Do YOU Have What it Takes?

Kurt Jacobson, a mentor of mine, believes the best way to grow professionally is to discus the lessons and skills you learn on a weekly, or even daily basis. He often covers the topic of how professional and academic experiences differ: In school, professors teach how to do things, but in a professional atmosphere you learn how things get done. To prove this point he sent me an article by Art Petty “Leadership Caffeine: Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told me When I First Became a Leader” and wrote me a note:

“Even as an intern and a college student observing and practicing leadership skills is helpful. You seem to have a leadership drive. Interestingly, most people don’t feel comfortable or want to be leaders.  As I have said before, knowing how to do things will get you the job, whatever the job. But, it’s how things get done that will help you be a leader.” –Kurt Jacobson, JayRay, a communications consultancy

Question: How can you position yourself as a leader if you’re not in a leadership role (e.g. an intern)?

Just because you are not an executive in a company does not mean that positioning yourself as a leader is off limits. Stepping outside of the classroom and into the office building can be intimidating, but don’t let that be your weakness. Your first “real” job can offer you the chance to position yourself as a powerful influence and key player.

In order to become an asset to a company you have to demonstrate a level of confidence that exudes leadership. Taking a leadership role is easier to come by if you have an outgoing, charismatic personality, but that is not essential. What is essential, however, is that people trust you and are inspired by your vision.

Being a 20-something female with determination, passion and excitement for what’s ahead, I was drawn to an article in Forbes Women titled “Learning to be a Leader.” It talks about Niki Leondakis, COO of Kimptom Hotels, and her struggles to become a strong, female leader in a male-dominated department.

Leondakis says, “I could have accountability and tough-mindedness and still be compassionate, I could be successful and effective and still be me.” She describes her current leadership style as inclusive; a key word that frequently comes up in discussions about female leadership. The article suggests that women tend to be relational while men tend to be transactional. I agree with the article, which argues that in today’s society there is a greater need to build relationships. This means that those leadership roles are begging females to fill them.

I will leave you with some tips that Forbes Women argues will sharpen your leadership skills:

Be Self-Aware

Determine what your personality and motives for your behavior are so you can begin to influence other people—after all that is what you are trying to accomplish as a leader.

Make Sure Your Values Align

To be successful at leading, it is imperative to believe in the company you work for and what it stands for. Practice what you preach because most people don’t respond well to a hypocrite. If you are confident in yourself and in the company’s mission, people will take notice, latch on to your ideas, and follow your example.

Pay attention to how your company identifies success

Keep your eyes and ears open; observe how others take on leadership roles and try to take note of who is being rewarded and why. Don’t necessarily copy what they do, but learn from them and try to adapt a piece or portion of how they lead and come up with your own version.

Ask questions

“Women typically communicate ideas through examples and anecdotes, according to organizational development consultant Joni Daniels. If you’re having trouble getting your point across this way, try to ask questions in order to initiate a dialogue with colleagues.”

But don’t ask about “feelings”

Instead of asking your team how they feel about something, ask for their reactions, thoughts or observations. People tend to respond differently when they hear the word “feelings.” Instead, by asking for their reactions or thoughts you are more likely to get an honest response.

Find balance

“The most successful team or organization combines the stereotypical male and female traits,” Leondakis says. “You need that balance of the male and female energy.” Pay attention to your co-workers’ styles; choose team members that will complement you and try to adapt to complement them.

Listen to your team but don’t be afraid to make a decision

Women typically seek a consensual agreement from their teams, even if they know what decision they are going to make from the start. Don’t be afraid to go with your gut or stand up for your choices even if you can’t get everyone on board.

Related Articles

What is a Gen-Y Leader? by Tyler J. Durbin

What Gives You the Right to be a Young Leader? By Rebecca Thorman

What Makes a Dynamic Leader? By Larraine Segil


Spit it out!


