Members of the nonprofit and business sectors gathered at the University of Southern California’s Career Center to share insight on a panel focused on succeeding in the marketing communications field on October 11, 2012. The panel, part of the Career Center’s Internship Week, offered an opportunity for Generation Y students to discover the traits needed to thrive in the 21st century professional world where small businesses and bigger responsibilities are becoming the status quo.
One of the critical traits most frequently mentioned during the panel was creativity. After the Center’s Internship & Diversity Programs Advisor Brianne Wada introduced the panelists to the students in attendance, Sewing Studio CEO Cynthia Harvey said her small business needed interns who can constantly create ideas while remaining versatile.
“We’re looking for someone who is innovative in their thinking and can contribute new ideas...to managers of different departments,” said Harvey, whose company has four employees.
The theme of working well within a small team continued when insight was shared by a member of the nonprofit sector, which typically has teams with just a few individuals handling many responsibilities. Ericka Iniguez, Senior Programs & Outreach Manager at The LAGRANT Foundation, said she usually works with just one full-time employee and one or two interns who must be “hungry, willing to learn, and outgoing.”
The versatile nature of startup environments was also highlighted during the panel thanks to Tyler Rachal, Director of Marketing at Santa Monica-based startup TaskUs.
“At a startup, you are only as good as every single person on the team. Whether you’re an intern or the founder of the company, you need to know exactly what is going on in every aspect of the business. Otherwise, we’re just going to fail: it’s as simple as that,” said Rachal, who added that being informed is also critical in case one is questioned randomly about various aspects of a company outside of the office, such as at events.
Though students learned that they must be well rounded, they were also reminded that an internship is an opportunity to determine what their special interest is and take the initiative to develop their expertise in it.
“At our company, one of our mottos is we move fast: anybody who works for us hits the ground running. A typical day is 75 percent of the time, you are hitting the ground running. What that means is, whatever project you’re working on now is the only project you’re working on. Once that project is complete, we discuss the next one,” said ResourceWebs Founder Evan Britton, who added that the remaining 25 percent focused on interactive aspects like meetings revolving around “the bigger picture.”
“It‘s important to have passion for the niche you want to enter...(in our company’s case,) you must have a (true) passion for the Internet...not just going online to read the news.”
Another member of the Southern California startup scene encouraged students to find out what they really want to get out of an internship.
“There is the opportunity to not only ace the work we are giving you, but take on your own projects as well,” said Party Earth Content Associate Sara Gunther, who added that a student intern played a crucial role in creating the startup’s YouTube channel.
Some of the final messages that Gen Y heard reminded them that they have more power than they may be aware of and that they should create their own success. The panelists highlighted how important it was for interns to avoid waiting to be instructed and instead go get whatever they wanted — and shared examples of the rewards of this entrepreneurial approach.
“What’s exciting to see is when an intern (takes initiative and) says they are excited about working on a new project with a client. We listen to interns and empower them by bringing them to client meetings so that they get a feel for what it’s going to be like in a business setting after graduation,” said Kelley Coughlan, co-founder of the boutique PR firm Melrose PR.
The theme of empowering interns was also highlighted as crucial for larger teams as well. Kelly Beam, who directs marketing at the multi-million dollar company OptimisCorp, admitted that interns have been the creative brains behind several of her team’s projects.
“We rely heavily on our interns to come up with creative ideas, especially in regards to social media...you all bring a lot to the table,” said Beam, who added that she prefers interns who pay attention to detail.
The panel ended with some clear advice about how an internship ultimately has one main purpose: serving as a launch pad for a successful career.
“Usually, the interns that stand out and get a full-time job with our company are the ones who are proactive and have new ideas (generated on their own),” said Kollaboration Creative & Marketing Director Jennifer Chung.
Regardless of where an intern might end up after they complete their assignments, the reality — every single day of performing well in an internship improves the chances of being hired for a full-time opportunity — was clear.
“Everyone’s number one goal (at our company) is to help you get a job. Either a job with our company, one of the companies we work with or someone we know,” said Rachal.
Audio of this panel is available on SoundCloud courtesy of the USC Career Center.
Elias Kamal Jabbe is a Los Angeles-based Journalist and PR Specialist and the Founder of Multicultural Matters, an online media outlet focused on multiculturalism and international entrepreneurship. Feel free to connect with him via LinkedIn or Twitter.com/Elias213 for more information.