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Insights From Interns: A ‘What Not to Do’ Guide From A Project Management Intern

Work / 11.20.2019

Alyssa Hedington / Client Services Coordinator

7 Things to Avoid In Order to Make the Most Out of Your Internship.

There are a lot of things you can and should do to succeed in any new internship. However, if you didn’t learn this information from your parents drilling it into your head for 22+ years, like I did – the phrase “early is on-time and on-time is late” plays on loop in my dreams the night before any interview - I’m sure one Google Search would provide you with an extensive list. I’m going to take a different approach and tell you some of the things to avoid as you navigate through a project management internship at a digital marketing agency.

I actually didn’t even know what a marketing agency was until my senior year at San Diego State University. I was a few months away from graduating with my bachelor’s degree in Marketing, sitting in my Integrated Marketing Communications course, when my professor introduced our next chapter “Organizing for Advertising and Promotion: The Role of Ad Agencies and Other Marketing Communication Organizations”. After learning what a full-service agency is and the different roles involved, I was determined that I wanted to pursue a job in project management.

I then started researching different agencies in San Diego and reaching out to professionals already in the industry to pick their brain about getting started at an agency. I stumbled upon Red Door Interactive (RDI) and was so intrigued by the website and impressed with the client portfolio that I found the VP of Client Services, Stephanie Ranson, on LinkedIn and sent her a message. Luckily for me, Steph was more than happy to invite me into the office to talk about her career path and tips she had for someone just starting out. She recommended that I look into the Red Door internship program and, well, the rest is history.

So, if you are looking to learn how to make the most out of your internship, here are the top 7 things NOT to do. 

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

I know what you’re thinking. When it comes to tips for succeeding in a new job this is probably number one, but hear me out.

Starting a new internship marks the beginning of a new experience. Just like the first time you’ve done anything, there are going to be questions. There is no way you have all the answers and as an intern, no one expects you to. Take this time to be a sponge and soak up as much information as possible.

Sometimes the hardest part is knowing what questions to ask. One thing that helped me was attending weekly ‘Share & Evolves’ where each week a Subject Matter Expert (SME) from a new department speaks to the agency about a service the department offers. From these, I learned that no one knows everything. Members of the company who have been in the industry for 10+ years not only attend, but also ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate the integration across all departments. No one can know everything – that’s why we call them experts – and the more questions you ask the more you learn, so ask away!

2. Don’t pass up opportunities. 

Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes and it could be easy to let one slip past you. Throughout your internship make sure to look around and see what else you could be ‘raising your hand’ for.

One of the biggest benefits of working at Red Door is the opportunity for cross-training. While I applied for the Project Management internship, I was also given the opportunity to be a Marketing intern (yes, marketing agencies need to market themselves too). As a Marketing intern I was given more responsibility on internal projects such as promotional asset development, podcast support, and even helping to lead a website redesign for a portion of the agency’s own website, www.reddoor.biz. These opportunities led me to be more involved in Red Door’s initiatives and able to personally contribute to goals, while working with managers and directors across all department levels.

However, there is an exception to this tip. It is always a good thing to be finding new opportunities, but don’t spread yourself too thin in the process. Quality over quantity still rings true here.

3. Don’t put restrictions on what you can learn.

While you may be a project management intern, your learning shouldn’t be isolated to project management. There is so much to be understood while being part of an agency, that tunnel-vision can be your worst enemy. While it is important to remember your role in the organization and the part you are playing, you shouldn’t forget that there is plenty of other knowledge yet to be discovered. Here are three things I learned about while being an intern at Red Door, outside of project management:

The Agency Life. Did I know what a digital marketing agency was? Yes. Had I seen Mad Men? Of course. Did I have any experience like this? Absolutely not. Agency life is fast, exciting, and unlike any other industry I have worked at before. During your internship don’t forget that you are not only testing if you like a position, but you are experimenting with working in that environment as well.

Being an Employee. Although most internships are part-time, they still provide a lot of insight into what entering the workforce is all about.  Throughout my internship I learned about 401ks, salary negotiations, benefits, and so much more. By continuously looking for learning opportunities, you can gain so much more value.

