Starting a new job at any level is both exciting and stressful, but there’s nothing quite like the emotional rollercoaster that comes with starting your very first post-college job.
I graduated from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville in May of 2020. I had been fortunate enough to have two college internships; the first at a prominent agency in New York and the second at a boutique agency in Sydney, Australia, and after graduation I had my most recent internship with a Nashville entertainment marketing agency. I had been applying to jobs since the previous January and throughout the peak of the pandemic before I found my way to Pierce Public Relations as a Digital Account Coordinator in February 2021. Here’s what I’ve learned from going from a seasoned intern to a full-time employee.
In my various internships, I didn’t have the responsibility to initiate projects, make true strategy decisions, or post to social media platforms on behalf of a client. Now, the responsibility is real. It’s mine, and if I make a mistake, it’s less of a learning curve and more taking heat. Yes, it’s still a first job and many of the tasks are new. If you’re lucky like I am, you get a boss that is gracious and uses these moments to teach. BUT, it’s definitely a different kind of sweat. Invest in some top-grade deodorant.
College professors, mentors, and parents have always said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” Internships are almost built for you to mess up, because you are learning. Everyone knows you probably haven’t worked anywhere before and understands that all of your work will need to be reviewed. In a job, that expectation is gone. You have proven you’re capable of getting a job, but now you have to prove you can handle the position. One thing that all jobs have in common, no matter what level, is that the learning never stops.
Most internships have a time limit. There may be an opportunity at the end of the tunnel but in three to five months, odds are you will be moving on to something new. Having a job alleviates (some) of that feeling of being temporary. You are officially part of the team. Regardless of your position, the work you put in officially reflects back on the company and your other team members. It’s an invisible pressure that I feel everyday and genuinely has made me ten times more conscious of the way I write, edit or design in my tasks. When I’ve done well, my team has done well. It is both motivating and frightening. But it’s the good kind of scary, the kind that makes you better.
As an intern you fly by the seat of your pants, bouncing from task to task, and saying yes to everything your supervisor asks of you. As an employee you still say ‘yes’ to everything, however, you are trusted to be in charge of your day and prioritize tasks accordingly. There is less “I’m a student, I can work these hours and am grateful for any and all opportunities including grabbing your vanilla latte” and more “Here’s what I have going on today.” I don’t have to wait for someone to need me. I have more flexibility and visibility in the company to be proactive and either get ahead on tasks or learn/brainstorm about upcoming projects.
I have had a number of incredible interactions from my internship teams and supervisors at my previous jobs. I got to attend my first company party, go out to dinner with coworkers and bond with my fellow interns over being in a new, and very exciting, city. But like everything else, the pandemic changed that. My last internship was fully remote, I met one team member one time. My current role is also remote, but I have luckily had more opportunities to connect with this team in-person a few times.
Connecting over Slack or Microsoft Teams is not for the faint of heart. You question every single word you type and it’s hard for your personality to come through, or maybe it comes through too much. Work calls are brief and strictly business with not enough time to get into: “Hey, do you like Star Wars? Have you heard the new Fruit Bats album? Do you too have an unhealthy obsession with Tik Tok?”
To be yourself in person is natural, to be yourself over Slack is intentional. Suddenly, you can edit anything you type. You can create the perfect professional phrase and lose your personality in the process. (Que the imposter syndrome.)
Looking back, my time as an intern holds some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in my life and I am forever grateful to those who took a chance on me. I got to learn at a rapid pace from some of the most highly esteemed professionals in the industry. Without these experiences, I would not be writing this right now. My main takeaway is that everything I felt as an intern is now heightened as an employee. Embrace the challenge. Buy the expensive deodorant. Be bold.
Carson Brown is a Digital Account Coordinator at Pierce Public Relations.