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Lights, Camera, Be Yourself: What My Summer Internships Taught Me

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to have not one, but two internships. One of them was working as an intern for a nationally syndicated television station based in Las Vegas. I got to research and write accompanying TV segments for the channel I was interning for. The second internship I had was working full-time as a digital media sales intern for a start-up company in Los Angeles that dealt with the advertising branch of an e-commerce business. 

A small disclaimer: this is all from my personal experience. Summer internships (and internships in general) are different for everybody and definitely also depend on availability, preference and background. 

To be quite fair, I loved having something to do this summer and had so much fun learning! But to be truthful, I’ll start with the unglamorous side first—I didn’t know I’d be working almost fifty hours a week for two different jobs until the hiring process was nearly over. Although I learned so much and boosted my resume an incredible amount, it was a lot of sacrifice and time management. I would usually start my days at 8:00 a.m. and finish around 6:30 p.m. to meet my hours and fit both internship responsibilities into my summer schedule. One of the biggest reasons that I chose to do this (aside from the thrill of it all) was being a first-generation college student. I was worried that I didn’t have enough experience or connections in the industry that I was so in love with, and as a rising senior, I wanted to try something new that would help give me that important exposure I knew I needed. 

But please don’t worry: this is not true for everybody! In fact, I have friends who got wonderful jobs without ever doing a summer internship. Jobs will differ for every person, so there’s no need to be worried if your career path looks a little different and if you’ve never had an internship before.

Looking back at my summer, I’m proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new (although my sleep schedule was, well, terrible—more on this in a minute!) As a Chicago gal, I always dreamed of traveling out west for a chance to learn about the entertainment industry and dive head-first into that exciting world. However, due to COVID-19, both of my internships were remote which allowed me the chance to work with people across the country (remote work is definitely carving a path for the future!). 

Confession: I am an extrovert, so I did miss that natural repertoire you get when in-person. But, I am extremely grateful for these experiences in shaping my future career path, and loved the people I met. I learned a tremendous amount at both companies, and with that being said, here are the most valuable lessons I’ve taken from this experience.

1. Don’t label yourself.

You’re a person, not a job title, and it’s okay to be imperfect!

All the greats began somewhere! 

Going into a professional job or internship can be super intimidating. I remember taking an hour to do my hair and makeup on the first day of my remote TV internship while blasting music to get me hyped up (P.S. work-from-home calls for wearing sweatpants with a blazer!). Never be ashamed to be a newbie—rather, be proud of yourself for making it this far! We all have our own fascinating stories to tell, and truth be told, you never know what someone has been through to get to where they are now. Your internship won’t always be rainbows and butterflies, but please remember to be kind to yourself on the tough days, too. 

Be positive. It’s okay to have a bad day and struggle with something. It’s not always going to be easy, but hey, you got your gig for a reason. Don’t doubt yourself or why you got this position. The truth is, your employer saw something they really liked about you and it’s about high time you started believing in yourself!

Cue the Hannah Montana song, “Nobody’s Perfect!” You’re not going to be perfect all the time—you will make mistakes in the process, but hey, don’t worry, that’s actually normal. This past summer, I had to learn to have grace for myself and let go of the self-criticism that would have held me back from being the best version of myself possible. 

For example, on the first day of my TV internship training, I remember having to edit my article and do a SEO task right in front of the producer and being so nervous about it. I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that I wasn’t going to be 100% perfect on the first try, but I was going to show him what I did know. He actually ended up complimenting my writing and praising my journalism skills even if I did have to ask him to repeat a step or two when it came to the SEO software aspect. The truth: your bosses aren’t expecting perfection—they’re expecting progress, growth and ambition.

2. Be a sponge.

Absorb everything and give it your all!

My biggest piece of advice: take notes and ask questions! There’s no such thing as a dumb question. I had a notebook and pen with me at all times (during team meetings, 1:1 syncs, events, workshops and more!). Hand-writing notes was a life-saver for me, especially when I had to figure out a task on my own for the first time and needed something to look back to. 

