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Internships - Turn your unpaid work experience into your dream job by mastering these 7 simple traits

mandi davies May 10, 2019


My own journey in marketing started later in life after ten years in the workforce, firstly in a primary school library followed by the mines.


At age 27 I decided I couldn’t do the slaving for money life anymore – and that events was the career for me. After applying for a few local jobs, and not hearing back, I decided to make the dreaded call to a missed opportunity. What was wrong with me?


After a brief discussion I was abruptly told “You don’t have a degree”, and that was enough for me to march into my dirty donga office and hand in my resignation – I was off to school.


It took two weeks at university to realise events wasn’t the career for me either. I was in a room filled of 18 year old’s with buzzing energy and the desire to work all over the world. I’d be leaving a 30 year old – I’d be looking to settle down by then, wouldn’t I?


So, I side-stepped into a marketing major – an industry I’d never given a thought. I had no connections, no experience and to be honest – I had to google what the hell it meant!


What was I doing?


Seven months into studying and I needed to earn some money, so I started a side hustle offering administration and basic marketing services to businesses in the hair and beauty industry. As my clients grew I needed to know more – I wasn't learning enough practical application at uni to service them.


I began sourcing external opportunities to learn, paying to upskill in social media advertising and attending small business events. It was here I met Nina, at a free AMI coaching session, I scoured the menu of marketers and landed at “Nina Christian – Digital Marketing”. She’ll do, I thought.


Six months later an opportunity at university came on my radar - to complete a Workplace Integrated Learning (WIL) subject and get credit points in return. School’s never been my thing and I was excited by the idea of learning hands on rather than from the text book.


I decided then I wanted to learn from the best. Nina had always remained front of mind from that day – so I reached out, the worst she could do was say no.


But she didn’t! I was offered a six-month internship, and I made a commitment then to bring my absolute best.


Fast forward a few years, and I now work as a Marketing Manager at Nina’s award winning agency – Braveda. I’ve worked on high-profile commercial projects, managed teams of marketers and best yet – I have the privilege of working with other young marketers in the exact same position as I a few short years ago – desperate to start their careers and make something of themselves.



Recently, I sat down with Nina and asked her to list the top qualities she looks for in an intern, what was it she saw in me?


The top qualities she listed take no skill at all – in fact 75% of employers say they look at determination, focus and passion as the top qualities an individual can bring to their job. 


Of course, it’s important to showcase your talents and technical skills too – that goes without saying. But if an employer has two candidates for a position and they both have similar experience – the decision maker will always be the individual with the best qualities.


Often when hiring an intern, companies aren’t simply trying to fill a position. They want to build ongoing pipelines, hire a potential employee who they can teach the technical skills the job requires.


So, how do you become a desirable intern, when you’ve got no experience?

Here’s the top seven traits you should master, to impress your boss and land your dream marketing role.


  1. Be Reliable 


We want to know you’re going to get to work on time, consistently do your job to the best of your ability and stay in the job for longer than a few weeks.


When I was working in recruiting at the mines we would forever be on the hunt for new workers – everyone wanted to work in the mines, but no one wanted to do the work.


Landing an internship in marketing is a way to gain real world experience and try out the role to make sure it's the right fit for you. It’s also an opportunity to gain the upper hand on your peers – making you a more desirable candidate when it comes time to apply for your dream job.


If you don’t meet deadlines and don’t follow though when you say you’ll do something, submit work that's totally shabby, whine or don’t show up to your internship on time – it shows you aren’t reliable and don’t really appreciate the opportunity you’ve been given.


Not the impression you want to give to the person who could potentially turn your work experience into your dream marketing role – either with them or one of their contacts.



  1. Show Initiative


We want people who show initiative. The ability to be resourceful and work without always being told what to do requires resilience, determination and proves you will be capable of growing and developing in your role.


Your ability to find and solve problems, to meet and rise to challenges is important. We need to see you can handle sticky situations, that you’re willing to do more than required, and that you’re willing to speak up and share your ideas.


  1. Be Accountable


Accountability is important to a business’ success as a whole, and every employee no matter what position are equally responsible for aiding in the success of the company – that includes interns.


On the mine site ‘Pump Crew’ were responsible for doing the one percenters - a lot like interns. They would make sure the stop signs were up or the water was pumping out of the pit, and it was the one percenters that helped achieve daily production goals and got us one step closer to our long term target - completing mining production with our entire team returning home safe to their families at the end of the job.


