As we prepare to welcome our 2023 Summer Intern, the team put pen to paper reflecting on their first internship experience. From lessons learned to laughs shared, we know how impactful an internship can be. We also know how impactful a personal “thank you” note can be, so in the vein of a letter (in a postcard length) we’re sharing our pieces of advice for all interns as they embark on the next stepping stone in their career journeys.
From: Alaina Hay
During my first internship, I dove into learning about the inner workings of the Marketing and Communications department of an electrical power systems company. I spent the summer writing and researching power lines, lineman safety, and various drills and tools. I also got to put on a hard hat and tour the factory (my friends found that picture hilarious mostly because I thought it would be acceptable to wear heels … to my defensive I was only told to wear closed toe shoes). Fast forward to my next internship, I worked for an agency writing social copy for a pest control company.
My advice: It’s safe to say I had no idea what I was doing during my first internship, which leads me to my piece of advice – it’s okay if you have no idea what’s going on, most people starting out don’t! Just be confident to ask questions. Internships are educational, so don’t be shy when you need some teaching. I also realized that your job doesn’t have to always be glamorous to be enjoyable and rewarding.
Oh, and wear sensible footwear.
From: Andrew Healy
I never had a summer internship as I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to pursue, so I didn’t know what industry to even consider for an internship. But I worked every summer during college doing all sorts of customer-facing roles (waiter, bartender, pizza delivery, catering company) which in hindsight was good training for a job in PR and marketing. So much of what we do comes down to interacting with people, often in less-than-ideal situations (whether wearing a tuxedo at a country club in 95-degree weather, or advising a client during a crisis), and my summer experiences of speaking with thousands of people collectively was super helpful in preparing me for agency life.
My advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Mistakes will happen literally every day of your entire career, and while it’s important to learn from them to help avoid them in the future, it can be counterproductive to dwell too much on the past. So try your best, always be open to new ideas and thinking, and be sure to learn from past experiences, but don’t let small hiccups derail your overall mood and drive. Shit happens and everyone has been there!
From: Jen Corletta
For my first internship experience, I worked for Hudson Valley Magazine, helping the Marketing and PR lead plan the magazine’s first-ever “Burger Bash.” Not corporate PR in the slightest, but it helped put into perspective how much work needs to be done to execute an event—especially when you’re starting from scratch! While it was fun to try out, it later gave me the confidence to admit that Food & Bev (or an in-house job for that matter) wasn’t where I wanted to grow in my career. If anything, I saw my time with the magazine as an empowering first step in figuring out who I was as a PR professional—and also who I wanted to become.
My advice: An internship is just as much about learning the industry as it is learning about yourself. Take (literal) notes on things you like/don’t like. Not only will that give you concrete examples for discussions with mentors, but it will help when you go to make your next career decision.
From: Jesse Chen
My first proper internship was as a congressional intern for Representative Mark Takano (CA-39). Much of my summer was spent managing constituent correspondence, which basically means I went through letters/emails and answered calls from the people that Rep. Takano represented, and helped reply to each person. There was something really magical about getting to see the nitty gritty behind how our government works to represent us, and my proudest accomplishment was getting to write the first draft of a response to a petition the Representative had received with over 500 signatures. I also spent a lot of time doing things like couriering documents to other offices (the Capitol subway system is the coolest subway I’ve ever ridden), attending briefings/lectures, and conducting research. Rep. Takano was the first openly gay person of color to serve in Congress, so he was really active that summer talking about the pending Supreme Court decision around DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. On the day the Court struck down DOMA, we stood on the steps of the courthouse waiting for the decision before celebrating together with the crowd, and I remember feeling awestruck that I could be a tiny part of this moment in history, at my young age.
My advice: Never be afraid to apply. As the daughter of immigrants and a woman of color, I never thought growing up that I’d be able to land a congressional internship. The very idea of it felt unattainable. Who was I to think I could or should have that opportunity, when there were probably so many other people out there who had more experience or better connections? What could I possibly bring to the table? Honestly, sometimes it still feels pretty unreal to me that I went from being part of my family’s first generation born in this country to interning for Congress. If I hadn’t gone for it and submitted my app, hoping against hope that I’d get at least an interview, I never would’ve found out that not only could I land this internship, I could also do it pretty damn well. So, go ahead. Shoot your shot, send in the application, reach out for that coffee. Instead of asking yourself, “Why me?” ask yourself, “Why not me?” You never know where it could take you.
From: Katie Colleary
I split my 3-credit college internship between two amazing photographers, one on 81st and West End Ave and the other on Spring St and Broadway. I had no idea how hard it would be to commute most in NYC in the middle of the day every Thursday of that summer. I got lost walking, got parking tickets driving, got lost again on the subway, but, eventually, I got pretty good at navigating the city and getting to both places in enough time to wear white cotton gloves and sort, cut, and scan thousands of negatives.
