Fall Break Princeternship: Reflection and Advice

Normally, you would be hard pressed to find me up before the sun rises -- especially over Princeton’s fall break. But there I was, bagel in hand, ready to board a bus heading into the city. As part of the 2018 Fall Princeternship program, nine students and I participated in the Media and Marketing Trek, hosted by Career Services, with the intent of providing students a glimpse into various industries. During that trip, we spoke to alumni and representatives of several agencies, including Horizon Media, Edelman, and Jack Morton. The noncommittal nature of a day trip into the city, brief Q & A panels, and office tours is supposed to facilitate exploration and provide students with a taste of the industry.

Marketing, to me, has always seemed like a “soft” side of business, the same way that psychology might be considered a soft science. That being said, after exposure to the different companies, the many departments within the companies, and the numerous roles available, it became readily apparent that marketing is a far more complex and rooted science than it might be given credit. For one, more and more companies are turning to using analytics to drive their marketing strategies and working with third party vendors to pinpoint specific audiences to target. While consumers reward companies who are more creative, engaging, and experiential, agencies must toe the line of being efficient in their spending and take care not to overwhelm and irritate consumers.

Beyond my own experiences and new insight into market trends, through this trip and the briefing that Career Services provided, I’ve compiled some general advice for students looking to pursue a Princeternship or similar opportunity:

Prepare: It's incredibly helpful and valuable to research the companies that you’re visiting, regardless of the nature of the trip. While it isn’t hard to find out what a company does, you waste a lot of time asking questions that could have been answered through a quick search. Moreover, it helps to prepare questions to ask representatives when they open the floor for questions (which they always do). It's also important to demonstrate that you’re interested in what they do, not simply out of sheer politeness, but to show that you’re a competent and inquisitive person, qualities that are valued, in case you’re hoping to find a job with that company in the future.

Compare: The treks that Princeton has are designed to be thematic, making it easier to compare the different companies among each other. We were able to learn about a lot of the nuances that are inherent to different companies, even within the same industry. For example, the breadth of opportunities within marketing, from experiential events to quantitative consumer research to PR for financial services, had been aspects of marketing that I have never even considered. It was also helpful to see the vibe that each office had, including how large the agencies are and what I might be more comfortable in terms of personally.

Pitch: Absolutely come with a 3-4 sentence elevator pitch that you can use to introduce yourself. When you inevitably go around in a circle to introduce yourself, you’ll want to look prepared and be interesting (instead of rehashing what everyone else has said). It is especially helpful to tailor your elevator pitch to something that is unique to each company and possibly frame it as an area that you want to learn more about. For example, “Hi, my name is [x name]. I’m a freshman at [x college], hoping to concentrate in [x major]. I am especially interested in [x divisions] at [x company] and wanted to learn more about [x interests].”

Follow-up: I find that this is the most difficult aspect of the trip, and it happens to be advice that I hope I will take myself. Throughout the day, you should try and get the contact information for the people that you meet. If you’re excited about the work that they do and want to be more involved, it’s helpful to have a contact that you can go to, who might be able to give you more specific information about internship opportunities. Moreover, it is simply good practice to send a “thank you” for someone who has taken the time out of their day to meet and show you around.

While the non-committal nature of the trip is helpful for students who are not ready to obligate themselves to an eight week internship to learn about an industry, the duration of the trip also makes it difficult to learn about an industry in a meaningful way. Ultimately, the career trek, like any other opportunity, is what you make of it.