Don’t be afraid to say stupid ideas because they might lead to a genius idea. One of the benefits of working at a combined advertising, design and pr agency is the creativity and artistic projects. There is a lot of brainstorming involved in advertising and design. On my first day, I was asked to join in on one of these sessions. I had no idea what to expect, so for the most part I just sat there and took it all in. They were throwing out all sorts of crazy ideas that didn’t make any sense to me, but I learned that not making sense didn’t really matter. One of the owners is really big on lessons and figuring out what we can take away from each client or situation. The lesson he repeats most often is you have to get the stupid ideas out in order to find the brilliant ones. He believes that you will spend more time trying to come up with just one brilliant idea than you would if each person could spit out 15 horrible ones and go from there.

During my time here I have learned that there are two different thinking processes: Creative and logistical. Planning a complex task for me is more difficult than figuring out the overall concept and tone of a project. I would much rather carry out the plan than be the one to write out every single detail. I love brainstorming, but I am not a huge fan of researching the small details. It has been exciting exploring a side of my brain that I honestly didn’t think existed. I always used to say that I didn’t have a artistic bone in my body, which is true when it comes to drawing, but my imagination is still pretty wild.

Overall, I have learned to just spit out the stupid ideas as long as you can give a brief description of where you were going with the idea people will respect it. It’s better to have a few stupid ideas that led to a brilliant one than it is to just sit there and add nothing to the meeting.

More interesting intern experiences to come…

My Life as an Intern



*  For confidentiality purposes I am not going to talk about specific clients. I will write about things that I learn and share certain experiences that will help fellow or future interns. I hope you find this information helpful and possibly entertaining.

As I entered the building on my first day I was drawn to the catchy slogans and eye-grabbing décor. I didn’t quite know what to expect as I walked in at 8:14 a.m. Monday morning.  I noticed that I was the only person there– I was 15 minutes early. So, I sat down in the waiting area trying to appear composed and self-assured, while in reality I was sweating bullets and was trying not to forget my advisors name. I usually don’t get nervous when meeting with people, but this was my first day as an actual public relations intern and I felt like this was going to be eight weeks of interviewing; in addition to making copies, answering the phone, making coffee, and editing. In this economy it is in your best interest to network like hell and work above and beyond the bare minimum, so people remember you and are willing to refer you, and if you’re lucky maybe they will even hire you.

The first week was a little slow. People were still getting used to the idea that they had someone they could push their tedious work onto. Week one was filled with media contact lists and sitting in on strategy meetings. I am not complaining, but I was getting nervous that they might not have work for me. Wrong! Week two came, and all of a sudden people where asking me to join meetings with new clients and write news releases about  an upcoming grand opening. I was ecstatic! Then I had about 10 minutes to think about all the jobs I was given, and the amount of responsibility the agency was entrusting in me. I started to hyperventilate (not really, but my brain felt like it was). I completed a lot of research for new clients, which included looking into possibilities for special events, searching for potential sponsors, and brainstorming ideas for promotional event activities. Soon it was time to write the news release. I am confident in my ability to write a catchy news release, but this was not an assignment I could get back from my teacher and correct the suggested edits. I was told to write it and send it to the client for their comments. I went back to the basics and just started typing. I sent it to the client and to my surprise he loved it! My boss came up to the receptionist- who sits right next to me- and said: “We got a good one this time. I am going to use her for a lot of projects, she is talented!” Not to sound arrogant or pat myself on the back, but I have to give myself some credit. I passed the pop quiz and was now a trusted intern! You have to trust that you have the skills and be confident in your work; otherwise, they might regret hiring you.