Working Remote. Red Door’s main office is in San Diego, but we also have a great team out in Denver and extensions in New Orleans, Salt Lake City, and beyond. This doesn’t mean that we only work with the people in our office, actually the opposite. Our offices are equipped to handle team members collaborating and working together from wherever they may be. This was the first time I had been at a job where some of the people I was working with everyday were in a completely different location than me. I learned how to best communicate with them using meeting platforms, email, and chatting systems. I also experimented with working from home. Because we already have processes in place to work cohesively with other offices, employees are empowered to work from home whenever they need. This opportunity allowed me to test myself and see how my productivity and work ethic are affected when I am sitting in my living room, instead of at my desk. I found that I love working remotely and a change of scenery helps break up the work week. "WFH Fridays" have become part of my weekly routine.

4. Don’t forget to speak up.

When you’re sitting in a meeting or working with a team, it can feel like your role is to sit there and listen. While I have urged you to act like a sponge and absorb everything, there is also a time to collaborate and share.

Even though you are new to the workforce, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any insights to bring to the table. In fact, you have a fresh, new perspective that is extremely valuable, especially in marketing, a field that is constantly evolving. If you have an idea or some knowledge to offer, speak up!

5. Don’t fall into the 9-5 work myth.

The 9-5 work myth is the idea that people who work in an office are going through their days as if they are on repeat. Wake up, get ready, eat breakfast, sit in traffic, march to your cubicle, stare at a screen for 8 hours, sit in traffic, eat dinner, go to bed, repeat. But this simply isn’t true anymore, at least not at Red Door.

Working in an agency means that you need to be adaptable throughout the day and seamlessly shift from one project to the next. This includes switching not only the client you are thinking about, but also the industry and service offering. To be able to do this, you have to be ready for whatever the day brings on and act as a chameleon matching the environment you are in.

From watching peers first-hand, I learned that this type of work environment is most successful when people are excited about what they do. This makes the daily routine become less ordinary and more rewarding. SMEs at Red Door are more than just skilled in their area of expertise, they are passionate about their work. Being surrounded by people fiercely pursuing new heights in their career is not only inspiring, but makes me look forward to coming to work.

6. Don’t expect to be hands-off as an intern.

When people think about internships, they normally think about making copies, running errands, and especially getting coffee. While we do still drink a lot of coffee, the RDI internship is anything but hands-off.

As a project management intern, I was able to experience what it is like to guide a team through a project. I managed budgets for retainers and projects, learned multiple project management platforms, created and coordinated timelines, and served as the day-to-day contact for internal and external stakeholders.

One of my favorite experiences during my internship was overseeing production during San Diego’s 2019 Pride Parade, where we provided our client SDCCU with live event coverage. During this project my manager allowed me to take the lead and work with our social and content team and a video contractor to develop a pre-production plan, execute on day-of-event coverage at the San Diego Pride Parade, and close out the project. This allowed me to truly understand what it is like to be a project manager and was such a blast!

Check out our podcast on live event coverage and view the SDCCU video here!

7. Don’t limit yourself to your title.

”Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want” is another one of those pro-tips I always remember and one that I truly believe.

Hopefully everything I have said so far has been leading up to this point. Internships can be an amazing way to get a foot in the door and gain valuable experience, or they can be something you do just to put on a resume – it is up to you. You are going to get out what you put in, so go the extra mile whenever you can. Here are two things that allow you be involved in the agency in a new way:

Participate in afterhours events. As an intern I had an open invitation to all RDI events, but my attendance also wasn’t required. For the first Project Management department outing I attended, we went to Dave & Buster’s. During this time I got to know people I didn’t normally work with and hang out with co-workers and managers as friends. While it wasn’t work related, I was able to build relationships that translated into a better working relationship.

Volunteer to be part of agency traditions. At the end of each quarter, Red Door puts on an "EXPO" where anyone can present something they worked on with the rest of the agency. This was a great time for me to learn more about the great work being created at the agency, but it was also a fun opportunity to present the work I had done!

My best piece of advice here is that you immerse yourself in the agency and go beyond what is listed in the “intern job description”. If you are interested in the internship programs offered at Red Door Interactive, you can follow our social channels (@reddoorinteractive) for updates or keep up with Red Door’s careers page.

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