Great, so you’ve got the gig. Now make sure you don’t waste it.
Thankfully, internships have improved greatly since I was doing them when I was Wannabe Hacking first time around. For one, new laws mean they’re (mostly) paid, and more likely to be the product of a proper training scheme at bigger media organisations.
However, this means that you will probably face a far tougher application process and competition to get an internship, and you’ll be expected to bring it when you do. For fans of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race, the best interns will have Charm, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent.
From someone who landed a job with the skills I learned as a serial intern, and who now manages them, here’s a few tips.
It’s tedious and mildly degrading but sorting the post, transcribing interviews and basic web publishing is part of the job description. At best, it’s a brilliant way of getting to know the team and, more importantly, for them to know you. If you can prove you can do the basic things well, you will be given more exciting jobs – I promise. If you do them with bad attitude, forget, or do a sloppy job you’ll just be given the same boring stuff again until you get it right.
At worst, we’ll say no. But even then you’ll find out why and learn from it; perhaps the publication interviewed that person three months ago, or it’s not the kind of thing they cover. Chances are if you’ve got a fresh angle then a more experienced member of staff will help you make it into a great idea, and boom – you’ve got a byline.
Remember: nobody is going to commission a massive thinkpiece off you just yet, but condense it into a gallery or something web-friendly and you might have a winner.
So you may not have a decade in publishing, but you might have read all of George RR Martin’s books, speak Arabic or be friends with the next Mark Zuckerberg. It’s likely that your interests and knowledge will have helped you get the internship, so make sure people know what they are – politely, of course – and you could become a useful resource.
This may sound obvious but you would be amazed at how many people don’t. Filing a review or an interview? Look at house style. Become familiar with the big bylines, find new writers you love, and try to understand why you love them, look deeply at how other places are publishing their content, or using paywalls and subscribers. This is what you can be doing in your downtime – it will make you invaluable at future interviews if not in your current internship.
Oh, how I long for the day an intern would drop me a line with a new social network we should be trying, or suggest how we should alter our Twitter strategy. If you’re an aspiring journalist you should be familiar with these things, and it’s likely that you’re far more so than the people you are working for. Share – it will pay off.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, journalism and egotism often go hand in hand. People are often very keen to help and share their knowledge, but they are busy and won’t dish it out unless they’re asked. If there is a particular writer you admire who happens to work where you’re interning, let them know – and see if they can shed some knowledge.
On a more practical note, if someone more experienced than you has taken time out of their day to help you with something, the least you can do is seem vaguely interested. Take notes, ask questions, say thank you.
Two guiding principles of life, rather than just internships, but if you do turn up 10 minutes early every now and then, or stay a little late to finish a job for someone, it won’t go unnoticed. People remember good turns and when you’ve gone out of your way to help, and everybody likes a smile.
While you’ve done well to have gotten an internship, most people realise that it’s not your dream job – not yet, at least. Make the most of talking to those who work there and taking on opportunities that interest you, or suggesting ones you could take on. If someone invites you to lunch or to the pub, go – internships are a great way of making contacts that can be useful in later life – plus it makes everything more fun.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user jessicahtam