion PR intern in London for a stint. The beginning of this year saw the launch of her debut book #interns – we do more than make coffee, available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1qhbEoJ
1) Plan ahead
Give yourself plenty of time to plan your overall internship experience from start to finish. I’d recommend starting your strategy well in advance, particularly if you’re going abroad. The useful saying “fail to plan, plan to fail’ sticks in my mind, and reinforces the need to be organised and prepared. The earlier you start, the more flexible you can be, should you decide to change your plans along the way.
2) Don’t take on too much
It may well be a cliché, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and planning your internship from start to finish won’t happen in a day either. It’s vital that you pace yourself, set realistic goals and allow time off to relax in between the confusion of job searching, applications and visa requirements. Devote a specific time once or twice a week to work on it. That way, you are less likely to become overwhelmed, and the process will be more enjoyable. Employers can identify an application that has been rushed or completed half-heartedly. It makes far better sense to send five impressive cover letters a week than five substandard ones a day.
3) Save money
To many students and young graduates, disposable income is a concern, and when money is available it can be spent at every opportunity…right? Well, I’m completely in favour of enjoying the university experience and nights out, however I believe expenditure is an issue of balance. I had a part-time job during my studies in addition to a student loan, and an allowance from my parents. The moment I made the decision to go abroad for the summer, I constructed a budget, calculating the money I needed to save in order to fund the trip. The thought of living in and experiencing what Los Angeles had to offer was enough to motivate me to save, rather than spending cash on unnecessary purchases. It was definitely worth it in the end!
4) Use your industry contacts
The phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know” comes to mind here. If you have a relative, friend, or even a friend of a friend who has contacts in an industry, then take advantage of this and ask for help in securing work experience. If you know of someone who will offer you a relevant internship, or put you in touch with someone they know - take the offer. Ultimately it will save you time and worry in your search. Unfortunately I had initially had very limited contacts in the US initially, but if I had had, I would definitely have reached out for help in securing a suitable role.
5) Stay positive and motivated
Hours searching and applying for jobs, rejections, lack of replies and the struggle to save money - these are challenges you may face along the way. Many times I felt discouraged during my search for jobs, and didn’t believe it would happen. At the end of the day, it’s just the one offer you’re holding out for, and as soon as you receive that offer, your attitude will change. I really believe that the more difficult the initial journey, the more you will benefit from the overall experience. Remain optimistic that you will be successful, and more importantly, that you deserve the positions you are applying for!
6) Choice of job
Remember, it’s your decision which jobs you apply for, because ultimately, it’s you who will be working in the role. If you are in the fortunate position of receiving more than one job offer, ensure it’s you who makes the final decision on which offer to accept. Of course it’s important to seek advice and guidance from your peers, but refrain from letting anyone determine your ultimate decision. When in doubt, follow your gut - I’ve found mine to be right nine times out of ten!
7) Find accommodation close to the office
This is actually a crucial point to consider when working abroad. As previously outlined, I wanted to stay on a university campus, but in reality I ended up quite far from the office of my first internship. If you can, it’s advisable to find accommodation within easy reach of your work, in addition to public transport. For those of you who can drive, chances are you will not have access to a car abroad, and so reliable transport links are of the upmost importance. Just remember, living within close proximity to the office can result in a longer lie in - very important if you choose to hit the bars the night before (not that I’m endorsing this!)
8) Don’t over expect
Let’s be realistic - it’s farfetched to expect a great deal of responsibility in a company from day one. If you’re lucky, your line manager might allow you to have a level of input in meetings, in addition to a range of office tasks. It’s important to understand that to an organisation, interns are dispensable. For this reason, you should know your place and don’t over expect in terms of a full and fast paced workload. As time proceeds and you demonstrate more of your capabilities, managers should trust you with a greater share of work. I’ve heard of many interns entering roles in the music and fashion industries, expecting to attend photo shoots and shows, only to find this not the case. Many companies do treat interns like regular employees and offer these opportunities, but I would warn against going into a role expecting this. Discuss your responsibilities from the onset with your line manager and make sure you have a clear outline of what‘s expected of you.
9) Ask for help
I have a strong admiration for individuals who are able to ask for help on issues of concern. It demonstrates not only maturity, but the ability to admit that you don’t know it all, allowing advice to be sought from those who do. It also highlights your willingness to learn and avoid mistakes. Often the best advice in life is free and from those around you, so speak to your line manager, colleagues or fellow interns if you’re not sure, and get help with what you need.
10) Go the extra mile
Even if it requires you to work past midnight, (so long as you can get home safely), or run 50 errands a day, do it, and do it with a smile! Employers recognise when an intern is dedicated, and your hard work and commitment won’t go unnoticed. If you want a greater level of responsibility in the office, start at the bottom. No job is too insignificant, and believe me, there is a chance you will be asked to do some interesting tasks! Did I mention the time I had to walk the staffs’ dogs on my lunch break?
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