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Getting the Most Out of Your Agency Internship

Meet Devin Arrington, a junior at James Madison University, where he’s studying Media Arts and Design and — more importantly — is a bass player in the university symphony and jazz band.

When I learned that Devin plays bass, I leapt at the opportunity to sing one of my dad’s absolute favorite songs: Johnny Mercer’s “On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe.”

In this short video, Devin demonstrates the keys to getting the most out of an internship. He was always on time, open to collaboration, offered critical support to the team, and was willing to do whatever we requested. And most important, he made a lasting impression.

That moment you realize the intern plays bass. from Access on Vimeo.


So, you want to be an advertising creative and you’ve scored a sweet, sweet internship with an agency. This is your moment. Don’t screw it up. Instead, follow these quick tips for getting the very most out of your internship. Also, they are important skills you’ll need every day of your career.

Be prepared.

Make sure you understand what’s expected before you start. Make contact with whoever will be your handler and ask about what you’ll be doing and how to prepare for it. Are you going to be using any particular software? Make sure you’re comfortable with it. Bring a notebook and pens, a laptop if you have one, be awake and alert, and be on time.  

Get ready to generate ideas.

Sometimes interns are asked to think about creative challenges and offer their own ideas. It might be designs, headlines, or basic concepts. This doesn’t mean “come up with an idea.” This means come up with as many ideas as you can. Refine them. Delete the ideas that are going nowhere. And be ready to share the rest. Be brave. This is your chance to shine. And your internship mentors are there to support and encourage you. They will.

Ask questions.

Agencies are busy places. Creatives have deadlines and challenges galore and always look busy. So what? You’re there to learn and they’re there to make it happen. Asking questions is the quickest way to align your needs with the agency’s expectations. It also helps agency people evaluate what skills and knowledge you and your classmates are getting in your program. In the best-case scenario, agency folks report back to your school department and help faculty refine curricular offerings. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does the students benefit!

Work it.

You got the internship. Now it’s your job to get the most out of it. Immerse yourself. Pay attention. Interact. Keep moving. Ask what you can do to help.

For instance, if you’re spending a day on a video shoot, look for opportunities to lend a hand. If someone is moving something heavy, pick up an end of it. Get the camera person coffee. Review the script. Watch the process. And look for moments when you can talk to the different crew members about their job. Typically, it’s a good idea to stay on your feet the whole day. Your energy now will pay big dividends later.

Join in.

We took an intern out to lunch and at one point a coworker lamented that the restaurant had pizza, but not personal pan pizza. Our intern said, “Every pizza is a personal pan pizza if you just believe in yourself.” This one line made her not just memorable, but quotable. And it’s a great metaphor for life.

Jokes are an easy way to prepare yourself for general conversations around the agency. Occasionally you’ll be the center of attention. So, a good rule of thumb is to always have three good jokes on standby, jokes that can be told in any company. Keep them simple, but practice them so they’ll always be ready. This helps when meeting new people and making a good impression.

[BONUS: Agency people have kids. So, always have a few good jokes specifically for children ready as well. Jokes help you interact with kids, which always makes a good impression on their parents.]

Learn and grow.

You’re about to dive head first into an industry that you’re going to love. Your internship is the best way to gain valuable experience you can’t get in a classroom — and make important contacts in the industry. How much you absorb while you’re immersed in this world is completely up to you. It’s a unique opportunity to learn about yourself; take advantage of it. You’ll figure out what you like and what you don’t, who you are as a worker among others, and the truth about your shortcomings and strengths.

Finally, don’t take your internship for granted.

Treat your internship as vital job experience first and a credit requirement last.


Topics: Blog, Agency Life, Advertising, Creative Design