This is the first of three articles about copywriter Rachel Hartwick’s trip to Ohio University. The next two articles about agency careers and finding the right agency for you are coming soon. 

My time as a student of Ohio University (OU) taught me a lot. In the classroom, I learned the ins and outs of journalism ethics, interviewing, and conducting research. And outside, I learned how many Red Bulls I needed after an all-nighter at the library (bordering three) and where to get your cat-petting fix (Pumpkin lives in the election office on Court Street). 

Pumpkin the cat

But there are quite a few practical things I wish I’d known while I was still in college. So when a former professor asked me to come speak to her freshman-level Advertising and Public Relations class in February, I was all in. In addition to speaking to that class, I met with PR students, spoke to classes related to global studies, and presented at the student-run advertising/PR firm. The goal of the trip was to share my experience in agency life as a recent grad and to answer questions about the path that I took. 

A lot of students had questions about internships. And although current students face a bigger challenge than I did as they try to navigate the waters finding an internship during a pandemic, a lot of the tips remain evergreen. Here are some questions students asked me about internships.

Rachel presenting in a classroom

Where do you find internships as an underclassman?

The first internship is the hardest one to land. Managers want to hire people who already have a little practical experience (and can you blame them?) But that leaves underclassmen lost: how do you get practical experience in the first place if no one will hire you for it? 

My way around this was to spend a few hours a week working at a local nonprofit. Yes, it was unpaid — basically volunteering — but because I was writing and managing social media and doing things that would be relevant in a future (paid) position, I framed it as a part-time internship on my resume. 

1. Look at the nonprofits in your area. There are tons of organizations that could use your help but don’t post job openings, especially now as a number of nonprofits and charities help people navigate economic uncertainty. I recommend reaching out to nonprofits with missions that are important to you and offering a limited number of hours to help, whether it’s in web development, messaging or social media. You can likely do a lot of the work remotely to cut costs on commuting. 

2. Ask where the team might need the most assistance. More likely than not, nonprofits could use an extra hand in things like grant writing, mailing flyers, and running social media. Show exactly what you can do to help them. And it doesn’t have to stop in the summer — if your schedule allows it, you could also agree to a couple hours a week during the school year.

I can’t work an unpaid internship. How would I make ends meet?

Be clear on the number of hours a week you can commit. During my first internship, I lived at home, went in twice a week, and spent the other five days a week nannying and waitressing. And after my freshman year, I officially had my first line of real experience on my resume: Writing Intern for the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition (and tons of writing samples to show for it).

Rachel standing outside of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition

The following summer, I landed a paid internship that was only part-time, so I found a summer gig as a waitress for evenings and weekends (thanks, craigslist job postings!) Those two first internships gave me the experience I needed to land a full-time, paid internship in Chicago the following summer. 

The road to landing something full-time and paid isn’t an easy one, but don’t be afraid to get creative. If you can present yourself as a go-getter with an entrepreneurial spirit willing to put in a few hours a week or projects a month to a good cause, you’ll set yourself up for a paid internship down the road. 

I’m not doing much at my internship. How do I make it clear that I want more responsibility?

This will come into play a lot over the course of your career. One of the top reasons people leave any job is because they start to feel underutilized. They may realize they’ve hit a wall and they can no longer reach their professional goals in their current role. 

1. Show your value. Spend some time proving that you can get the basics of your job down and don’t need micromanaging. I think all too often, interns and people in entry level positions frame their experience as what their boss “lets them do.” In reality, your manager probably wants to see you eager to take on more responsibility. That means less weight on their shoulders! 

2. Express what you’d like to do.  Tell your manager the specific projects and work that you want to take on and your plan for success. By proposing exactly what you’d like to do, you make things easier on their end, so all they need to do is give you the green light to start working (as opposed to thinking through a training plan for you). 

Both in internships and in your career, sitting around and waiting for work to show up doesn’t make you an asset. Showing your value and willingness to go above and beyond does.

I don’t have much experience yet. What if I’m asked to do something I have no idea how to do? 

Of course you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re brand new — they don’t expect you to know. But they will be pleasantly surprised when you push yourself to figure it out. On the first day of one of my internships, my manager asked me if I knew anything about fixing a printer. I didn’t. But I said I’d give it a try. I turned to Google, got on the phone with HP, and had the thing fixed in a few minutes. 

Here’s a hint that no one tells you: we are all faking it till we make it. All of us! For even the most experienced writers — and any position, really — every project presents challenges. The joy of agency life is that you are constantly learning about something you may not have known about before. While years of experience will make you more efficient and better prepared to anticipate client feedback, every brand new project will teach you something you didn’t know before.

Few of us are truly experts in anything. In writing about various industries and figuring out tasks outside my job description, I always discover interesting things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

While in college I felt like I had no clear direction in my career path. But looking back, it’s easy to see how each internship experience I had helped lead me to another. You might not end college doing what you started, and that’s all part of the ride. 

So, what’s your dream role or dream internship? And what steps will you take to get there? If you want to see when the next role or internship becomes available at Ample, follow Ample on LinkedIn.

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