The makings of a professional toolkit: argyle sweater, résumé and cover letter, post-it notes shaped like pizza.
The makings of a professional toolkit: argyle sweater, résumé and cover letter, post-it notes shaped like pizza.

Career Courtship 101: The Internship and You

The internship experience is a lot like dating.

Butterflies throw a house party in your stomach for about a month. You feel clueless and awkward, but your family and friends certainly have a lot of suggestions and opinions. The process requires self-evaluation, setting standards, and a little bit of practice. It’s scary, eye-opening, sometimes fun—and, whether it’s good or bad, you’re guaranteed to learn something.

When it comes to internship “dating,” I’ve been fortunate. I spent the summer after my sophomore year writing weekly articles for the College section of USA TODAY. At the time, the Collegiate Correspondent position seemed out of my league; in fact, I’m still surprised that I was one of 15 college journalists chosen from a nationwide pool of applicants. Yet the more I learned from and enjoyed my internship at USA TODAY, the more I realized that it was exactly where I needed to be.

There was, however, a question that struck me before our time together ended: How do I know if this is what I want for the rest of my life when I’ve never tested another area of the communication field?

My desk in the L&H Bridesmaids' Shop (not pictured: the animal crackers I keep hidden underneath).

My desk in the L&H Bridesmaids’ Shop (not pictured: the animal crackers I keep hidden underneath).

Flash forward to junior year, when—after taking a public relations course at Arcadia—I found myself working as a PR intern at Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer. Round 2 of internship dating was love at first sight: Blending philanthropic work and writing reminded me of how important it is to feel passionate about what you do and where you work.

It was difficult to leave ALSF, but I did have a few more questions that needed answering: Do I perform better in a laid-back or fast-paced environment? With a small staff or in large corporation? Closely managed or creatively free?

These questions are an important part of the preparation process. I’ve found that you have to narrow down what you’re looking for before scoping out the scene. This semester, I wanted to work with a close-knit staff in the Northeast Philly area, where I live. I wanted the chance to exercise creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. I wanted to improve my professional skill set by examining new areas of interest: social-media management and graphic design.

Where our customers "Say Yes to the Dress." A lot of tissue boxes in this room.

Where our customers “Say Yes to the Dress.” A lot of tissue boxes in this room.

Of course, it’s not just about what you want. Internship supervisors have a few things they’re looking for, too. Luckily, Arcadia is like the best friend who helps you figure out what to wear before a big first date, or calls you in the middle of a date catastrophe. The university offers professional prep sessions and résumé revivals to shape you into an appealing applicant. Throughout the job search, they provide you do’s and don’ts, job listings and interview tips.

The best part? Most of these services only require a trip to the Office of Career Education, an hour spent at a low-pressure event, or a quick glance at one of the many “how-to” emails.

Curious about career preparation at Arcadia? Request more info.

Even after you’ve scored an internship, Arcadia’s faculty will guide you through the ups and downs of the working world. Communication majors enroll in a semester-long course that prompts us to evaluate ourselves and our internships before, during and after the experience. At the same time, our advisors push us to take advantage of all that Arcadia has to offer. Just this past Tuesday, for instance, I attended the Knights Networking Series: Media, Marketing and Communications Night at the request of my advisor, and made invaluable connections with potential future employers.

A photo I took at the David Tutera: Your Wedding Experience Bridal Expo, my first L&H Bridal event (and second day of work).

A photo I took at the David Tutera: Your Wedding Experience Bridal Expo, my first L&H Bridal event (and second day of work).

Before this happens, however, life becomes about crafting effective cover letters, dedicating enough time to examine every internship possibility, reaching out to and developing professional relationships with the proper contacts, and purchasing pencil skirts on pencil skirts.

My fall internship search landed me at L&H Bridal, a small, award-winning boutique in search of a communication student who was willing to take on social-media marketing, writing and design assignments. Though I never considered myself to be the “bride” type, I’m learning a lot about the growing social-media landscape and my own career aspirations through this job. A bridal boutique was an unexpected choice, but that’s what I like about it. Who knew I’d end up spending 10 hours at a bridal expo, photographing runway shows while Philly brides screamed for designer David Tutera as if he were Justin Bieber?

Like any relationship, I’m excited to grow from my L&H Bridal experience. Are we forever soulmates, ‘til death do us part? Maybe not. But that’s the great part about this whole “dating” thing; it doesn’t always matter if you’re a perfect match—or if you find yourself hanging out with a total dud—as long as you’re discovering more about yourself and what you want along the way.