Along with being a sponge, don’t be afraid to try something new that you may be interested in! That’s what internships are for: exploration. You’ll never know if you never try. Which ties into my next piece of advice: take it all in! Be fully present in the moment, and listen when others talk. Keep your phone away from your desk if you know it’s going to be a distraction. 

For example, this summer I wanted to absorb everything, but it can be overwhelming at first to find a way to be yourself over Zoom or Google Hangouts. So, I opted to keep a smile on my face and have animated body language to show my enthusiasm (head nods, lively reactions, taking notes visibly, etc.).

3. Show off your talents!

Advocate for what you’re passionate about! For my media sales gig, I told my boss pretty early on that I loved to write and that it was very important to me. We had a great conversation about my comfort level and intensive background, and how I hoped to be able to bring that skill set to that position. Although I still did a lot of marketing research, data analytics work and conversion-rate tracking, I also had the exciting chance to write some copy for clients and do a fun research project that I presented to the team leadership. 

So, it’s not bragging if you’re showcasing what you know, what you love and what you can bring to the table. Sometimes your boss won’t know right away. Be assertive and communicate openly—trickle in the fact that you were an editor for your school paper or that you once did a big journalism project that helped land you some notice in your community. In truth, I bet your boss would love to hear of your diverse skills and how you can apply them to their organization.

4. Live life well-balanced.

Take your breaks and plan those future mems outside of work!

Self-care is key! Sometimes we don’t have a choice when it comes to that cliche “girl-boss” stereotype I hate so much. Sometimes capitalism sells how you must work extremely hard and give up on your personal goals to be successful in the industry, which is so untrue! That being said, it’s easier said than done to just give up on your dreams when the going gets tough, especially when you’re just starting out (and the hours may not be your favorite). So friends, my suggestion is to plan out things to look forward to. Manage your time wisely—your time is precious! I usually color-code my planner and use either Google Calendar or Clockify to block out what I’m doing every day. 

Don’t be one of those people who forgets their loved ones when they start a new gig. Make sure to drink plenty of water, take your well-deserved breaks throughout the day and don’t skimp out on your friends and family when they ask you to go to dinner or watch a movie with them. It’s totally okay to say no when it comes to your mental health and balancing your new workload—however, we’re all people and we all need each other’s connection. I recommend keeping open, honest communication with your loved ones and working together to block out some special time to spend with one another.

Oh, and make sure to prioritize your sleep (remember her?). Keeping a routine bed-time not only helps your overall health, it also allows you to have enough energy to do what you love. Ignore those “work until I drop” stereotypes—you can still be a “girlboss” while practicing healthiness.

5. Network. Network. Network.

Know those other interns who usually keep to themselves? Send them a message asking how their day went. In an internship program at big companies, we’re all in this together (even if we may work in different departments). It’s good to get to know the other interns and have someone to ask questions to/connect with—and hey, you may also end up becoming great friends and exchanging Instagram handles! 

Admire someone in your company? Reach out to them. Ask if you can have 15 minutes of their time to have a conversation with them. It’s scary, but have the courage to network with people who impress you and whose jobs you are interested in learning more about.

And when your internship comes to a close, don’t forget to exchange LinkedIn information! 

6. Have intrinsic motivation.

Work for a vision.

At the end of the day, it’s about working towards something you’re passionate and motivated about. Your career isn’t just about checking off goals—it’s about building the vision for what you want your life to look like. You know that dream you have in your heart, that one thing that just makes you so inexplicably happy? That’s your purpose. It’s calling you for a reason. 

And hey, the path to that vision won’t always be easy—it’ll have bumps, early hours and maybe a lot of hard work along the way. That being said, I think it’s the journey that makes all of this so special in the first place. But it’s so important to remember that you are first and foremost a person, who deserves joy, love and self-care. Balance is key when it comes to chasing your dreams, and your needs/health matter just as much as any internship.

Maria is the HCSLU President for the 2021-2022 year. She is a rising senior with a major in Communication and a double-minor in Marketing and Film Studies. Maria was born in the Philippines and grew up around Chicago. She is a published author and poet, and loves all forms of inclusive story-telling, especially for media and entertainment!