Do You Need An Internship to Get a Job in PR?

It’s the end of another school year for a lot of PR students. Most of you probably have internships lined up. The rest of you must be more interested in lounging by the pool this summer. Or maybe you’re wondering the same thing I am: do you really need an internship to get a job in PR?

It seems like you can’t get a job (let alone an interview) in PR without a couple of internships under your belt, yet many students opt to skip the internship process until the last minute, squeezing one in right after college in hopes of turning it into a full time job (or never interning at all).

Let’s answer the question – I’ll address both the “yes” and “no” options…

Yes, You Need an Internship

Employers want to know you have the skills to pay the bills. Internships demonstrate to a potential employer that you can do the work expected of you in an entry-level role. The more-impressive the internship experience, the better your chances of landing your first gig.

For starters, make sure you pick an internship that is going to give you real-world experience. If your interning in public relations, make sure you’ll get plenty of opportunities to produce written materials you can take credit for. You’ll need to demonstrate that you can write in PR, so real-world writing experience in an internship is a must.

It’s also a good idea to look at PR internships where you will be able to work with the media. The best internships are those that allow you to work on real client campaigns and secure real coverage for clients. Just make sure you’re going to get the mentoring and development guidance you need to get started on the right foot. If your employer hands you a media list and a press release and tells you to hit the phone, push back on them to train you some more on the right and wrong ways to approach media relations. Have them do a dry run with you on the pitch – you’ll have a much better experience.

While the number of internships you complete is important, the work you complete at those internships is more relevant. Make sure you leave the last day of your internship with examples of work you’ve completed – for bonus points, get a letter of recommendation from your internship supervisor.

If you play your cards right and intern each summer through college, your chances of getting a decent entry-level job are much (much) better.

If you’re already done with school, but having a hard time getting an entry-level job, consider trying to work as a paid intern after college. This gives you a little money to live off of, while giving your employer a low-risk option to give you a trial run. More often than not, this will turn into a paying gig.

My internship leading up to my final semester in college resulted in a job offer. I was able to work through my last semester while I finished my degree. Once graduation rolled around, I had already been working for six months. This is the ideal scenario and not outside of the realm of possibilities when you get started early.

No, You Don’t Need an Internship

Believe it or not, everyone working in PR today did NOT intern before getting their first job. Some didn’t even major in PR, Advertising, Journalism or Communications. How did they do it? Here are the most common scenarios (with some off-the-beaten-path advice sprinkled in):

  • Family and Friends – if you’re fortunate enough to have family or friends that own a business, consider approaching them for your first job. This is your best chance of getting a first job, and an opportunity to gain real-world experience. You may stay in this job for years, or you may be in better shape a year from now to get a higher-paying junior-level position.
  • Start Your Own Firm – more and more students start student-run PR firms while they’re in school. This is great experience for students and often serves small businesses and non-profits in the community. Do the work for dirt-cheap and build up a portfolio.
  • Build Your Own Portfolio – as an alternative option, start a blog while you’re in college. Write about public relations, journalism or social media topics. Write about your love for plants, BBQ or classic cars. Whatever your passion is, show that you can produce engaging content on a regular basis, build and audience and wield social media tools with ease. Showcase for potential employers that you have the discipline, knowledge and experience they look for in potential hires. Self-starters and entrepreneur-types are often welcomed into the agency environment. If you can build an audience for yourself during school, it’s safe to assume you could do the same thing for clients.
  • Network – as I pointed out in my recent post on networking, it’s important. Attend local public relations and media professional association groups. Get to know people in your industry and build a network of potential employers. Many of these relationships can turn into your first interviews, often leading to your first job. It’s much easier to get an interview at a company where you already know somebody than to approach the pursuit blindly.

Is it harder to get a job in PR or journalism without internships under your belt? Yes. Is it impossible? No. What’s my advice? If you don’t have an internship lined up for this summer, and you want to get a job after college, pick up the phone and start calling around to see if anybody is looking for an intern.

Bonus Tip: Get One More Piece for Your Portfolio

I’m a big proponent of internships and real-world experience. Few things are as valuable in your job interview as real-world experience. Journalistics currently reaches an audience of nearly 20,000 PR, marketing and media professionals each month. Anyone interested in guest blogging over the summer should contact me immediately. Consider it a mini-internship opportunity. I’ll lead you through the process and help you produce some posts you’ll be proud of and be able to showcase in your portfolio. And who knows, maybe your future boss will read your posts? I wish I had taken advantage of more opportunities like this when I was in school (hint, hint).

