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New: You Asked...We Answered!

By Hally Pinaud & Evonne Weiner

Check out the questions we've received about interning, as well as the answers from our very own interns.

What's the office environment like around there?


If you've read my blog Makin' Coffee, you know that the office environment around here is pretty exciting. People are enthusiastic about the company and their jobs, which (believe me) makes a huge difference in the overall work environment. They like to have a good time, but they also work really hard: it's a nice balance.


Experience is a great learning environment because everyone is open minded and happy to share their knowledge ? which means I have always felt comfortable contributing my ideas and asking for help from the experts around here. As an intern, I think it is crucial to find a place that directly fosters learning and career development.


Should I talk about salary in an interview?


Asking about salary in the first interview is a no-no unless the employer initiates the conversation. If you?re on your third interview, they?re pretty serious about you and if they haven?t brought it up you?re ok to ask, but not before then. You do have to know, eventually!


Usually, the rule is to wait for the employer to bring it up. I have yet to hear of one that doesn?t, eventually, approach the topic before hiring someone.


How has this experience shaped your future career goals?


It?s funny ? I spent two years thinking I wanted to go into the accounts side of advertising, but working here has made me a lot more open to where the wind takes me. Being in a challenging work environment is a huge part of where I want to start my career off; more than anything, I want to be able to learn and grow in my job. Eventually, I?d like to be knowledgeable and specialized enough to go into consulting, but expertise can come from anywhere as I work toward that goal. I?m more likely to evaluate my options based on their educational merit, rather?than name recognition. I think learning that has set me on the path to having a much more rewarding career overall ? no matter where the path leads me.


What exactly is an internship ? are you working full time, or part time while you study? Is it still an internship if you?re paid?


An internship is whatever your employer deems an internship ? there?s a lot of flexibility in the terminology here. Some people work full time at internships, especially in the summer. Many working during the school year are part time. If you?re getting paid, you?re still doing an internship (you?re just lucky.) You?re an intern until they tell you otherwise.


Are your responsibilities as an intern what you expected them to be?


I had no idea what to expect when I showed up for my first day back in August. I knew I was a marketing intern, and beyond that, I tried to keep an open mind. One thing I am surprised by, looking back, is that I was given real and valuable work from the get-go. I guess if I had any expectation before I started, it was that I would not be trusted with anything important and that I would be doing a lot of clerical work; so far, neither has been true, which has been a very pleasant surprise.


What approach should I take with an employer: is it better to be enthusiastic and optimistic, or toned down and realistic?


I am by nature a very enthusiastic person. Even if I tried, it would be hard for me to come off as anything but excited and optimistic if I really care about the product or the company. In my experience, every employer wants people who are genuinely interested in their product and goals. How you convey that interest can be very energetic or more toned down, and can work either way.


The best thing you can do is be true to yourself: if you are an excitable person, and you are trying to be a stoic to suit the corporate culture, the company might not be a great match for you anyway. Likewise, feigned eagerness is tough to maintain once you?re on the job. Your best bet is to stay true to your personality and be genuine about what you?re expecting and bringing to the table. My experience tells me you may not be the employee for everyone using that strategy, but you will land a job that?s a good match for you.


Can you tell me what you would say to an interviewer if s/he asks you what you would bring to the company (whichever company that is, say an advertising one) as an intern?

This is a very commonly asked question in an interview (or at least the ones that I've had), so I prepare for it each time. I think of the most integral aspects of the industry in which the internship lives. For example, advertising creatives need wit, fast thinking, attention to detail, abstract thinking, excellent writing skills, open mind, etc.

Then I would think of my best qualities. For example, I am a very good listener and I think outside the box, making connections between very different things. Combining my strengths with the essentials of the industry, I would come up with something like the following: I would be an asset to your company because I am an extremely versatile person. When given an assignment (for an ad for example) I dive right in, combining the innovative with the expected, as well as working well within a group, and listening intently to my peers to make correlations between topics until we come up with the best possible solution together.

