How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Land a Public Relations Internship

I want to start off by acknowledging the fact that stepping out of your comfort zone is scary; if it weren’t scary, then you would be comfortable putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. However, when it comes to going out and finding that perfect internship, the discomfort is temporary. I also want to note that the searching, applying, and interviewing process of an internship can be a little intimidating as well. Luckily for you, I am going to painlessly guide you through the process of stepping out of your comfort zone, so that you can land yourself an internship in Public Relations.

Step 1: Realizing Your Comfort Zone isn’t Realistic

Fargo, North Dakota Turkey Pedestrian
Fargo, North Dakota Turkey Pedestrian

I come from a town in North Dakota called Fargo, kind of like the movie as in they have the same name, but that’s about where the similarities end. One thing you need to know about Fargo is that while there are some impressive and thriving industries, public relations is not one of them. Sure Fargo may have three PR firms, but there are also three large colleges in the area with an abundance of mass communications graduates each year. I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to successfully pursue the kind of career I wanted to in Fargo. If you come from a small-to-medium sized town like I do, you may find yourself in a similar predicament.

Step 2: The Totally Natural Panic

Comfort Zone
Comfort Zone

After this realization, I had a minor panic attack, which is completely normal. This panic came from a mixture of fears brought on by my impending graduation, the realization that the tedious schedule I had become so accustomed to was ending, as was my time in the area I had spent most of my life. This mild to moderate panic attack was followed by a feeling of excitement; the unknown became exciting as opposed to daunting and scary. The only logical comparison I can make is to when Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, saw the rabbit hole; at first it just looked like a dark infinite hole, but once she got past that, it became a world where anything was possible.

Step 3: How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Travel Map Fargo to Phoenix, Arizona
Travel Map Fargo to Phoenix, Arizona

My ticket out of Fargo came in the form of this Zion & Zion internship. After I had my totally natural panic attack, I did some serious searching for an out of state internship. Originally, I had looked at cities closer to home simply for the convenience. However, for some reason I was too paralyzed by fear to apply. Then I was hit with some stroke of luck and found Zion & Zion; they seemed like a pretty cool place with a fun atmosphere. I also really liked the range of clients they had.

I have come to find that you can often get put into a box of a certain type of client, whereas with Zion & Zion, you get to work with all kinds of clients. So I looked at their application, and at first, I got a little spooked. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s later I decided I would go for it. You wouldn’t believe my surprise when I got an email asking if I could interview the following week. It just so happened I was flying down with my family for a little vacation that week as well! It seemed too good to be true, so I interviewed, and was completely blown away by everything. Not just by Zion & Zion but by the drastic changes from Fargo. The day after my interview, I was offered the internship, and I happily accepted. After this I realized that I was going to have to relocate, and while it seemed scary for maybe a whole minute and a half, the fear was quickly wiped away by excitement.

Once you consciously decide that you want to do something, and you focus on the positives, stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t as scary as it seems. With the help of family and friends, I packed up, drove off and haven’t looked back since.

Tucson or Los Angeles
Tucson or Los Angeles

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when the time comes for you to step out of your comfort zone:

  1. Figure out what your boundaries are, what you are comfortable with and what is pushing them.
  2. Start searching outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s for a job, school or an internship. Although you might not be comfortable with the distance or differences at first, you’ll never know what’s out there if you don’t look.
  3. Visit the area if you get the chance. This will give you a better idea of the area, and you can start to imagine what life would be like if you chose to relocate.
  4. If you’re in the final debate over whether you can make the leap or not, one thing to keep in mind is you can always go back.

Step 4: The Search for the Internship

Public Relations Student Society of America
Public Relations Student Society of America

So you’ve decided it’s time to find an internship, now comes the fun part, the search.

Some important things you need to decide pre-search include:

  • How far you’re willing to go—both geographically and effort wise.
  • What kind of company you want to work for: agency, in-house, or non-profit.
  • How soon you are willing to start, or how long you’re willing to wait.

Once you logically and realistically answer the above questions, begin searching by using all of the resources that you have available.

Here’s a list of a few resources to use during your search:

  • Teachers—I often think teachers are forgotten about, but they have tons of connections and great advice; take in as much information as you can from them. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Publications that relate to your career field. For instance, if you are in the Public Relations field, PR Week, PR News, and PR Daily are publications that can help you learn about potential employers and keep you up to date on what is going on in the PR world. For general publications, Forbes and Ranking Arizona are both great options.
  • If you are in a club, use their resources. For example, when I was in PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) all members were invited to events where there was a learning opportunity or a networking opportunity, often times both. There are also “job” or “career” pages on the websites of these clubs where new jobs are posted on a regular basis.

