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Internship insights: Michelle Smith, QUT

Posted on 12/06/2011 by Cole Lawson in Interns

I think any budding PR person can commiserate with the recurring nightmare I experienced prior to gaining my internship at Cole Lawson Communications: the haunting situation of graduating university, degree proudly in hand, HECS debt largely in tow, with no job in sight.

It is a predicament, unsurprisingly repeated by our university professors, especially those from the competitive world of public relations, and one that during our first and second years at university we deem an urban myth. Because, landing a dream job (or any job at all) as a completely inexperienced twenty-one year old with a business degree should be easy? Right?


Things have changed, and gaining industry experience prior to finishing a university degree has become an essential component in developing yourself as a well-rounded graduate. Regardless of your field of study – law, public relations, HR or finance – work experience is essential in positioning you ahead of your fellow graduates.

Employers are no longer seeking graduates with a 7.0 grade point average (although I am sure that would help!) but rather they are seeking individuals who have been proactive in developing their industry experience, gaining real-world experience through travel and other life experiences and who are socially active with volunteering activities.

But even finding work experience in this highly competitive market can be just as difficult as finding an actual job. There are organisations out there that charge you just to find you an unpaid internship - if you make the cut.

It will come as no surprise then if I admit that when Cole Lawson agreed to host me for my internship I jumped around my bedroom  singing doing my ‘happy dance’.

I have spent three invaluable months as a member of the Cole Lawson team, and having watched the six consultants do everything from complex monthly reporting to hard-selling their clients to the cameras,  I finally understand that there is no degree in “performing under pressure” and “doing it right the first time”. You just have to get out there and learn it for yourself.  

The key to a good internship is finding an organisation that will invest in helping you learn.

I was lucky enough to be asked to write a variety of feature articles, media releases, research reports and a market research proposal. The Cole Lawson team provided a wealth of knowledge that I was able to learn from and use to improve my own writing skills. I have noticed a significant improvement of my writing skills and my university results for this semester are a reflection of this.

Real-world agency experience will take the ‘academia’ away from the PR writing skills you learn in university and, let me assure you, they’re different. I learned more about PR in my first week at Cole Lawson than I have in three years at university. I’m just so glad university has given me the skills to do it!

Having dipped my toe into the corporate world I leave my internship with the following words of wisdom for those who might follow:

Take an internship to learn the ropes, not to look good on your CV. The agency game is very much a team sport, particularly at the graduate level, so figure out what needs to be done, and do it. The more you can learn from doing the little stuff, the more trust you will build to do the bigger stuff.

And finally, presentation does matter. Whether you’re in a Devil Wear’s Prada re-make, or just a little boutique firm, dress to be introduced to a new client every day.

I feel extremely privileged to have completed my internship at Cole Lawson Communications. I feel confident in positioning myself as a competitive graduate in the public relations field and am proud of the material I have produced so far in my career. I have an extensive portfolio which is continuing to grow even in my last week here and I am lucky enough to have been published on two occasions.

I’m incredibly excited that one day I will get to do this for a living and can’t wait to stumble into this real world with my eyes wide open.