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10 Tips for Getting a Media Internship

Posted by: Dan Rutledge on 04/14/2011 12:00 PM EDT
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Tips for a film/video media internship.Because I work in the media industry, I tend to get a lot of interest from young people related to internships. This is especially true because our company is involved in film/video production, and many young people seem to believe that this is an incredibly cool and lucrative career that is pursued by good-looking and crazy-fun people. This is, apparently, before they meet me.

In the last several years I have had the chance to interact with a number of young people who are seeking advice or work. I’ve met a few that really impressed me and quite a few that left a lot to be desired in their professionalism. If you’re a young person considering a media internship somewhere or if you have got a son or daughter that is considering applying to a company, here are some points to remember.

  1. Grammar still matters. Emailing a professional company should never be done in the same kind of pseudo-English that people use for text messages or Twitter posts. It is shocking to me how many emails I get from young people that have no capitalization, include incomplete sentences, or use text-message abbreviations. It’s completely unprofessional and guarantees an instant deletion.
  2. Don’t overpursue. I know you really, really want the internship – but you still need to act professionally. I once had a potential intern who was extremely qualified, but he called our office constantly trying to find out the status of his application. We finally stopped picking up the calls. Apparently he didn’t realize we could see his number on the caller-ID because then he called even more! Needless to say, we never granted him an interview.
  3. Grades count. In my experience, the only employers that don’t care about grades are the ones that did poorly in school themselves. Are they the ones you want to intern for? I recently had a prospective intern who downplayed the importance of education in his communication with me and insisted that he would have “no problem” getting a job or doing video work without going to college. I hope that’s true for him… but he won’t find out with me.
  4. Be on time or don’t show up. Promptness demonstrates professionalism. There are a handful of valid excuses for being late, most of which involve someone dying. Other than that, you’d better be there for the interview, first day, every day… on time.
  5. Be smart with your portfolio. Young people need to recognize that the main goal of college is to prepare you to get a job. Yes, it may seem like a blast to get your roommates together and shoot a comedy/horror/slasher/zombie film for your school video project, but employers want to see intelligent work that demonstrates responsibility and a commitment to quality. Personally, when I view a demo that involves heavy swearing, nudity, horror, or immature humor, it’s an instant rejection.
  6. Demonstrate low expectations. The tough truth is that no matter how good your grades are and how many student projects you’ve done, you will most likely start at the bottom when it comes to a job. I graduated with a 3.9 from Michigan, had a reel of student projects and had done three fairly significant internships – and my first paid job was still a minimum wage position operating a teleprompter for a tiny little news station. When you interact with the company, express that you will do whatever is needed, period. One time I was interviewing a potential intern who was very focused on the opportunities the internship would provide her. She asked me if there would be a lot of chances for her to make films or write scripts for us. While I certainly want to help interns expand their skills, I had spent 15 years working to create these kind of opportunities and she appeared to want to come in and have it handed to her from the start. I am more interested in finding employees that express a desire to serve the company and grow through the process than those who are solely focused on advancing their demo reel.
  7. Remember your manners. Manners demonstrate a respect and honor for the employer that really stand out in today’s marketplace. I recently brought in the son of a friend for a two-hour job shadow to evaluate whether there might be more that he could be involved in. He made a conscious effort to address me as “Mr. Rutledge” or “Sir”, worked respectfully in the background without drawing attention to himself, and followed up his time with a properly composed thank you note. I’ve never seen his resume, but that spoke volumes. This doesn’t mean you should be a complete brownnoser, but demonstrating proper respect for leadership shows that you understand workplace authority.
  8. Respect your employer’s time. Assume that your potential employer is busy and that any time he spends with you involves him losing money. Do anything you can to make the process easy for him. Don’t request to meet him and if he mentions it, assume that you will drive to him and meet whenever he is available.
  9. Be prepared. This is a follow up to the previous question. Never ask a question or inquire about something that can easily be read on the Internet. Learn the background of the company and potential employer before you ever interact. I once had a prospective intern open our conversation with the line, “I know you’re in media, but tell me what you do.” It showed that he didn’t care enough to research it beforehand.
  10. Scale back the tech. The many new forms of technology are great, but use them responsibly and recognize when it isn’t professional. Don’t friend request your potential employer on Facebook or text her. Use email and postal mail for communication. If you ever get called into an internship or job, leave all social media posts for lunchtime or after work. While you are at the office, your sole task should be to serve the company with every ounce of focus.

I recognize that a few of these tips may sound harsh, but my intent was to provide helpful advice that will help you stand out from the pack. And honestly, you will never fully outgrow this kind of workplace behavior. No matter how far you advance, there is always someone that is your boss and needs to be treated properly. I still practice most of these items daily - with clients now - working hard to show proper respect and convey professionalism in every interaction with them.

I wish you the best in your pursuit of an internship and a long-term media career!


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