That would be my suggestion because you wouldn't want to site qualities that you would bring to a company that are not important to the position.

I'm majoring in business management and I'm a sophomore, I'll be a junior next fall. When is a good time for me to do an internship? Should I wait and finish my major classes?
It can be hard to imagine working if you haven't really done much with your major yet, or if your friends aren't getting ready to intern yet, but remember two things:

  1. Depending on your major, there are a lot of students who are interning as soon as they can find someone to hire them. Business is one of those majors, so it's never too early.
  2. Internships are meant as learning experiences. If these companies were looking for an expert, don't you think they'd be hiring someone with a degree? Don't sweat your lack of experience.?

Think of it this way: you only have two summers left to devote yourself to an internship before you're rudely thrown from the safety of college and into the workforce. Why not start looking now for an internship for this summer and put yourself ahead of the curve? The more work experience you have, the easier it's going to be for you to get a job and adjust to the real world.

How did you get your internships?
I'm a big advocate of classes with project or internship components. My first sort of internship was actually a class project for a PR class that wound up with me working on some written PR for a nonprofit. I've been a part of a few classes where I've worked with real companies with great results, so I would highly recommend seeing what your school offers. Great resume builders.

My other internships have been the result of some tireless stomping around the internet. Experience actually got me two. Including the one I have here. I also browsed Craigslist, Monster, and directly contacted some companies I thought I might want to work for, which led to a few interviews. Next time around, I'll try to enlist some connections for help.

It's hard to get your first internship. How can you increase your chances of getting one the first time?
It's not as hard as you might think, depending on how selective you are and where you're located. My first advice to you as a first time intern is: DON'T BE SO PICKY! I learned this the hard way. Stop shopping around for big name companies on your first try. You might even find you learn more when you're not totally, 100% sure you will only work for Company X.

Your best bet is going to be working for a small firm or company that will give you a good overview of how your industry functions. They're not going to be inundated with resumes like some Fortune 500, and the personal environment will allow you to build a resume that will get you noticed by Company X when you're ready to move on.

The other thing is, you have to be flexible about what you'll do. For example, I'm in marketing, but I've been willing to intern doing PR, HR, and in publishing. The skill building is what matters most, the first time around, and as you move on to a new internship, you can use the skills you learned to become a more impressive candidate and work your way toward what you really want to do.

What is the biggest challenge you've faced?
The single biggest challenge I have faced as an intern has been finding an internship AND a place to live. Sure, during the school year, it's been easy. With my proximity to Boston, I've had no trouble finding a place to work while the dorms take care of my living arrangements. But summers? That's another story.

I'm from Florida, so to work a summer internship, I've had to either look down there (note: your college carries the most weight in your local area, unless you go to Harvard and everyone loves you) or try to figure out how I can live up here. Those of you living in dorms across the country from your hometown know what its like: you've got boxes of stuff, no furniture of your own, and not so many connections.

So the trick is finding a job with housing, finding furnished housing on an intern budget, or moving home to serve burritos at your local Mexican restaurant until September. And it's been hard, but I have done all three.

I'd like to get my foot in the door with a [fill in industry] job. What do I do?
Get an internship in [industry]. Meet people, work on your skills that pertain to [industry] and use the experience to sell yourself at your [industry] job interview. Rinse, repeat.

I spent a lot of time on my resume and I think it looks good, but so far the results have been discouraging--lots of rejections! What's going on here?
Maybe your resume isn't as awesome as you think it is. Have someone look it over. Not your best friend, not your Aunt Myrtle, but someone who knows about resumes. Take it to your career center and see what they think. If they aren't too helpful, there are plenty of professional resume services that will be more than willing to perfect it for you.

If your resume turns out to not be the problem, try broadening your job search. Get your resume out there to as many folks as possible, and someone will bite. Finally, be patient. Sometimes, the job market in an industry or area can be a little sluggish. It stinks, but you may have to wait a while and just keep trying.

