School: Belmont University
Major: Public Relations
Graduation date: May 2015
Current city: Nashville, TN
Hometown: Southaven, MS
S: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience.
AS: I’m a PR gal and creative who is passionate about fashion, leadership, and relationships. Originally from a small town in Mississippi, I knew I needed to be in a city that could provide me with ample opportunities in the public relations industry. Since I moved to Nashville three years ago, I have participated in six amazing internships, while holding positions as a Campus Tour Guide, an officer of Belmont PRSSA and an officer and sister of Alpha Gamma Delta.
S: Where have you interned to date?
AS: Two Nashville-based public relations firms, the Country Music Association, Nashville Fashion Week, the Office of New Student and Parent Programs at my university and Educational Services of America, a provider of alternative and special education schools and programs.
S: Why do you intern?
AS: To find my passion. I have always been very ambitious towards my career path, so my sophomore year I participated in my first internship simply to start early and get ahead of my peers. After that first internship, I realized internships are actually a great way to learn more about what you do and do not want to do, while also gaining valuable experience and making connections. Thus, I began interning in a wide range of industries with the purpose of discovering where my greatest passion lay.
S: What would you say is the most valuable thing you’ve learned through all of your experience?
AS: There is always room for improvement. You may land amazing internships and be praised for impressive work, but no matter how big your accomplishments are, you should be seeking challenges that push you to work harder and learn more. Don’t ever let yourself get comfortable.
S: How would you advise someone to push themselves? Self-motivation can be tricky business.
AS: Self-motivation is most successful when it is driven by another factor. For example, one of the things I value most is excellence – always striving to become the best I can be. This value motivates me to seek out challenges and growth opportunities. I would advise others to think about their values and passions. Then, evaluate how they can use that value or passion to motivate them. Find what motivates you!
S: What’s been your favorite internship and why?
AS: Oh goodness, this is a tough one. Each of my internships have been such valuable learning experiences there is no way I could choose just one favorite. I can say I really enjoyed interning full-time with the Educational Services of America this summer. I was allowed to take on a lot of responsibility, especially with large projects. I was given creative freedom and room to experiment and explore. I felt more like an employee than an intern.
S: Would you say the discrepancy between working as a full-time intern and a part-time intern is clear? Is one more beneficial than the other?
AS: There is definitely a difference between the two, but part-time and full-time internships are beneficial in different ways. Part-time internships are a convenient way to gain great experience while you are taking classes during the school semester. Full-time internships provide an opportunity to be fully engaged in an internship. When you are in the office everyday, you form better relationships with supervisors, have more responsibility and learn how to manage your time outside of work. Full-time internships are experiences every student should try to have on their resume!
S: Who are some of the mentors who have inspired you?
AS: My supervisor on the Orientation Council has been a huge inspiration. He always expected the best from us and never settled for anything but our best work. Ever since, I never let myself do anything less than my best. He also challenged us to “live beyond reproach.” Ethically, PR professionals, as well as other professionals, can find themselves in sticky situations and be tempted to do act unethically to get ahead. As young professionals, it is very important to remember that our actions represent our character.
S: Do you have any advice for writing a cover letter?
AS: A cover letter doubles as a writing sample, so give as much attention as a school or work assignment. When you are applying for several internships, it is easy to get lazy and just copy and paste each letter or just send one paragraph in the body of an email. When you do this, you are losing a great opportunity to display your communication skills. Make sure each cover letter is exactly that, a letter personalized to the company stating why you feel you are the best fit.
S: What about for resumes, since it is very important part of your application and is always up for debate by means of presentation?
AS: Tailor your resume to the internship you are seeking. You should include only relevant experience and skills based on what they expect from an intern. This method is extremely helpful when you have enough experience to cover almost three pages, like I do. Open the internship description and requirements, then highlight the specific experience and skills you have that directly line up with what the company is seeking from an intern. Just like a cover letter, you should never use the same resume for every internship application.
S: As 1 of 10 orientation council members at Belmont University, you interviewed 325 applicants. That’s a lot! Did you see any common mistakes interviewees made?
AS: It was tough! Anytime I was not in class, I was interviewing someone. The most common mistake we noticed was the lack of genuine answers. I heard a lot of cookie-cutter answers, things the applicants thought I wanted to hear. When you interview for any job, it is so important to be yourself because employers can tell when you are not being authentic.
S: What’s the most common cookie-cutter answer you’ve heard, and how would you advise someone to answer differently?
AS: “I’m a hard worker.” With this type of answer, the interviewer does not learn how you are any different from the last person they interviewed. If you really are a hard worker, answer the question with an example or change the language of your answer. For example, “I work harder than other people. In college, I always took five classes and had an internship while keeping a great GPA,” or “I am someone who takes initiative during difficult projects and only stops working when the project is complete.” Your responses should give the interviewer a good sense of who you are and what you are about. Answer questions in a way that authentically represents you!
S: You seem to be super busy on campus with all of your leadership positions like being President of Belmont PRSSA and PR Director of Alpha Gamma Delta on top of interning. How do you structure your time management?
AS: I schedule everything I do in my iCal, keep very detailed to-do lists and actually stick to it. By “everything I do,” I mean my meetings, meals, showers, workouts, coffee dates, everything. My to-do lists keep me focused and help me avoid getting caught up on Pinterest or Buzzfeed for an hour. On top of all of this, I am an extrovert who needs to spend time with people, which means little sleep and lots of coffee. When it comes down to it, I am very passionate about everything I do, so I make time for it all.
S: From working for Nashville Fashion Week to assisting at Country Music Association events, you must be an event planning master! What’s been your experience with event planning, and what advice could you give to someone looking to become involved in event planning?
AS: I have been involved with the planning, check-in, seating, decoration, catering, sponsorships, and media of several events. I have two pieces of advice. First, do not expect an easy, glamorous job as an event planner. Event planning is hard work and almost never goes as planned. Secondly, get involved. The best event planners started gaining experience in the industry early and kept notes, contact info and ideas they now use in their career.
S: Any fun stories or mishaps from any of the events?
AS: I have learned firsthand that mishaps occur at every event, no matter how well the team has prepared. At the CMA Music Festival nightly concerts, we used three golf carts to escort members of the media who had heavy equipment. At the end of the second night of the four night festival, one of the golf carts ran out of gas, then the headlights were blown in another golf cart. So, we were down to one golf cart and several media teams ready to get back to their cars and head home. In these types of situations, you just have to stay calm and work diligently to resolve the issue. It’s all about customer service!
S: You’ve interned in the fashion, education and entertainment industries and worked with clients in the health, festival, venue and non-profit industries. How does this mesh and where does your true interest stand?
AS: Within each internship, I focused on helping to create mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics– the core of public relations. However, I learned each industry has its own way of accomplishing this goal. Personally, I feel most passionate about promoting brands and organizations in the fashion and education industries.
S: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
AS: Don’t spread yourself too thin. When you do, you are unable to be extraordinary.
S: What’s the best piece of advice you could give to fellow interns?
AS: Always strive to be a better version of yourself. Discover your talents and values and then strengthen them, instead of trying to develop the talents and values other people possess. Your well-developed talents and character will set you apart and help you stay grounded in who you are.
S: What’s next for you?
AS: I am actually moving to NYC this month. I’ll be there for one semester interning with the Department of Public Relations at Hearst Magazines. It’s my dream internship and I am so excited to get started!
S: Closing thoughts?
AS: If you live in NYC, I would love to meet you this fall!