We hear “no” from assistants, managers, publicists, agents, associates, and a number of other gatekeepers. However, those “no’s” are rarely final with the right amount of hard work and persistence.
In fact, in many cases “no” simply means “not this way.” So, make your own way. That’s what I did.
In April of my sophomore year of college, I interviewed for a public relations internship with a WNBA team. I strutted out of the interview knowing I nailed it. I made the hiring panel laugh, cry and talk telenovelas. I was in there! Until one week later when I found out I wasn’t. I didn’t get the position. Crushed, I thanked the hiring manager for notifying me and asked him to keep me in mind—you know the spiel.
When one door closes another one opens.
Luckily, I had another internship offer for the summer. Though the internship offered did not align with my career aspiration to work in sports, I accepted it. I was in a crunch and the internship paid well. Still, I knew I would give up the paid, cushy gig in a minute in exchange for the arduous WNBA position.
AND you can open a closed door, that’s how doors work!
The hiring manager clearly told me that while they were impressed with me, the hiring team chose a recent grad with more experience. He encouraged me to apply again the following season but I decided to try one more time for that season.
I called my interviewer and asked if I could work as an unpaid intern. He said no. I counter offered my services and asked if I could assist on game days. He caved and with that I had two internships for the summer. The game day opportunity worked perfectly with my other internship because sports usually happen outside of conventional work hours (nights, weekends and holidays). Score.
During the first pre-season game my sole job was to make game credentials. In between the riveting tasks of laminating photo badges and assigning parking passes, I observed and reflected. I could slap the WNBA name on my resume and slide by or I could take the role I created and run with it. I chose the latter.
With a couple of internships under my belt, I understood my strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I had exposure to event planning and working with clients but I didn’t have much experience writing press releases. What better time to hone my PR strengths and weaknesses than in my DIY internship. I brainstormed what I wanted to do as well as areas of opportunity in terms of areas the organization needed help with such as media presence and online content.
I wanted to intern with a professional sports league in NYC the following summer therefore I also incorporated tasks that would help me get to the next step. I generated a meaningful list of job responsibilities that I would perform as the team’s first game day intern. Yes, I coined the term. This self-evaluation and observation of the existing work climate allowed me to foster a pitch to be reckoned with.
The Buy In
After I developed my pitch, I needed to get management on board. I looked for pitfalls and ensured that an outsourced company or individual wasn’t addressing the particular needs I listed. I identified key areas of opportunity and concretely explained how the game day intern was the solution. I pitched and I got management to buy into my vision.
Suddenly, I went from credential maker to valuable intern. I conducted player, coach and fan interviews. I wrote news releases and media advisories that were distributed on WNBA.com and in the area. I created and managed media lists and credentials for all home games. I aided in fan engagement and hosted Haitian earthquake survivors. I came in early and stayed late. And I enjoyed it.
The best part of a DIY internship is that you make the rules and can truly incorporate your desires and interests. I challenged myself to learn and contribute to other departments such as promotions and game entertainment. I held myself accountable to not only accomplish what I promised in my pitch but to surpass it.
Eventually my early arrivals and late departures were noticed. I started to get paid. Just kidding. I didn’t but I say this to make a point. Don’t expect to be paid. Make them want to pay you. As the internship end date approached, my manager requested that I finish out the season with the team. I went from a rejected candidate to a full-fledged contributor and team member. I gained experience, connections and a really cool interview story. In fact, the story about balancing my paid internship with a non-paid internship that I designed really resonated with my next internship interviewer. That next summer my goal of interning in NYC with a sports league came to fruition. I interned with the NBA in NYC.
I’d say turning my rejection into an opportunity was worth the call. Make the most out of every situation, or create it on your own.
Have a cool DIY internship story? Share with us @HerAgenda, #HerAgenda.