As my summer internship at Spire comes to an end, I have started to reflect on my experience on the fifth floor with the Spire team. What I will miss most is the team’s weekend recaps at status on Monday morning, Ted Lasso talk with my desk neighbor Mike Stopper, constantly trading dog pictures with Julia Cardali, and learning from the incredibly talented Spire account team.

While my academics have provided me with the foundation I needed to start a successful career, the one thing that I knew would push me to the next level was an in-person experience. Experience comes in all shapes and sizes, such as joining an advertising and marketing club or signing up for the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) team. Applying for a seasonal agency internship is one of the easiest ways to fill my resume and learn beyond what textbooks could show me.

Beyond the marketing and advertising industry, according to Zippia, 300,000 people intern annually. Only 9.4% of interns in Texas are unpaid, and the average pay is $15.32. Luckily for Texans, Texas has the 25th smallest share among other states.

No matter how many paid or unpaid internships are available, competition is intense. In Massachusetts, students at Boston College reported applying to more than 100 jobs this spring for a chance at a summer internship. This increase in competition is partly because of COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, internships were canceled, and internship programs quickly dissolved. Larger brands known for their robust internship programs haven’t brought them back and have stalled their intern hiring process.

With a year and a half of internship experiences missed, competition for internships is more intense than ever. The backlog of student internship applications was just getting longer.

However, not all was lost during the pandemic: One beneficial aspect of the pandemic was the push to work online. Many students still like to be recruited virtually and feel comfortable interviewing over Zoom. CNBC wrote a piece about the hypercompetitive internship market and found that 87% of students would still like to have some virtual recruiting post-pandemic.

The good news is that the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is predicting internship opportunities will expand in the coming years. A NACE survey said that employers plan to increase intern hiring this year by 9.1%. Shawn VanDerziel, the executive director of NACE, stated that four out of five employers said their internship program provided the best return on investment.

Marketing and advertising are areas of study that generally require students to have internship experience before they graduate. In-person advertising experience has continued to be essential for full-time job opportunities, especially for students hoping to fill their portfolio. Based on the National Survey of College Internships 2021 Report from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, 67.9% of participants chose to do an internship to gain experience in a specific career that they planned on pursuing.

Luckily for students who are active in an internship program (or plan on getting one), students and young professionals with internship experience are 35% more likely to get at least one job offer after graduating than those without. Specifically, 70% of companies offer interns a full-time job, and 80% of students accept such offers. As a result, 56% of internships result in full-time employment; according to Fast Company, students who accomplished an internship received at least one job offer.

I sat down with one of my favorite SMU Temerlin professors, Gordon Law, to hear more about his perspective on the importance of internships.

Gordon, why are internships so important for students who are studying marketing or advertising and want to work in those industries?

There are two reasons why they are important. First, internships allow for the practical application of the concepts and theories you’ve learned in the classroom. Until you enter a work environment where you must work on a media plan or write for a client, that’s when you have the opportunity to apply a concept or theory that you’ve been taught in school.

Second, an internship experience demonstrates that you mean business. Instead of hanging by the pool or working at a yoga studio, working an internship demonstrates that you are serious about your work. Internships build your resume and can lead to further opportunities for employment down the road.

How has the pandemic changed the availability and importance of in-person internship experiences?

Internships are back to where they were before the pandemic. Intern hiring was so low during the pandemic because employers knew a virtual internship experience would not be valuable for anyone involved.

Most people, especially students, haven’t had their aha moment. During the pandemic, when we all went home and didn’t have class or everyday lives, students realized that doing everything online is more complicated, more distracting, and you miss out on the dynamic of in-person interactions. Even though you must drive there and wear clothes, working in the office is better, especially in our industry, where projects are collaborative across specializations. Now that the in-person internship experience is back, that’s where students can explore their career options and put their education into practice.

How does a student know if they have found the right firm or agency to intern at?

Whenever students look for a job, whether an internship or full-time, know what you expect from the experience and understand your employers’ expectations. Interns have a right to expect their employer to work on making you a better professional. In the same way, your employer hopes that you will perform well because you were given opportunities to learn and grow.

It was only fitting to ask Spire Principal Mike Stopper about his perspective on internships since he’s selected many interns throughout his career with agencies.

Stopper, what do agencies get out of internships?

Bringing in new interns is one of my favorite things each year. They tend to bring tons of energy to the position, and they bring out a mentorship mentality from agency staffers. Everyone wants the interns to succeed and have a meaningful experience, so I think the whole team ups their game.

Also, it’s a great opportunity for agencies to hear what is currently being taught at universities and see the perspectives professors are bringing to the industry. Vice-versa, internships are a great way for agencies to get their name out at the university level. An intern who has a great experience with us will hopefully refer other classmates for future internships.

Why is it important for students to have internships?

When we look at resumes for recent graduates, it’s incredibly important for someone to have an internship. It shows motivation and a dedication to their future career. It also shows that the candidate will be able to hit the ground running on day one because they have past experience. Internships and leadership positions in campus activities are the first two things I look at when it comes to graduate resumes.

When should someone look for an internship?

The more internships you can have, the better. As for when, I’m surprised how many students reach out to us just a week or two before they’d like to start their internship. It makes an agency feel like the candidate is not forward-thinking, or that the agency was way down on their list. For a summer internship, we generally post the opening in January or February and like to have our candidates selected by spring break. Students who reach out early tend to have the most motivation, and knowing their summer internship early helps everyone plan better. So, I’d say you should reach out to companies at a minimum of three months before your preferred start date for the best opportunities.

Based on all of this academia and agency input from Gordon and Stopper, here are the top five reasons to invest your time in an internship:

1. Real Job Experience

An internship experience can help students decide if they are working towards the right career. Classrooms are the perfect place to introduce students to various career options and teach them the foundations, but internships are an excellent, fully integrated experience.

2. Access to a Variety of Tasks and Positions

There is no better way to learn the structure of a company than to see it and get to know the people who have various titles and do different tasks every day, from administrative tasks to helping with client communication or sitting in on account management meetings.

3. Mentorship Opportunities

As students become acquainted with coworkers, they can learn from their peers’ careers and receive advice about launching their own. And nothing is more valuable than an in-person experience; it provides an opportunity to literally sit alongside industry veterans and ask them questions in the moment about what they are thinking, what they are doing, and why. To make the most of the internship experience, ask questions constantly.

4. Builds Confidence

As an intern, you can dip your toe in and try new things without too much pressure. You also get to hear directly from seasoned marketers on the agency and client side to see what their challenges are, and how they go about creating great work and results. Knowing their perspective gives you confidence in asking the right questions and voicing strong answers.

5. Potential Employment

In addition to agencies providing students with experience during the internship, they are also investing in them. Whether it’s time or money, the agency is developing you into the type of employee they’d like to hire. Having the experience with an agency makes a student an excellent candidate for a full-time position following graduation. You already know the people, the clients, and the system, so you become a more attractive candidate compared to others applying.

Ask yourself two questions when considering your internship options: Are you going to have an opportunity to learn and grow, to be better at your craft? And does this company provide opportunities to complement your resume and help grow your books?

Not only did I learn a lot this summer at Spire, but I also thoroughly enjoyed working with great people who I know will be lifelong colleagues in the industry once I graduate.

Olivia Underwood is an intern at Spire, one of the country’s most-awarded B2B agencies. She is also a junior at Southern Methodist University, where she is an advertising major at the Temerlin Advertising Institute and a recent presenter for the AAF National Student Advertising Competition.

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