I have had the honor and privilege to coordinate my station’s internship program for the last few months. So, I have been thinking a lot lately about the value of an internship. The topic came up again during a conference I recently attended. It got me thinking that the advice I gave to a budding journalist would help others. Now, here we are. I was working the booth at the conference, meeting candidates and critiquing resume reels. One of the members of our recruiting team asked me to weigh in on a question from someone with whom he was speaking. The question was this: “How do you get your foot in the door to land your first job? What would you suggest?” I didn’t hesitate. “Do an internship. It worked for me and so many others,” I said.
Let me take you back a few short years. (Ok, it’s more than a few, but I’m really not trying to give you too many clues as to my age.) I had just recently declared journalism as my major. As important as education is, for some reason, I also realized experience was key in this field. How was I going to get it? Don’t get me wrong, the journalism program at my school was and still is amazing! It had a television and a couple of radio stations where every student had to work – getting some hands-on experience. I felt I needed more. I called the commercial television station serving the area at the time and asked if it had an internship program. One of the managers asked me to come in for a tour and an interview. So, I found the best dress up outfit I had at the time. I spruced up my resume. I marched myself down to the station, and the managers hired me on the spot. I use the term “hired” loosely because I did this for free. That’s right … no money and no college credit, which is against the law now. It likely was back then too, but what did I know, and I was just happy to be in a place where I could learn and grow. And grow I did! It was a small town TV station, so it needed help in positions all over the newsroom. I edited video, shot vo/sots, tuned in live shots, wrote scripts – whatever needed to be done, I was all about the experience. I made mistakes, got my butt chewed, and never made the mistakes again. I had all sorts of wins as well. I did this for eight months – at least 40 hours a week – all the while working another job for money and going to school full time! I started applying for work at the TV station while continuing to learn everything. I even got experience running the teleprompter and the studio cameras. It was those skills along with the videotape editing that landed me that first job at the station. I became a production assistant for the morning show. That, friends, launched my television career. It was my foot in the door.
My story illustrates perfectly the reason I told the candidate at the conference to do an internship. It IS a foot in the door, but it is more than that. I told her internships also help you figure out what you like to do and what you don’t. Let me tell you. I have a lot of respect for assignment desk staff members. I filled in on the desk during my internship, and it was that experience that helped me learn it takes a special person to do the job. It’s tough! I don’t shy away from things that are difficult, but I Just knew this position wasn’t for me. I could do it, but it didn’t speak to me. Similarly, I went out in the field and shot stories with our fitness expert, came back, helped her write them, and I edited them. I loved it, but being a videographer wasn’t the right fit for me either long-term. I started learning how to produce at the internship station and in my school’s newsroom. I loved every minute of it! I had finally figured out what I was going to chase. So, before I even graduated, I already knew what positions I liked and which ones I didn’t. I had experience under my belt. I had knowledge of a real working newsroom. And one of the biggest things I had was a host of contacts – people I kept in touch with for years – some I still have a connection with to this day. Those were all of the reasons I told the jobseeker at the conference that an internship with the right company in the field of interest is an invaluable experience – one that can set you up for success for years to come.