14 ways to create a quality public relations internship
Hiring public relations interns? Here are some ideas for creating a rewarding internship experience.
- Post a complete internship job description online. Specify the start and end dates of the internship, and hourly rate of pay. Interns must be paid hourly in almost all cases (certain nonprofits are eligible to hire unpaid interns or to offer a stipend). The internship must be of fixed duration. With very few exceptions, offering college credit does not exempt a business from paying interns.
- Offer an hourly rate of pay that demonstrates you value the contribution of interns. The least you can pay interns is minimum wage (currently $7.25/hour). The pay for PR internships range from minimum wage to $10 per hour to $15 per hour and more for highly skilled interns. I feel minimum wage is far too low and $15 per hour is a fair rate of pay for most public relations interns, with $20 per hour (or more) offered for special skills in demand by the company, such as video editing or graphic design.
- Provide a warm welcome. Show that you are excited to have them be on board. Introduce the new interns at a staff meeting, or have a short coffee break to welcome them. Take your interns to meet and shake the hands the President or CEO of the company at least once during the internship. Even a ten-minute meeting would be valuable — the executive can share some advice and thank the interns for their contribution. Make mini-appointments for the interns to meet other department heads, so they can describe their contribution to the company or organization. Remember, interns can be ambassadors for your department!
- Announce the intern hires. Feature a photo, short bio, and job description for each of your interns on the company blog. You may also elect to feature them on the staff page of your website.
- Give them company email addresses. While employed by your company, your interns will probably have to send and receive email. Don’t make them sign on as “guest.” Treat them like valued employees. But make sure they understand and sign the company policy governing email accounts and confidential information.
- Give them business cards. Typical internships last three months. Business cards are inexpensive and quick to obtain, and a great way to help them make professional connections and learn networking skills. Interns really appreciate having their first real business cards. I also gave my interns inexpensive business card holders.
- A desk of their own. Each intern should have an assigned desk, near the manager, and the office supplies he or she needs to do the job. Nothing is more dejecting than to play musical desks each time you come into the office to work.
- Provide meaningful work experiences and clear expectations. Interns expect to handle some routine and uninteresting tasks. That comes with the territory. But they should also work on projects. Short-term projects help the intern feel a sense of accomplishment quickly and builds confidence. Extended deadlines are often impractical for three month internships. Interns can write blog posts, design email newsletters, or help record videos. By the end of their internship, they should have at least three to five work samples to show a prospective employer.
- Include your interns in meetings. Invite your interns to sit in on staff and client meetings, as observers or note-takers. Most interns aren’t ready to take on an advisory role in client meetings but you can talk to them after the meeting so they can share impressions or ideas, or ask questions.
- Provide ongoing feedback and recommendations. If you made a careful hiring decision, you will have no cause to regret. But interns are inexperienced. Making minor mistakes, such as grammatical errors, is to be expected. They want and value honest feedback. Schedule weekly check-in appointments with your interns to track work projects and informally assess their performance. Tell them what they are doing well and indicate how you will help them improve, if needed. At the conclusion of the internship, have another meeting and go over their contributions. At this time, it would be appropriate to write a LinkedIn recommendation for the intern and offer to serve as a professional reference (as long as it complies with company policy). You can also ask them to write a one-two page report summarizing what they got out of the internship experience.
- Recognize social media boundaries. Take some time to explain to the interns what is and is not appropriate in social media communications while employed at the company, including the company social media policy on blog and Twitter comments, uploads, and other issues. It is appropriate to connect with interns on LinkedIn, as that is a business social network, but it’s not appropriate to friend your interns on Facebook (it’s fine for your interns to Like the company Facebook Page).
- Offer professional development opportunities, paid for by the company. For a three-month internship, I believe the interns should have access to two or three free or paid professional development opportunities, such as PRSA, IABC, Social Media Club, or AMA workshops, conferences, or networking events. Coach your intern before the workshops and events on how to conduct himself or herself professionally, such as when to proffer a business card. At the event, introduce the interns to your colleagues.
- Provide a supportive work environment. The little things matter. Make sure you say good morning each day and good bye as the intern leaves. Acknowledge them when you see them throughout the day and ask how things are going. Thank them for work well done, even on small tasks. Include them in company social events, such as picnics, birthday celebrations, after work get-togethers, and softball games.
- Be a good mentor. Show enthusiasm about your job. Don’t gossip about other employees or share too much personal information with your interns; it puts them in an awkward position. Remember that you may be working with, or even for, your intern one day! So, maintain professionalism.