Starting an Internship: What I Learned in a Long Job Hunt

Kohnstamm Communications Welcomes Eric Wheeler.
A fine welcome indeed. I had never seen my name on a sign before!

Tuesday, Feb. 21, marks the first day of my internship at Kohnstamm Communications in St. Paul, Minn. Yes, the long job search is finally over–at least for a few months.

I learned a lot during my 9+ month job search. I did the typical resume blast using job search sites such as CareerBuilder and Monster, I applied to jobs I found on LinkedIn and Twitter and I did my best to promote myself in the online world. In the end though, it came down to who I know.

Though I landed many phone calls and on-site interviews through the strategy mentioned above–even having employers reach out to me because of my blog or online presence–it was a former teacher who got me the initial contact.

It is definitely nice to know a former teacher believes in me and wants to see me succeed. I had Lisa Heinrich as a professor in both Advanced PR and Media Ethics at St. Cloud State University as I was working on my masters degree in PR & Advertising. One of my favorite professors for her ability to weave in her own professional experiences in lively class discussions, Lisa continued to stay in touch with me after graduation. She would occasionally send me job postings she thought might be a good fit.

My opportunity came when she informed me another former student of hers was looking to hire someone with a little social media experience. I sent an email to Katie Heinze at Kohnstamm that same day and a couple months later I was in St. Paul for an interview.

Though I was not particularly looking for an internship in my job search I felt this was an opportunity worth pursuing for a couple reasons. The position being full time and paid was definitely nice, but I also want to work at a PR agency and this should be a nice foot in the door. I currently do not have any public relations experience in an agency setting so this will hopefully open up new opportunities.

I knew as soon as I walked through the door at Kohnstamm that it was the right place for me. After being greeted by Gail at the front desk, my eyes were drawn to the large sign welcoming me to the “2010 Boutique Agency of the Year.” I had never really seen my name featured on a sign before so I snapped a picture and tweeted about it later that night.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I accepted the position. It may be surprising I haven’t been tweeting about it and posting the news on Facebook, but wanted to make sure my family knew about my new adventure and to make sure I found a place to live in St. Paul. I have made the appropriate phone calls and have found a nice house with a couple roommates (thank you CraigsList) in Midway just a 10-minute drive from the downtown office.

Thank you to everyone for the encouragement and for thinking of me when coming across opportunities. Please continue to keep me in your thoughts. My four to six-month internship will be over before I know it and I will continue to be on the lookout for my next opportunity.

“Use Your Digital Nativeness”

Children's Cancer Research FundThe headline to this article is a direct quote from Kris Huson, marketing and communications manager for Children’s Cancer Research Fund. I had the pleasure of listening to Kris speak at today’s St. Cloud State PRSSA weekly meeting. If you’re confused as to why I chose “Use your digital nativeness” as the title for this blog entry, don’t be. We’ll get to that in a bit. (Hint: Think about the importance of social media)

As a professional communicator Kris has a rewarding job, but with the usual stresses that come with fundraising and marketing for a non-profit organization. The first advice given on reaching a target audience is to keep the message personal, tangible and emotional. The most important aspect in regard to communicating a message for a non-profit organization is to make an emotional connection with the audience. Obviously an organization such as the Children’s Cancer Research Fund has plenty of emotional stories. The trick is to recognize those stories and relate them to the target audience.

Once emotional stories are discovered and the message is disseminated to defined audiences, that’s when engagement rises to importance. Social media can be a great tool to create engaging online conversations and to relate emotional stories to the stakeholders (potential donors). Of course, as any successful non-profit organization knows, once someone does make a sizable donation, the money needs to be well spent. If you can prove to the donor the money went to a truly worthy cause that may not have been possible without his/her contribution, then the donor will give again.

Kris admits they are still trying to figure out return on investment (ROI) for social media in the non-profit sector. However, she definitely agrees social media for non-profits is important. This is where the “Use your digital nativeness” came about. When giving advice to students starting a career in public relations (non-profit or other), she pointed out the importance of understanding technology in the new media landscape. Basically, there are three types of people: Digital natives (those who grew up on computers and technology), digital immigrants (those who have adopted technology as life progressed) and digital ignorant (self-explanatory).

As a student looking to get into public relations or a young professional looking to advance his/her career, being a digital native is an advantage if used properly. Just as Kris has to be able to take medical language and make it consumable to a wide audience, young PR pros need to use their ‘digital nativeness’ to their advantage. This means having a deep understanding of trends in social media and how to use it to leverage marketing for a company. Maybe more important, students and young professionals need to use online social networking  as the term suggests: To network. Kris believes Twitter is the best networking tool for business professionals and it is imperative to not only understand how it works, but to actively engage with other professionals in your industry. This all proves once again that social media changes everything.

Mass Comm Career Panel: Getting that First Job

John's First Job.In another event co-sponsored by the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and the American Marketing Association (AMA) at St. Cloud State University, the annual Mass Communications Career Panel opened up helpful insights for students as we work towards beginning careers in our respective fields. The panel was led by Andy Ditlevson of SCSU Career Services and consisted of five speakers:

Tracy Carlson, Padilla Speer Beardsley
Bill Hatling,  HatlingFlint Marketing
Dan Schulzetenberg, General Mills
Ryan Meints, G.L. Berg
Lori Jacobson, Carlson Marketing

The first discussion included ways for college grads to get their foot in the door as they work towards finding the job that’s right for them. Among some of the advice dished out, the importance of holding an internship came up from each speaker. Several mentioned having multiple internships as they worked towards getting their first job out of college. One speaker even stressed an internship as being a “critical” stepping stone.

Other tips for getting that first job out of college included volunteering for non-profits, having a mentor and not being too ambitious in your job hunt–though most people don’t really want a sales job, it can be a perfect starting point for a career in marketing. Bill Hatling talked about social media as being a “game changer” and his company is always looking for new hires who understand the trend. The media landscape, as he put it, has changed dramatically in the past decade and it makes sense for students to have a good understanding of new media. This means doing some self-study and finding something about it that interests you. At the very least you should maintain a clean online reputation, but you could take it further by blogging for a non-profit organization or helping a small business with its social media efforts.

On resumes, having good keywords that showcase your skills is important. More importantly though, making sure the resume you submit is catered to the company and the job description. If you feel you can provide the company a fresh perspective in social media strategy, then incorporate that into your resume. However, as Ryan Meints pointed out, having a great resume isn’t everything–he has never even submitted a resume for any of the jobs he has landed. From his perspective, networking is key.

Ryan’s point led to the importance of personal branding. As important as it is to maintain a positive online reputation, having something as basic as a good voice mail greeting is just as important. If you’re applying for jobs, would you want an employer to listen to a greeting that is a simple “Hey, leave a message” in a dull voice or would you rather actually greet your potential employer? My voice mail is simple, yet friendly: “You have reached the voice mail of Eric Wheeler. Please leave a message and your number and I will be sure to get back with you. Thanks!”

Probably the most important piece of advice came from Dan Schulzetenberg: “Understand what your values are.” That simple idea can have a huge impact on your life–whether you’re looking for that breakthrough job or you’re a seasoned pro. Always have strong values and work ethic and life will reward you. What are your values?

Image credit: www.socialsecurity.gov