Helping students find internships and jobs: An outline for a workshop on r sum
writing, interviewing and portfolio development in cooperation with professional
public relations practitioners
Terri Lynn Johnson, ABC, APR
Ph.D. student and Associate Instructor
School of Journalism
257 East South Street
Franklin, IN 46131-2422
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The importance of internships for public relations students is well established,
but obtaining the internship can be competitive and overwhelming. This paper
outlines how to establish a workshop to help students develop r sum s,
interviewing skills, and portfolios with the help of professional public
relations practitioners. It supplements the educational program, provides skills
needed to obtain internships and jobs in the field, supports a mentoring program
for college students and builds the University's relationship with
The importance of internships for public relations students is well established.
Gibson in an article last year in Public Relations Review says: "Few thoughtful
observers or participants in contemporary public relations would deny the
significance of internships" (1998, 67). Shock (1994) found that one of the
three factors which the greatest number of graduates indicated as being very
important in securing the first full-time job was an internship. Almost 80
percent of the graduates surveyed found the internship experience to be very
In spite of their importance, obtaining the internship can be competitive and
overwhelming to students. Chaudhry (1981) suggested changes in academic programs
to help students find jobs. Those changes included increased emphasis on career
guidance and counseling and an increase in internship or actual work experience.
This paper outlines how to establish a workshop to help students develop
r sum s, interviewing skills, and portfolios with the help of professional
public relations practitioners from local chapters of the International
Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Public Relations Society of
America (PRSA) and the Association of Women in Communications (AWC, previously
Women in Communications, Inc.). This workshop supplements the educational
program, provides skills needed to obtain internships and jobs in the field,
supports a mentoring program for college students and builds the University's
relationship with professionals in the area.
The experience is based on a program at a midwestern university in a capital
city, undertaken for five years and judged successful by participants in
evaluations immediately after the workshop and in follow-up interviews.
I. Purpose of the Program
The public relations majors at a midwest university in the capital of the state
needed help in finding and obtaining internship opportunities. Many of the
students expressed insecurities in the process and did not know where to begin.
Their r sum s were unprofessional, they lacked confidence in their interviewing
skills and when they were told to bring a portfolio, they did not know what was
expected of them.
The number of majors and the need to spend course time on more academic pursuits
influenced the major professor to organize a one-day workshop in interviewing,
r sum writing and portfolio development. The event was so successful, it became
an annual event and the students filled the sessions to capacity. Eventually,
students from other majors and even other colleges and professionals in the
job-hunting mode, asked to attend.
An added benefit of the program was the development of strong ties with the
professional public relations practitioners in the community who were active in
the professional chapters of IABC, PRSA, and WICI. The student chapters of these
three organizations worked with the faculty advisor/major professor and a
representative of each of the organizations to organize the event, using the
public relations four step process they had learned in class. Students developed
the program based on research, planned all the details, implemented it and
evaluated it. Students were able to stimulate and foster mentoring experiences
with participating professionals because of the workshop. In addition, it
strengthened ties with alumni, many of whom were now professionals in the field,
who came back to "give back" to their school and to the future of the
II. Program Content
l. R sum Writing: This session included a panel of professionals who had just
been through the hiring process. They brought with them overheads of good and
bad r sum s and critiqued them for both content and design. (The names of the
poor examples were usually blacked out to make them anonymous.)
Panelists discussed the r sum as the first step in the hiring process, whether
one is hiring an intern or a full-time employee.
Tips on what to include and how to get them noticed as well as the importance
of proof reading them were discussed.
2. Interviewing: This session was done through role playing. Two professionals
who worked in the same office assumed a variety of roles in recreating an often
funny skit on how-not-to and then how-to take part in a job or internship
interview. Appropriate dress and behavior were addressed. Nothing was taken for
granted, with the participants discussing such widely diverse aspects as chewing
gum and what kind of writing samples to leave behind, what to do about
references and all the details.
Other professionals then discussed their own interviewing experiences with
vivid examples of why those who looked like promising candidates on their
r sum s failed to pass the interview portion of the process.
3. Portfolios: The portfolios session featured two different alumni who had
impressive portfolios that they could bring back to demonstrate to students that
they, too, can build good portfolios as students.
The portfolios were laid out like the r sum s with supporting documents in each
area, for example, education, which included a copy of their diploma,
certificates of achievement, GPA information; design, which included pamphlets
they had designed during their internship or to promote student chapter
memberships or events; and writing, which had student newspaper clippings or
articles written for their internships. The labels in the portfolios matched the
stationery used in the r sum and made a professional appearance. The alumni
professionals gave suggestions to students for ways to choose the portfolio
itself and for accomplishments that could add to the portfolios content. Other
professionals also related what they looked for in a portfolio. The session
ended with a discussion of the importance of keeping your portfolio with you,
but leaving examples of your work behind and how to present the portfolio in the
A panel of professionals was asked to come for about one hour before lunch to
review the students r sum s and portfolios that those who already had one
(usually seniors) submitted for critiquing. The professionals reviewed them as a
group, making comments, then divided them among themselves. At lunch, each
professional stood up and read the list of students whose work he or she had
reviewed and those students met with them after lunch for a one-on-one feedback
on what they could do to improve, and what they had done that was good, in their
r sum s and portfolios. This session was considered one of the best and really
helped improve the quality of the students' portfolio presentations.
