How to leverage your internship for YOU

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By Bec Foley:

During the course of Uni life you’ll probably be expected to complete an internship. Internships are usually unpaid and, more often than not, are compulsory. They can be completely exploitative, often extremely awkward and sometimes feel like a goddam waste of time. However, they CAN be extremely beneficial to you; they’ll give you big-name credentials to bulk up your portfolio. So make sure you walk away from the experience with a richer understanding of your prospective industry and something ripe and juicy on your CV.

This article is about turning an internship into something that benefits YOU.

I recently undertook my first internship and while it was utterly daunting, it gave me three amazing skills: industry experience, professional work for my portfolio and a glimpse of the business behind the razzle dazzle of my industry.

My internship was at The Sydney Morning Herald and for a journalism student, this is potentially the best internship there is. It was hard to get – I had to do a general knowledge quiz – which I crammed like crazy for because I knew there’d by scary questions on there like who is the Minister for Transport, who won the Bathurst 1000 and how many times did Oprah sneeze on air (Andrew Constance; Craig Lowndes; 0). After successfully passing the general knowledge quiz, there’s an incredibly intimidating panel interview with senior editors.

It’s terrifying.

That’s how it is for communication students JUST TO GET THE INTERNSHIP.

The way my particular internship worked is that we were assigned to a department based on our knowledge and experience strengths, and there we’d report to the section editor. Generally for an intern, you’re given a lot of press releases that you then need to turn into a story. Media releases are a dime a dozen, and the ones they flick on to interns are ones where it’s not really of any major significance whether they get published or not. Really, it’s a litmus test of the intern: if you can create something punchy out of it on time, you’ll get published, and you’ll get a steady stream of more projects.

Getting published is the end goal because it means your name in forever digitally assigned as a journalist for that media outlet – it means when you go for a paying job, you have a published body of professional work. Not just student work – PROFESSIONAL WORK. And to be able to present a portfolio that shows you’re a published author for the SMH, or whoever, gives you a MASSIVE advantage over the next dude going for your job.

So you WANT to get ANYTHING published. That’s the bottom line.

For journo students reading this, the way to get published is to read the style guide of your media institution and stick to it like glue – it’ll say things like “write barbecue instead of bbq”. It’s THAT picky. Go over your story finely – if there are lazy spelling errors or it reads clunky, you won’t get it passed your editor to the subs – the subs publish the stories. Editors just won’t spend any time on fixing up your mistakes. You have to make it as easy for them to publish as possible. In saying that, work on things promptly – try to give yourself a 4 hour turn around if they haven’t given you a deadline. The reason for this is the if you’re working from a media release and you’re at SMH, it means that that same media release has gone to The Guardian, Broadsheet, Pedestrian, The Telegraph etc. If you sit on a story for two days, it’ll already have been published by all those other outlets, and then even if you turn in a brilliantly crafted piece of work – you won’t get it published as it’s old news. So: write well, and write quick.

For an intern in any industry, doing something well and doing something promptly – even if you haven’t been given a deadline – is the key to your success. Being an intern can feel like you’re the bottom of the barrel in a professional workplace – I felt like a bit of a waste of space and that I was annoying if I took up someone’s time, so be as pleasant and easy to manage as possible. Don’t be invisible – but don’t be-in-your-face annoying either. You have to engage with your workplace, but you can’t be needy or demanding. Internships can make you feel like it doesn’t matter whether you’re there or not – so MAKE it matter.

At SMH, it felt as though each story I was given was a test – if I wrote well and punched the story out in good time, I’d get another story. Which means I got another published story to add to my portfolio. See, how you make it all about you and your interests? That’s how you need to think about it.

Although it can feel that no one is interested in your presence, it WILL be noted if you’re goofing off on Facebook today. And although you might be an seditious anarchist that doesn’t care about authority, it does mean no one will flick you work, so that means you can’t provide a result, which means your portfolio doesn’t get anything. And that’s a big loss for you.

I mentioned 3 mains benefits I got from my internship: industry experience, professional work for my portfolio and a glimpse of the business behind the razzle dazzle of my industry.

Industry experience was seeing how journalists have to be as autonomous as possible. In a writing context, this means even if you’re given a media release, it’s up to you to give the story your voice. Then write it well – make sure you give as little work for the subs to do as possible. And try to think of a great title – the more you can do on your own, the more they’ll love you.

Professional work for you portfolio: before my internship at the SMH, I had a blog with some Uni essays and videos, a few reviews and other various pieces of work. It wasn’t great or cohesive. Now, I have a myriad of pieces that link straight to SMH online where the byline reads ymy name. That’s the difference between a pokey student portfolio and a professional portfolio. Link to everything you do! Engage in shameless self promotion! If it’s up to you and another dude to get a job you want, having a body of professional work will drag you over that line every single time!

Business v’s dazzle dazzle: a reality. I thought working at the SMH there’d be journos screaming out across desks as national events unfolded in real time; that celebrities would be traipsing around the corridors; and my reporter idols would be at a desk near me with a cigarette in one hand and a whisky in the other as they made history once again writing words of importance. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. Big name journos didn’t work from the office, the workplace was nearly silent, and stories of national events were held on a different floor to me.

It was just a workplace, like any other. And the values were no different to any other: it wanted it’s employees to produce good work, on time. A newspaper is just a business – it has financial concerns and budget restrictions. Clicks on stories mean more money because of its advertisers, which means articles had to entice readers. The more clicks per story, the happier your editor is. So keep in mind the business of your workplace – how your business is profitable –  because even if you don’t care whether that workplace makes money or not, if you’re punching out work that generates money, you’ll get more work. Which means more professional work for your portfolio. END GOAL = MET.

So, when you’re feeling awkward and out of place at your next internship, know that every other intern has felt that way too. But while you’re there, try to stay focused amid the feelings of exploitation and blundering awkwardness. You’re there for plumage as much professional experience as you goddam can, and get those juicy fillets on your portfolio. Good luck out there.

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