My name is Katrina Hafford. I’m from Orlando, Florida and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Advertising & Public Relations. While attending UCF, I completed several internships in the communications field. After graduating, I moved to San Francisco where I am currently a Public Relations Specialist at Yelp.
A piece of advice I really took to heart in college was to do internships. Gaining internship experience was something my professors really encouraged in my program. In fact, we were required to have at least one internship completed in order to graduate. I owe a lot to my advisors and professors for giving me that advice. Having internship experience really helped set me apart from other candidates applying to jobs post-graduation, and led me to some great opportunities in the real world. The importance they placed on having real-world experience was incredibly valuable to me, and it’s something I like to stress when giving advice to my friends in college.
Having internship experience means that after graduation, you’ll have something to show for your time in college other than your degree. Nowadays, having a piece of paper that says “Look, I finished school!” is just the bare minimum. When applying to even an entry-level position in the real world, companies are looking for skills you acquired and any experience you had in that particular field of work. That means doing more than what’s required of you in the classroom.
So how can you go about finding an internship? Use the resources that are available to you right now at school! Attend internship fairs, career fairs, and networking events. My university had multiple events a year and I tried to take advantage of as many as I could. While they can be intimidating, I was able to walk away with internships three times. Make sure to come prepared with multiple copies of up-to-date resumes. In addition to attending fairs and events, do your research! You’d be surprised at what opportunities you can find on your local job board, sites like indeed.com, or even a simple Google search. Got a dream company (or companies) in mind? Check out their website! They may be in the market for an intern. If the company you’re interested in isn’t offering an internship, see if you can volunteer, or even meet with someone at the company for an “informational interview.” It may be a foot in the door to something greater.
Once you’re lucky enough to have landed an internship, try your best to soak everything in and find opportunities within the company to grow your skills and your network. If you’re interning in the PR department of an ad agency, but you’re curious to know what the copywriting team is up to, email someone from that department and offer to take them out to lunch or coffee. If they’re really pressed for time, maybe shadow them for 30 minutes, or just ask a few of your questions over email instead. I’ve found that most people are actually flattered when someone expresses curiosity in their job.
While you’re still in school, it’s really important to work for free while it’s still a possibility. It’s a lot harder to play catch up and do an unpaid internship to build up experience once you’re done with school and have a lot more bills, loans, and responsibilities on your plate. While you have the time and ability, get as much internship experience as you can now. Your future self will thank you later.