12 Tips for an Advertising Intern

I once read that an internship is a job interview that lasts all summer.

You’re constantly being evaluated and the end goal is (hopefully) a job offer.  I was one of the lucky ones who landed a spot. There are a few of us at AgencyNet who thrived in this learning environment and are continuously grateful for the Thursday night parties we chose to forego in college so that we could dedicate our Fridays to our future careers.

I recommend internships to everyone, especially if you’re looking for a career in advertising. As an intern, you get the unique opportunity to see and experience the different sides of the business. Yes, the intern may have to go on coffee runs, but he or she also has the chance to tag along on a video shoot or take notes during a strategy session. Sometimes, the intern even gets to wine and dine the client or attend industry networking events.

Interns get to experience the field, often without the pressure and responsibility of client deadlines, and I’m a firm believer that it’s just as important to see what you don’t like as it is to learn what you do.  Internships give you a chance to get in and network, giving you access to people and places you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Even if you don’t end up working with the company where you interned, it opens the doors to others.  For those in the midst of their summer internship, here are some tips I wish I someone had given me before I started mine.

1. Ask Questions

Lots of them!  The best way to learn things is to have an experienced person walk you through hands-on.  People take pride in teaching their expertise; all you have to do is ask.

When you’re embarrassed to ask, Google! There are those obvious questions that you may want keep to yourself to preserve your reputation. Google knows everything.  From those funny ad industry acronyms that you haven’t caught onto yet, to how to extract the inverse of an image in Photoshop, it’s all there.

2. Take Notes

I kept a notebook of everything mentioned in meetings.  If someone mentioned an ad campaign, successful website, or another one of those tricky acronyms, I wrote it down. Take the time to look them up when you get back to your desk. Chances are if they were mentioned, they’re important or will come up again.

3. Stay in Tune with the Industry

Industry trades, award winning campaigns, and key leaders are inspirational, educational and a great way to impress your staff.  Keep yourself ahead of your industry and stay on top of what is going on.  You’ll also feel more confident when current events are referenced and you don’t have to research them to chime in.

4. Make Mistakes… but Only Once

You live and you learn and, as an intern, learning should be your main goal.  Unfortunately or not, making mistakes is the quickest way to figure anything out.  Don’t get down on yourself if you do something wrong; just be sure not to do it again.  Afterwards, jot it down in your memory and make sure to do it right the next time…and every time after that.

5. Know the company

This is something that has grown to peeve me over the years.  All potential employees should take the time to research the company before you intern.  Nothing shows disinterest more than an interviewee who hasn’t taken the time to get to know the company and its work.  In this age of social media, look up the staff, the projects and the culture.  These are some of the key parts of an agency and some would debate the most important.

6. Keep it Professional

The hardest part of getting a job was transitioning from the cute little intern to the project manager who had to demand respect.  If you keep this line drawn from the beginning, it will come naturally and you will not need to demand it.  While I fully encourage maintaining friendships with your coworkers, it’s tough to live down the time you and your five girlfriends got a little rowdy at the awards show.

7. Protect Your Reputation

Monitor your online presence.  Companies deep-dive into your Facebook page, Twitter account, and Google results.  Have a profile that will support your resume, not demean it.

8. Be Proactive

If you are sitting waiting for work, chances are you can do more. Aside from the time our Director of Technology asked me to clean his desk, some of the best experiences I had were asking random colleagues if they needed help.  You get more and varied experience this way.

If no one has any work, create a pet project.  I am always looking to improve AgencyNet so when I didn’t have a lot on my plate I’d find ways to add value.  This is a habit I still practice.  I noticed internal documents or processes that had not been updated recently so I took the initiative and got these done. When the time comes for someone to use them, they will be appreciative.

9. Pay Your Dues

Get coffee, mail letters, pick up lunch and do it with a smile on your face.  It won’t be your job forever, but hey – you’re the intern and should know your role.

10. Read

Libraries and bookstores are filled with tons of books on all areas of advertising and as you know, blogs are beyond plentiful. People have been doing this for years and learning their own lessons along the way. Soak up what the experts have to say.  They were in your shoes at one point in time.

11. Sit with People

If you don’t have anything to do, just sit with people.  Shadow people in different disciplines to learn what they do on a day to day and how they contribute to the agency.  If nothing else, this will help you work better with those people and structure your output to make their lives easier.

12. Go the Extra Mile

This last one was suggested by one of my colleagues and fellow intern turned ANETTER and I could not agree more.  Always take the extra step.  Contribute more than the minimum to get by and don’t watch the clock.  When the team is rolling up their sleeves on a deadline, dive in next to them and learn what it means to burn the midnight oil with your peers. At first, it may take you longer than others to complete a task.  Don’t get discouraged, just put in the time and get it right.  Advertising is a fast-paced industry and you need to keep up. The only thing that will matter in the end is if you met your deadline.

Lastly, you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you.  Take advantage of your time there, learn everything you can, and make the most of the opportunity.  An internship can be a fulfilling experience that can have an enormous impact on your future.   I never realized that first summer in college that 3 offices and 4 years later I’d still be a part of the ANET team, but the internship positioned my career this way.  Good Luck this summer and remember, when all else fails just fake it till you make it.