My advice: Be on time and be attentive. Showing up is half the battle, so never be late and be willing to pitch in to help the team that is helping you get the most out of your internship. Attentiveness means you’re interested and if you are interested and you ask questions you will learn, don’t be too quiet – remember, you got this to further your education and so many internships result in connections that can help you get your first job, so speak up and work super hard and you will be one to remember!
From: Kevin Santo
My first internship was technically with the New York Daily News as a general assignment news reporter, but it didn’t last very long. It’s a funny story that I don’t have enough words to fully explain here, but in hindsight, I’m thankful for it. No professional challenge has ever been as intimidating as knocking on strangers’ doors as a 19-year-old.
I’ll also give a shoutout to the USA TODAY baseball staff – I got to cover the Nationals and Orioles for a summer after my junior year and learned a ton from my editors.
My advice: If I could offer any advice based on my own experiences, it’s to be proactive. That can apply in a lot of scenarios, but personally, I made it a goal to pitch new ideas and ask for feedback on my work. It was the best way for me to learn, and I think bringing new ideas to the table is essential to any job! And last point – it’s ok to ask questions.
From: Matt Kirdahy
I was an unpaid intern at the regional magazine Baltimore Style in 2001. For however many hours that summer, they tasked me with researching and writing the events calendar that ran at the front of the book along with the author’s name. They sprinkled in light copy editing too. When the magazine went to print, I remember the satisfaction of seeing the hard copy with my name in it, telling everyone what they could do this month. Meanwhile, I still haven’t been to Lewes, Delaware.
My advice: Ask questions constantly and if you don’t know the questions to ask, ask one of us what you should be curious about. Also, think about what you want to have accomplished by the time summer’s over. We’re here to help!
From: Mike Persak
My first of three journalism internships was in Colorado Springs. Once during my time there, they sent me to Denver to help cover a Colorado Rockies game against the Chicago White Sox. I had to pitch them a story idea for them to agree to let me go, but during the game, Rockies pitcher Kyle Freeland – who actually grew up in Denver – nearly threw a no-hitter, lasting 8 1/3 innings before giving up his first hit of the game. My editor still wanted me to write the story he had sent me to write and completely ignore the tailor-made one I had witnessed. I convinced him otherwise, and when I applied for the internship the next summer, the hiring editor there specifically mentioned the story I had written about the near no-hitter. Point being, even when you think you’re inexperienced, it’s worth it to speak up and voice your own opinions.
My advice: I think the best experiences you get from an internship or even an entry-level job are the ones you seek out. It can be hard when you’re first learning your role, the subject matter or even the people around you, but I think it’s helpful to try to take stock of the things you enjoy in your role and then ask others how you can become more involved in that process or task or whatever it is. People at Water & Wall are so kind and helpful, and we will all be willing to help steer you in the right direction and help make your time here as fulfilling as possible.
From: Rebecca Schmidt
I worked as an intern right out of college at a small luxury travel PR agency. I spent most of my time booking flights, hotels and other event logistics. This was right at the cusp of “influencers” starting to take off as a legitimate career, and what constituted as a journalist vs. a travel influencer was still pretty blurry. I was often tasked with figuring out how in the world to track and quantify what each of these press trip attendees’ Insta and Facebook (ha) posts meant for our clients. There really weren’t set guidelines (aka the intricate influencer contracts that PR teams deal with nowadays) and I sure learned a ton about negotiation and most importantly, how to speak to old-school clients about a newly developing part of the media world. While it turned out this type of PR most certainly wasn’t my forte, the lessons and even “client speak” I learned while watching a specific part of our industry absolutely explode during my time as an intern is something I will truly never forget.
My advice: Focus less on getting everything right and more on paying attention to the lessons you’re learning. It’s difficult, sometimes, to translate what you learned in class to your first job and truly no one expects you to be immediately successful in that. Rather, absorb everything you can and really take advantage of being able to see how an agency functions outside of just client work. And secondly, make relationships with those you are interning around! Treat this as a networking opportunity. This is the start of your career community and you never know how far these people could eventually take you and vice versa. Be yourself and enjoy the journey!
From: Sonia Wong
I interned at NOW-NYC on the women’s rights team in the spring of my senior year in high school. This was my first time working in the city, and I remember the thrill of commuting through NJ Transit every morning. Ultimately, this internship piqued my interest in the policy world, leading to me majoring in public policy at NYU.
My advice: Ask as many questions as possible. Sometimes it’s easy to get pigeonholed in the tasks you’re given but don’t be afraid to ask questions to understand the full scope of the job/industry.