What advice would you like to add for interns? Do you think internships are important? Can you get hired without them? Share your advice and tips below.

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.

15 Comments

  1. Good blog and post! I came across with it and I couldn’t avoid look at it… the eternal debate about the interns. Well I’m one of those students that you are talking about. I’m finishing a postgraduate program in PR and I studied for 5 years my degree in Spain. I’ve always worked during my studies and I have also two interns “under my belt”, but I’m realizing that it doesn’t mean nothing. The competence is voracious and I noticed that my competitors for the posts don’t just contribute examples of their skills but much more practical experience, what means years of work in PR. I’m very concerned because it seems that people is desperate and accepting any type of job, what eventually has an effect in the kick off of the career of all the PR students. However I appreciate your contribution!

  2. I’ve built a successful journalism/pr career without an internship, but I would not recommend it. I’ve seen several interns turn into paid employees over the years, whereas I really struggled to get my first newspaper job. I majored in English and had a decent GPA, but college papers on Milton and Chaucer didn’t amount to “real world” experience. With persistence, I got the job when the first person quit unexpectedly. Promotions and new opportunities followed. I’m a big believer of proving yourself in the workplace and networking. If you can do that before you ever turn your tassle, all the better.

  3. Hi Jeremy,

    I am a senior journalism student at the University of Minnesota. This article hit home, as I am in the process of searching for jobs. I am very interested in your summer blogging opportunity. Feel free to browse my personal website for writing samples and previous work experience. Let me know if you have any questions – thank you for your time!

  4. I definitely recommend doing an internship, especially if going into the PR industry. While your coursework teaches you the fundamentals of public relations and helps further develop your writing skills, an internship teaches you what actually happens “in the field.” Working in the field is a much different experience than working in the classroom. You may even find that you don’t like it out there. An internship gives you the chance to test out different avenues in your industry, as well as make contacts within those avenues. And then once you graduate, you could find yourself in a job that you actually enjoy!

  5. Excellent post. You are exactly right. Students should take full advantage of internships while they are in school to increase their chances of landing their first job. This is a tough market. Now, students are competing for entry level work with more experienced jobless professionals that will take any industry work.

  6. I absolutely love this post. Reading it gave me just a little bit of hope. I’m currently feeling like I’m in a bit of a conundrum as it relates to finding a PR job. I did the internship thing in undergrad (in both adverstising and PR). But — I made a choice that I now regret and went to law school after undergrad (big mistake). Now, I’m just trying to my foot in the PR door. I often wonder whether my resume makes me seem overqualified for intern/entry level positions. I really hope not because I do not feel this way at all. I’m willing to put in the necessary work, I just have landed a position yet.

  7. Hey Jeremy,

    Thanks for such an insightful, and engaging posts: I specially love the fact that you addressed the issue from both sides!

    I would love to talk more about guest blogging! MY email address is on this comment and I would love to get in touch!

    Thanks so much!

  8. There is an often ignored fundamental truth in business. It actually doesn’t matter how good your company is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your services are, or how fantastic your products are. If people who should be your customers either don’t know that you exist or don’t understand what it is that makes you stand out from your competitors, you’ll never ultimately be successful, regardless of how brilliant your business is. You need PR because you need to communicate more effectively than your competitors.

  9. I am really pleased to hear you encouraging students to start their own firms. I think this is a brilliant idea.

    I would love to get in touch with any PR graduates who want to break in by launching their own firm.

  10. I’m currently a PR student and the one thing my professors and guest lecturers keep telling us is “Get an internship.” Everyone is saying we need all the experience we can get – even people who aren’t working for the university. I’m on my second internship right now. It is such vital experience and I don’t know how someone could possibly go into the field without at least one internship.

  11. Hey Jeremey,
    Great article. I was wondering do you think I can contact a ceo of a company and land an internship with them somehow by mailing in a letter on why would I like to intern for them?

    • Yes, I think you could get an internship if you ask for one. Keep in mind, particularly with PR internships, that writing ability is a key factor. Make sure you spell the CEO’s name right and proofread your letter before you send one – provided you go that route. Good luck.

  12. I just started my PR degree at Ashford University, but my classes are online. I only take one class at a time every five weeks, so my question to you is will a company except online students for interns? Or how do I work it in?

  13. Don’t bother applying for jobs without an internship these days no matter what your major is. Companies want internships in order for them to see that you’ve actually accomplished something during school and you need internships in order to have a cover letter that is worth reading. Most companies will take candidates with a decent GPA and plenty of internship experience then a candidate with no internship experience and a Great GPA

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