Words of “Wisdom” from a fellow Intern

For the record, my daily tasks do not involving getting coffee, answering phones (mostly because I don’t know how) making copies or anything like that. This is a misconception, or at least it is at this agency. I actually do “work” for clients. I would suggest, to any of you who are interning while not getting paid and doing things like getting coffee, to talk with your advisor and ask for more challenging tasks. If they are not willing to help you I would question why they hired you as an intern.  Interns are there to help the office but also to learn. This doesn’t mean if there is no coffee that you can’t make some, or if there are copies that need to be made you refuse to do them, I am just saying that if you are not given the chance to work on projects then you are not gaining any experience and are basically volunteering to be an assistant. Most places are more than willing to help; sometimes it might require you stepping up and asking for work. Internships can be scary, but if you don’t take full advantage of the opportunity you might miss out on a future job, or a great reference.

Lesson # 1

Do your research. To help in figuring out the writing style of both the agency I intern for and the client I went through the company files and read old releases and material. As an intern you need to be able to figure out basic tasks on your own. The advisors are busy and having an intern requires a little extra work on their part, so constantly asking questions is not a good idea. That is not to say that you should never ask for help; you are an intern for a reason, if you don’t know how to do something definitely ask someone for help. The advisors are more than willing to help; you just want to demonstrate that you can be an independent learner as well. Good luck and I would love to hear about other internship experiences.

Pay Me for My Work, Please

798745_33936431As the end to spring term of my junior year draws near, I am faced with the realization that the beginning of my professional life is upon me. I have one year left to repeatedly sing the phrase “I love college” until I am released into the “real world.” In preparation for this transition, I decided to get an internship with a public relations agency for the summer. I assumed that finding a position would be easy enough: I couldn’t have been more wrong. People are resorting to internships because of the horrific job market. I decided that I would write about turning an internship into a full-time position for all of the soon-to-be graduates.


As an intern, it is your responsibility to show your supervisor that you deserve to be there and you have what it takes, both personally and professionally, to fit in with the fast-paced environment.


I was asked by my soon-to-be supervisor to identify goals that I want to accomplish during my summer internship. I think this is a great way to improve skills and gain experience in a variety of areas. Also, it lets your co-workers know what projects to include you in on to help you achieve your goals. Internships are designed to prepare students for future jobs and careers.


Once you have identified your responsibilities and you understand what is expected, demonstrate your initiatives and your ability to work both independently and as part of a team. Developing connections while you are still in school will give you a jump start in developing a professional network.  Once you develop a strong networking group, you can develop a better sense of what it takes to thrive in the industry.


Let the office know that you can get the work done at all costs. Remaining positive will give your employer assurance that you will become a valuable member of the team if hired as an employee. Not every aspect of your dream job is going to be glamorous, especially in the first few years after college, but hang in there.


Talking with employers about your performance opens opportunities for improvement. Feedback and input can be crucial in helping you to improve your job performance. It also lets the company know that you care about your performance and that you value their opinion.


When you first start, your employer will confront you with tedious tasks: deal with it. Once your employer trusts that you can handle more responsibility, you will be able to work on more challenging projects. Make sure you demonstrate that you can handle the small stuff first, or you might not receive the more challenging projects.


Illustrating your interest in developing new knowledge and skills relevant to the position will boost your employer’s confidence in your willingness and initiative to do a good job. Attend field-related seminars offered in or around your city; it will improve your knowledge of the business and show your coworkers you are serious about your professional life. Also, join a professional association if possible. They provide an excellent opportunity to meet people currently working in the field.


If you do not have enough work to do be sure to check with your supervisor to see if there is something you can do. There will always be more work, so don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t wait around for projects, be proactive and ask if anyone needs help or has an extra project you can work on.


Having a mentor will help to make the internship experience less stressful. A mentor can provide you with someone to learn from and a place to get your questions answered. Seek out someone you trust and don’t be afraid to ask questions on ways you can improve your performance.


The first few years after college are going to be tough. Stay positive. Employers know that this is a difficult time, so prove yourself and don’t get discouraged. People are more willing to help than you think; ask for help when needed. If you show initiative and interest in the company, you have a better chance of turning the internship into a career.

Good luck, and congratulations to the graduating class of 2009.