Just like a well-oiled mining team (see what I did there ;)) – marketers at all levels need to be accountable to achieve team goals. As an intern you aren’t going to have a syllabus that outlines your deadlines, so it’s up to you to organise your time and keep yourself accountable.


If you can prove your ability to prioritise responsibilities and show up for work on time, you’re going to be leaps ahead of the rest. 


  1. Be Teachable


We don’t care that you went to a top-rated university and graduated with honours in marketing. Truly! We don’t care what your ATAR was in High School. I mean sure, those things are great! But it’s not what makes you a desirable marketer.


Let me be clear – I was a high school drop out, middle of the range mature-aged graduate with a mining administration background.


Now? I’m a Marketing Manager at Braveda - named "Best Marketing Agency" at the 2018 Australian Marketing Excellence Awards.


How did I get here?


I’m teachable – and my hunger to learn runs deep. Employers want to know if you are teachable too. If you know how to listen. If you can take something, learn it, and then improve it.


We’re looking for the kind of interns that have a willingness to learn, make mistakes, be corrected, take feedback on board and then action it.


How you respond to feedback when making a mistake is highly important – you need to be willing and able to address your weaknesses.


  1. Demonstrate good communication


It’s crucial that you be an effective communicator, wherever you work in life. Your ability to get your point across can be the difference between sealing a deal or completely missing out on an important opportunity.


Interns often lack the confidence to ask for further direction from their superiors, and therefore can become stuck on tasks. Just imagine being that pit crew worker setting out the signs for circuit, and not clarifying whether the turn was a left or right. That inability to communicate, to clarify the finer details could land someone with a serious injury, or worse – dead!


Now I get that marketing’s a little different, and (hopefully) no lack of communication is going to land Stacey on the desk next door in hospital. But, your ability to write and speak professionally, to translate ideas and convey information is key, whether it’s with your supervisor, co-workers or clients.


Good communicators understand their own strengths and weaknesses, so they know how to best contribute, as well as how to bring out the best in the others around them.


Continually communicating with your team and keeping them up to date with what you’re working on and how the task is going will show you’re pro-active, capable and competent. 



  1. Become a Lifelong Learner


Formal education is something we all have to go through to get a degree, but the knowledge it offers isn’t always that practical in the real world. Lifelong learners recognise the importance of growth, so they never settle for what they currently know – they seek improvement, upskilling and training in their own time.

Marketing is a rapidly evolving landscape and we’re expected to be lifelong learners nowadays so that we can contribute new ideas and insights.


Ever heard the saying “If you aren’t growing, you’re dying”? Well, it’s true!


When I took that unpaid internship for six months, I was running my own side hustle, working part time in a retail store and studying three other subjects at uni. It was a juggling act to say the least, my personal life took a back step and I lived and breathed work (unpaid and paid).

If I hadn’t been so eager to upskill, I never would have made the sacrifice to commit to six months of unpaid work experience. And if I hadn’t made that commitment, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, working in a job that I love and feel deeply passionate about.


  1. Be Meticulous 


Nowadays, 99% of applicants say they have a strong attention to detail. Most say it because they aspire to do so, but never actually follow through – and it shows!


If you really care about your career, you’ll care enough to do a quality job of the tasks you’re set as an intern – that means putting in 100%, every day. Trust me when I say, if you do this, you will shine!


If you’re struggling with a task, ask a colleague or someone on the team that can help you. Have your work proof read by a peer or someone you can trust before sending it to your manager.


Bad spelling, poor formatting and a sloppy effort reflects on your level of professionalism and shows you don’t actually care about the task at hand or the opportunity you’ve been given. Think twice before clicking send when submitting your work – would you proudly show it off in an interview?


Employers don’t expect interns to come with years of technical skill experience and we certainly don’t expect you to have all the answers. What we do expect is that you give it your absolute best.


By mastering these simple seven traits you are demonstrating to employers that you’re committed to be the best that you can be. That you appreciate their commitment of time and financial responsibility to help you become the best marketer you can be.


I’d love to hear about internships that changed lives – I know I’m not the only one out there.

If you have any questions about my journey – or how to go about getting an experience like mine, reach out to me at [email protected]


I love helping young marketers just like you.




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