Internships in public relations aren’t what they used to be, at least not here in Northeast Ohio. It’s good news and it’s bad news. Good news because opportunities for highly skilled public relations majors have never been better and paychecks never fatter ($10-$15/hour for the corporate posts, slightly less in ad agencies and PR firms).
Here in Greater Cleveland, there’s work for interns and plenty of it. In fact, in a typical semester we fill, at most, half of the requests we get for paid interns. Any student who wants to build his/her experience can usually do so.
But the rules have changed.
Internship employers, especially in the corporate sector, are asking for and getting more work from interns — up to 30 hours per week during the school year, 40+ in the summer. It’s tough for students carrying full course loads, but it’s also a chance to build a fat portfolio while getting a crash course in time management.
The bad news? Maybe it isn’t so bad. You tell me.
Post-grad internships are on the rise. Three employers this year told me they’ll hire only interns who’ve earned their degrees. Post-grad interns, they say, have the full complement of skills and strategy classes; most of them have previous internship experience. But the primary benefit to employers: Post-grad interns work full-time, even more if needed — and they work cheap, sometimes as low as $10 and hour with no benefits.
One agency VP told me post-grad interns should view the experience as a 6-month “interview” with the possibility of a job at the end. Makes sense from the employers’ perspective. But there’s a downside, even for them.
The top 30% of PR grads from Kent State land permanent jobs before they graduate or shortly after. That means the talent pool for post-graduate internships doesn’t include the top candidates. Those trying to hire post-grad interns will still see good candidates, but they’re from the “B” team.
Extended internship commitments. With most corporate PR departments under pressure to trim staff, interns are playing a bigger role here in Northeast Ohio. One PR director for a Fortune 500 company told me his department would be hard pressed to operate without its interns. “We absolutely depend on them to get the day-to-day work out the door.”
That company and others have begun asking interns for year-long commitments. The longer an intern serves, the more productive he/she becomes. Of course, once the interns graduate, they’re welcome to stay on as temporary or contract workers (post-grad interns). I know of at least two Kent grads who stayed with their undergraduate internships for 18 months after graduation earning $12-$15 an hour.
For employers, longer-term internships have become the answer to cost-cutting pressure. And in many cases, interns (under-grad and post-grad) are replacing entry-level hires. Those entry-level corporate jobs and their high starting salaries have all but disappeared in our neck of the woods.
But aren’t these long-term internships and higher pay good for students? I’m not so sure. The students build voluminous portfolios, and that’s good. But the work is often one-dimensional, focused on employee communications, routine news releases and the like, and that’s bad.
Interns who make long-term commitments to corporate employers make decent money by college-student standards, and that’s good. But those students don’t experience multiple internships and the professional growth that comes with them, and that’s bad.
The “new” internships – be they post-graduate or extended undergraduate gigs – are serving our cash-strapped employers well. But are they serving the students who want to enter the profession? You tell me.