- Posted by marysastevens
- On July 26, 2018
- 2 Comments
Today is the second annual National Intern Day. It’s a fake holiday created by a job-hiring company, but a successful marketing tactic as it has the internet and Twitter buzzing. But it reminded me of my internship as a reporter in 2009 and gave me pause to reflect on my experience. I was an unpaid intern at a small newspaper in Hamilton, Montana. It’s the same newspaper my mom worked at as a teenager when she was in high school. I was fortunate enough to live with my grandparents for the two months while I worked and had a wonderful bonding experience with them. It was so cute – my grandpa dropped me off and picked me up everyday.
When I look back on my experience, I’m shocked how quickly things have changed in nine years with the advancement and popularity of online media and podcasts. When I was an intern, I just signed up for Twitter that summer and followed in amazement at watching first person accounts in 140 characters of the protests in Iran.
Because I was in a town with a population of less than 5,000, the newspaper staff was small and thus it gave me the opportunity to write and publish a story almost daily. This is almost an impossible accomplishment at any major newspaper or outlet. Interns often get assigned busy work, research and yes even fetching coffee. My editor sat down with me each morning to discuss assignments and ideas I had. He read my work at the end of each day and in the morning a newspaper with my byline was delivered to my grandparents’ front porch.
I had a golden opportunity that emphasized writing, editing and most importantly – storytelling. There isn’t a lot of hard news in small community so I was able to stretch my creative muscle and find human interest stories. I interviewed a cancer survivor turned author, rode in a firetruck and watched firemen put a home fire out, and met Miss Teen USA Montana. My final assignment by my editor was a personal story. I was told that weekend I was going to hike Saint Mary’s Peak which topped off off at 9,351 ft. Along the way I took note and photos and afterward wrote about what it was like hiking to the top of a mountain and touring a wildfire lookout cabin. If you’re wondering, I thought I was going to die and yes my legs are still sore.
Internships are often unpaid and not usually glamorous. But they are the best way to gain first-hand experience and can lead to jobs within that organization. It’s also a good experience to learn if that’s the career you want to pursue after graduation.
The real dividends that paid off came two years later when I graduated college and entered the labor force in the height of the recession. When I was hired on to the global communications team for an international corporation, I asked my boss why they chose me over the other 40 qualified applicants. The answer that I still remember today is that I had a portfolio of bylines which proved I understood AP style and how to write a compelling story. I walked into my job interview with a portfolio I bought from a craft store and cut out all of my published articles from two months of work. It seems so old-school now as I imagine most portfolios are digital and designed beyond my capabilities. In a competitive environment, references are extremely valuable but there is nothing like first-hand experience and a thick portfolio to impress a prospective employer. Show them what you’ve done, and what you can deliver for them.
My advice to current college students is to do as many internships as possible. Don’t always go for the big fish. Experiment with a newspaper in an unsuspecting town or join a small staffed PR agency. Combine passion and strong work ethic with any opportunity, whether it’s at NBC News in Manhattan or a small newspaper in Montana, and you will have a successful and resume-boosting internship.