Here is a quick list of the websites mentioned above:

Once you find an internship you want to apply for, make sure your resume is up to date and begin writing your cover letter. This can seem a little nerve racking and about as fun as watching paint dry, but it’s something you need to do, so do what you can to have fun with it. There are three books I look through before I update my resume and cover letter. When these books are used together, they help provide the confidence you need and the assistance of phrases to help get your points across.

The third is by the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Kate White, and is titled, “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This.” The books by Michael Betrus are idea books, while the book by Kate White is a motivation enhancer.

Step 5: How to Nail Your Interview

Study Time
Study Time

Congratulations, you landed an interview, so now what? Well first off be very excited, somehow the awesome resume and cover letter you wrote managed to grab someone’s attention. There are a few things you now need to do to prepare yourself for the interview.

  1. Research, research, research. I cannot stress this point enough. Do you want to be the person who when asked, “What about our company stood out to you?” or “What made you want to apply?” responds with “Uhhhh…what do you do again?” or “Well the fact that you’re hiring and I need money and/or experience.” This will embarrass you and mortify the interviewer. Research and plan ahead so that you have honest and impressive answers to these types of questions.
  2. Brush up on your skills. I had heard a rumor that some companies give a test before or after the interview. You can imagine the horror of realizing this is not a rumor, but a cold hard fact. More likely than not, you will be given a test. Sometimes it’s a short test, and other times it may be the size of a small novel. I’m going to assume you’re not a mind reader, therefore you will not know what they are going to ask. My best advice is to brush up on the basics and research and practice performing tasks that you haven’t done in a while.
  3. Prepare questions. This goes hand in hand with the research portion, but it’s your chance to get some questions, which you should have, answered. Asking insightful and meaningful questions will help you look confident in and interested in front of your interviewer, which is always a plus.

Here are some of my go-to questions to ask in an interview:

  • Is there an opportunity to join the company full-time after the internship?
  • What would my duties include/What would my day look like?
  • How many clients does an intern usually work with during the duration of the internship?
  • Is there the opportunity for cross-training?
  • How would you describe the company culture?
  • It’s a good idea to know if there is a chance for hiring after the internship, although I would not make this a make-it or break-it for whether you accept the position if offered. Keep in mind internships are all about the experience; focus on the now and the skills you can acquire.
  • You’re going to want to know whether you’re going to learn something new, or whether you’re going to be getting coffee for everyone all day, every day.
  • This question is just fun to know, however if you are someone that either loves or hates variety, this could carry some weight with you.
  • When interning, have the goal to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible. If a company gives the opportunity to cross-train, take it.
  • This is a question that should carry a lot of weight. If the culture and you do not mix, then you’re probably going to be miserable which will take all of the fun out of the internship, and frankly, a happy worker tends to do better work. For instance, this is what a fun company culture looks like.

So you’ve prepared yourself, and now it’s the day of the interview. Here are some final tips to ensure that you land the internship.

Interview Time
Interview Time
  • Dress professionally. Even if your future co-workers are not, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and it shows respect. It also proves that you took the time and really care about how you present yourself.
  • Prepare a thank you card in advance. After your interview, write something memorable from your conversations, perhaps something you bonded over. That way they’ll have you in their head just a few short days after your interview.
  • Relax. This might seem impossible; trust me, I know how nerve racking interviews can be, but if you try to relax a little, you’ll have a better chance of connecting with your interviewer and you’ll feel more confident.

Congratulations, you just landed yourself an internship!

 Closing Thoughts

I have come to find that the feeling of being scared is often a cover for excitement; the nervousness that comes with that excitement could be confused with nervousness of fear. The things we think we are afraid of are usually things that we need to do the most.

Charles F. Glassman, author of “Brain Drain—The Breakthrough That Will Change Your Life,” sums it up pretty well in a quote from his book. In the book, Glassman says

Fear and anxiety many times indicates that we are moving in a positive direction, out of the safe confines of our comfort zone, and in the direction of our true purpose.

I hope you’re ready to be an awesome new intern somewhere now that you have learned how to land it! Don’t worry; I know you’ll be great, as long as you appreciate it and do everything in your power to learn as much as you possibly can. If you wake up every day and think of it as a learning experience, it will be just that.

For even more helpful tips on internships, be sure to check out my fellow intern’s article titled, How to Find the Right Internship.