As the semester comes to a close and the new year approaches, it's natural to feel like graduation or whatever's next is right around the corner. As a result, I've been hearing more questions about when to start actively looking for an internship for the summer. While there's no one-size-fits-all answer, here are some tips to help you plan ahead and be in the best position to land an internship.
Note: We're focusing on internships (vs. jobs) because it's generally more common for agencies to hire interns right out of school (vs. entry-level positions that often require 1-2 years experience). For most graduating seniors, the goal is to find an internship that leads to being hired full-time.
For agencies with structured internship programs, find last year's deadline. By structured internship programs, I mean that the agency brings in a group of interns at the same time, and provides some structure to their time through talks, workshops, an intern project, etc. Through a little searching on agency websites and social, find last year's deadline—chances are it'll be around the same time this year. For example, Droga5's 2017 summer internship application went live in April, accepted people on a rolling basis, and ran from June 5 to August 4. RPA's Internship Program lists the deadlines for Fall, Spring and Summer semesters. Big brands like Disney are recruiting for Spring 2018 right now.
For agencies with unstructured internships, start looking two months before you want to start. Some agencies hire interns on an as-needed basis, meaning there's no set date that all interns start. In general, advertising isn't like management consulting, where the need and workload can be forecasted way in advance. Because things can change quickly, agencies often hire to fill an immediate need, meaning your timeline between applying and when you start working will be shorter. So if you have your heart set on working at an agency without an internship program, hit them up about two months before your ideal start date, whether or not they have an internship opening posted.
Speaking of—you don't have to wait for an open internship posting. Every agency handles recruitment differently, and some are less good about making their need for an intern known online. At the same time, companies are always looking to meet talented people so that when an opening arises, they can fill the position more quickly. You'll never know what the situation is until you reach out, so don't wait for an internship posting—especially if it's an agency you're really excited about.
Play the long game, and start making connections within agencies you're interested in now. While you may not have to start actively applying to internships for another few months, now's the time to build the network of humans who'll help you along your way. Identify people at agencies who are doing awesome things (it doesn't have to be the person who makes hiring decisions, or even the most senior person!), and reach out for an informational interview. Don't even call it that—all you're asking for is a quick call or email exchange to learn more about what they do, how they got there, and what it's like to work where they work. It won't immediately lead to an internship, but you'll start to make connections you can turn to when the time comes to apply.
The end of the year can make the future feel real/scary/stressful. But take a deep breath—you're not behind in any way. Start to identify the places you're interested in, mark any application deadlines in your calendar (if applicable), and reach out to someone who works there who can tell you more about what it's like. You'll be well set up to start applying when the time is right.
Thankful for you,