Blog post,  Communications professional

Lessons Learned: Reflections on my Internship

Embarking on an internship is a nerve-wracking experience – for a number of reasons. You’ve spent the last however many years working towards a university degree, studying, attending tutorials and lectures, building your resume and trying to figure out just exactly how you are going to use said degree after you graduate. Then, suddenly you are told you need to go out into the “real world” and apply your skills from university for 100 hours as an intern. It can be totally overwhelming. How do I know what I need to do? What happens if I don’t actually know what to do? What if I do the wrong thing? Say the wrong thing? What if I mess up? What if, after 2+ years of studying, I realise that this isn’t actually what I want to do?

That last one played on my mind a lot before starting my internship at Elm Communications. Ultimately, you go to university to study something you are passionate about. But what if what you learn in university is totally different to how it works in the industry?

Fortunately for me, those worries were left behind in the first few weeks of my internship. My experience has been extremely rewarding and has taught me endless amounts about the communications industry. It has also taught me that I am really passionate about this industry, and I am excited to start my career.

So here are some key things I’ve learnt while interning at Elm:

  1. Everything really does change all the time. You have to be flexible. Clients adjust the brief, new obstacles emerge, or your key messages need to be adjusted (and that’s just a few examples). We are living in a time of such rapid change that something affecting your project is almost inevitable.
  2. People are at the centre. Relationship building is so important, especially working in Canberra. Everyone knows everyone. The way you communicate with others matters – you don’t know when it will come back to hinder or help you. Working with real clients has really adjusted my perspective on relationship-building, it is such an integral part of the industry and is really the basis of what we do.
  3. Being up-to-date with news is key. This was emphasised to us in my first year of university, then the second COVID-19 lockdown hit, and I couldn’t bear to watch the news. That bad habit continued long after the lockdown was over. Over the past few months, I have tried to break it. Making sure you keep up with current news and events is essential when your job is to communicate with people. Referring back to point no. 1, things change quickly. You could find that suddenly you are communicating out-of-date information without even realising it.
  4. Craft your key messages so you can actually use them. This is a bit of a specific one, but the implementation of a strategy or communications plan is not something we get to do often at uni. So it was something I noticed immediately. If you can create key messages that align with your audiences and encapsulate what you want to say, using them for the implementation of the strategy is a whole lot easier. 

While I have been undertaking my internship, I have been asked by family and friends why I am doing it. Obviously, it’s a compulsory part of my degree, but for me, it has also been one of the most valuable parts. University gives you all the foundational knowledge you need to understand how the industry works in an ideal world. What university cannot simulate is, what it’s like actually working for a real client, with a real brief, where a multitude of different challenges can be thrown at you all the time. Every project will be completely different.  

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of doing an internship at a workplace where you feel comfortable, supported and passionate about the work. That isn’t always easy to find, but the workplace also has to be the right fit for you, even if it’s temporary. It may be compulsory, but make it worth it. Completing 100 hours of work (usually unpaid) somewhere you hate is going to make the experience so much less valuable. I am grateful to Sue and Melanie for creating a workplace where I feel comfortable asking questions, and I get to immerse myself in the communications industry. Learning from others with so much experience in the industry has made my internship even more worthwhile.

So yes, an internship can be a nerve-wracking experience, but I believe that what you get out of it outweighs any doubt that you may have. Embrace the experience with an open mind and make the most of the opportunities that come your way. It is a chance to learn, gain knowledge and grow – both personally and professionally. You’ll find that it may also open doorways for your future career. I am starting my first day as an employee at Elm Communications, and I couldn’t be more excited.

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