How do you apply for internships online? Have you got any tips?
I'm going to shamelessly plug my blog here. I wrote about this last week in Makin Coffee. Take a look.

Who is the most handsome student channel editor?
Who would ask a question like this? When I find out, I'm boxing some technology blogger's ears.

Has your internship affected your ability to attend classes?
It's important to remember the distinction between ability and desire here! I mean, yes I could go, but... just kidding. Of course I always go to class.

The attendance impact really isn't in the way you'd think. The key issue is class scheduling. Basically, if you're not at a big college with lots of course opinions it can be tough difficult to manage getting the courses you need and interning. Sometimes you have to be creative about what you're taking and when you're working. And sometimes you're just not going to get what you want. In a nutshell: an internship should not affect your ability to physically be in class, but it can have a lot of influence over which classes you can attend in the first place.

How do I know if an interview went well?
It's usually pretty easy for me. If I feel confident walking out of the office, I know it went well. It's a feeling in your gut, the same feeling you have after you give a great presentation, or turn in an outstanding paper. The feeling of relief and a job well done. If you feel that immediately after the interview, it's more telling than any arbitrary measure I could assign to a single gesture from the interviewer. The trick is not second guessing yourself while you wait for a response; at that point, you're just making things nerve wracking for no reason.

What's the best way for companies to actually look at your resume if you do not have any direct connections in the office?
I can't give you a foolproof solution, but I will say this: I get to do a lot of resume sorting here at Experience, and I know what I've learned to look for (which is one of the best things I've learned here.) For starters, keep it simple and neat. I want to know what you did and why I should care, but get to the point. If you're going over a page, it better all be interesting and relevant information. If it's an e-resume, links to your work can be cool if that's appropriate. Misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and obvious lies will get you tossed out (duh).

When all else fails, write a killer cover letter. It can really make a huge difference. Oh, and don't forget to call and follow up. Sometimes there are a lot of resumes to get through, and the gesture will make sure someone will at least go through the pile and confirm that it's there. That little show of tenacity might make sure it's read, too. Finally, don't despair, you'd be amazed how many resumes come through that are tossed for no-brainer stuff like glaring typos. You're already more than halfway there if you've got a strong resume.

I was wondering if you think it is more valuable to return to the same company for multiple summers or intern at a new company?
Basically, it comes down to what you're doing and how you fit. If you feel like there's more you need to learn and you're not going to learn it at your present internship, move on. If you're happy and are still getting to experience new, useful facets of the job, than there's no reason to hunt for a replacement. This is my second semester at Experience, and what I am doing this time around is totally different than what I did in the Fall. Eventually, I'll try to learn as much as I can somewhere else, because I do want to go into advertising. The point of an internship is to learn, not to have a laundry list of locations on your resume.

By the way, my friends tell me multiple summers at one place usually lead up to a job offer. So if you like the place that much, sticking around is a good idea.

How do you maintain a good frame of mind when you feel that those who supervise you just told you do some useless job??
Life is full of useless jobs. If you're not doing them, someone else will have to. As an intern, grunt work is often logically handed to you because, well, a professional's time and expertise is worth more to the company. There are only so many hours in a day, sometimes efficiency is important. If someone wants you to make copies from time to time, smile, nod, and go make copies. There's nothing degrading about being helpful and agreeable. Although, if all you're doing is making copies, you might want to have a serious discussion with your boss about what you're hoping to get out of the internship.

I'm a graduate student, and I was wondering how likely is it that a company would offer an internship to graduate students rather than just undergraduates?
Very likely. A lot of internships are specifically for graduate students, and a lot more are happy to take them. You can start by looking at the Experience internship listings, which are organized to give the requirements upfront. Look for ones that accept graduate candidates. If there's nothing specified, don't be afraid to ask the employer how they feel about grad students.?

Are the letters on the wall behind you in that picture really styrofoam?
I went to check and I honestly have no idea what they are. I'm going to go with astronaut ice cream.

Hally and Evonne are interns at Experience. Submit a question to them here.

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