The three professional development chapters were asked to send their committee
chair for membership development and the students sponsored events of the year:
for IABC--Career LEAP (Linking the Education and the Profession), for PRSA--Half
Day with the Pros, and for WICI--ProAm Day. These committee chairs brought
information on the programs and made presentations about their various
professional organizations and the opportunities for students and new
In addition, all the participants of the day were invited to lunch with the
students. All the round tables included a mixture of professionals and students
so that they could ask questions and talk about the job market and get tips and
ideas. Many students were asked to come visit local agencies or businesses for a
day or to attend professional organization lunches as a guest of the
Students were encouraged to keep up the contact with the professional and
younger students were urged to send copies of their r sum s they created after
the workshop to professionals they met for guidance and feedback.
D. Luncheon Speaker
The luncheon speaker varied each year. One was a regionally recognized stress
management professional who talked about how to prepare physically for the job
interview and how to cope when you are stressed. One year a local recruiter from
a placement agency came and talked about the job hiring process. The student
committee and their guest members from the professional chapters researched and
chose the luncheon speaker. All the luncheon speakers came at no cost.
III. Program Recruitment
The first year, the students offered the workshop for members of the three
student professional organizations, but decided to open the attendance to the
whole department after it proved so useful.
A. Theme: Called "The Great American Job Hunt," this theme lent itself to a
variety of creative and colorful themes and appeals. One year, the colors were
the blues or the ocean and the symbol was a SCUBA diver pursuing the elusive
catch. Another year, students developed the theme around a jungle hunter in a
pith helmet, complete with jungle colors and tigers leaping into the right job
opportunities. This creativity allowed the student chapter members to create
brochures and posters that eventually could be included in their portfolios.
B. Tools: Posters, fliers, brochures and enrollment forms were completed on
Department equipment and printed by the University and distributed on campus so
costs were minimal. An article and an ad were placed in the student newspaper as
well. Badges, signs and programs for the day, carrying out the theme, were
C. Numbers: The first year, with attendance limited to student members of the
professional organizations, 25 attended. The next year, opening it to all public
relations majors, 45 attended. Over the next three years, the numbers increased
by an average of 20 people each year until over one hundred students and
IV. Covering the costs
The first year the program was perceived as a service to the student chapter
members and the cost was kept down and paid for by the chapter dues and funds
raised in other activities. When it was determined to be extremely valuable,
students decided to allow more to participate and decided that students would
recognize the value more if they were asked to pay. The fees were kept to a
minimum with food provided by University food service for the morning session:
rolls, coffee, tea and soft drinks, milk and juice and a make-your-own-sandwich
buffet lunch, with soft drinks and cookies.
All the professionals donated their time and expenses. After the first year,
the local professional chapters also sponsored some aspect of the event. One
sponsored the morning session food and another paid for the desserts. These
donations by the local chapters allowed costs to be kept to a minimum. Students
were always charged something, however, as student feedback stressed that the
investment demonstrated the value to them and kept them from playing "hooky" if
the day turned out lovely or nice to sleep in.
Each session was followed by passing out a form for feedback. Student response
was overwhelmingly positive. The event grew each year until the maximum the room
would hold was the limit for registering. Feedback on individual presenters
helped determine which ones were invited back or called upon to help with other
portions of the program. Students suggested such additions as asking a vendor
who sells portfolios to attend with samples and a price list, which was added.
No professionals canceled at the last minute and only one, an agency head, sent
another employee when a crisis arose. But the students had a crisis plan for
covering the professionals in case someone canceled for an emergency and the
panel and multiple responsibility of the format also avoided this kind of
One of the interesting developments was that the local professional chapter
members discovered they had professionals who wanted to get back in the job
market again and were eager to attend. The third year, the program was moved to
a larger room on campus and professionals also came to learn about the "Great
American Job Hunt" which offered even more opportunities for students to learn
about the process and to hear other ideas.
In planning, one of the biggest problems was finding a Saturday when campus
events were at a minimum so that competition for students' time was kept to a
minimum. After the first couple of years, younger and younger students wanted to
attend and more and more expressed interest as the reputation for the event
Any school near an active chapter of a professional organization could create a
similar event. Journalism students using the Society Professional Journalists
local chapter should find support for a similar program.
Qualitative interviews were undertaken with several students who participated
in the program and the professional who co-chaired the committee and served as
professional adviser to the student chapters. All students have been out of
college for at least ten years, but most remembered the workshop and had
comments on its role in their job and internship experience.
One student who is now a public relations director of a major life insurance
company said how important this practical information is and how often questions
along these lines are asked now when she goes to make guest presentations in
public relations classes. She remembers how great it was to take advantage of
this resource as a student and how important it was to get feedback on her
r sum and portfolio from working professionals.
The original organizing professional was willing and even eager to begin the
event again, citing the help he personally knew it gave to students and, as an
added benefit, to providing interns to professionals in the community. A member
of both professional organizations, he noted the role of service to the
organization and the many members eager to help. He also suggested adding a
session on the job/internship hunt process itself, detailing how to target
possible opportunities, use job banks, look in distant markets using IABC, PRSA,
AWC resources in other cities, and re-build r sum s and portfolios to match
skill sets requested in advertisements for jobs and internships.
Considering the importance of an internship and how difficult it is for some
students to start the process of pursuing an internship and a job, public
relations professors and their schools would be well advised to provide students
with help in the process. The classroom is not the place to provide this help.
This workshop, using the resources of professional communications organizations,
offers an opportunity for students to learn r sum writing, interviewing and
portfolio creation skills as well as an opportunity for mentoring and
relationship building. In addition, the public relations program will benefit
from the relationship developed and fostered with the professionals and the
alums who participate.
Chaudhry, N. P. (1981). Higher education and employment: A study of graduates at
the Oklahoma State University. [On-line]
Gibson, Dirk C. (Spring 1998) Public relations internship system evaluation:
Criteria and a preliminary instrument. Public Relations Review 24(1):67-82
Shock, J. R. (1994). A survey of mass communication graduates of Harding
University (Arkansas). [On-line]