This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to intern with Sharp Communications, a boutique public relations firm based in New York City. I worked directly with the lifestyle team, assisting with client accounts including Lyft New York, Prudential Financial, Angry Orchard Hard Cider, and the Japanese candy brand HI-CHEW. As a communications major with broad and varying interests, my experience at Sharp provided a great opportunity to explore the type of communications work that interests me while building valuable professional relationships and learning useful skills that I can use in any communications field.
Looking back on my personal plan paper, it was very rewarding to see how the goals that I set for myself came to fruition during my time at Sharp. As for my first goal of developing useful professional skills like time management and learning about the ins and outs of working in an office, I definitely feel like a much more proficient worker after my time at Sharp. After three years of college life, where I was accustomed to only having to manage my schedule and having flexible work and school hours, it was important to me to learn how to be a considerate co-worker in a collaborative work environment. In my day-to-day routine, my responsibilities ranged from mundane administrative tasks to more sophisticated and long-term projects, and I had the freedom to decide when and for how long I would work on each project. From an office etiquette perspective, I was able to learn the ins and outs of working life in a still relaxed and semi-casual work environment. I made and confirmed appointments for my supervisors and clients, packaged and delivered product mailers, recorded and organized inventory, and assisted with tracking and updating the company server with new and relevant information. Following a short learning curve, these basic tasks helped me feel more comfortable and integrated into the office space, as I had to get to know the office space and protocols quite well. I even got a chance to get to know New York City better during my time at work. On several occasions throughout my internship, I was tasked with hand-delivering product samples like spiked seltzer or new ice-cream flavors to magazine editors all across Manhattan. I made my way from the Upper East Side to Battery Park all in an afternoon, visiting editors at Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, The Today Show, and many others. While delivering ice-cream was definitely a classic “intern” task, after jobs like these I felt like a real asset to my team because they trusted me to handle necessary but time-consuming tasks that they themselves could not complete. While it may sound slightly trivial, for someone with minimal experience working in an office, being able to complete these tasks on my own was a real vote of confidence. Additionally, while my research methodology did not change very much during my time at Sharp, I definitely feel like a have a more sophisticated and synthesized approach to presenting the information that I have gathered and including my own analysis. I had a great deal of practice with this when I researched reporters and news outlets for media lists and was able to advise whether or not a pitching effort that my team was working on would be successful or should be rethought. By the end of the summer, I felt much more prepared to converse in a professional and effective manner with my co-workers, manage and complete a variety of projects, and translate my study and work habits that I learned at Richmond to a job setting. The real crowning moment that really affirmed my value as an employee came when my supervisor asked me to extend my contract for a few more weeks and the promise of a place at Sharp Communications when I graduate should I wish. While I already felt proud of my work and my dedication to my internship, this final piece of validation was very satisfying.
Another goal I hoped to accomplish this summer was to gain more clarity in my career path. My time at Sharp certainly helped to put this into perspective. I was able to consciously observe and note the things that I want in the likely many jobs I will have over my lifetime, and the larger career that those jobs will develop into. As Dr. Soderlund said in class, while it is wonderful to have an internship experience that you love, it is equally important to discover the career path that does not interest you. While I know my skills will lend themselves to some job in communications, I do not believe that the work that Sharp does interests me enough to start my career there, or at an equivalent agency. While I greatly enjoyed working with my team, I was invested in the work because of Sharp’s work environment, not necessarily the day-to-day client work. Most of the accounts that I worked on were focused on product coverage. It was great to have the opportunity to pitch to outlets that I read regularly, like New York Magazine and Refinery29, but I could not bring myself to fully get invested in the products I was pitching. The clients Sharp engaged with could be extremely demanding at times, and while they were certainly well-established and respected companies, I struggled to understand how they could expect such consistently positive coverage on their products over more abstract and timely cultural stories that these target outlets focused on. Ultimately, when I was researching reporters, I became way more interested in the way that they wrote about wellness, culture, and politics than I was in pitching them about candy or hard cider. Through these experiences, I have now learned that I need to pursue a position in public relations that allows me to feel more invested in the societal issues that I care about, as many Jepson students and professors have modeled for me. My hope is to now look to bridge my two internship experiences, non-profit work and public relations, and find a position that plays to my strengths and brings fulfillment in both my professional and personal life.
As well as the many learning opportunities my position at Sharp offered, it was also a great opportunity to see the theories I had studied and written about during my time in Jepson on display in a real-world setting. My classes in Jepson definitely influenced how I viewed and analyzed office routines, especially when problems arose. As I have discussed in previous blog posts, Sharp Communications boasts a relatively casual work environment. Dress is informal, meetings can either be scheduled in small conference rooms or can happen deskside, and there are only a few dedicated offices for higher-level employees, meaning there was a more open floor plan where I worked right alongside my immediate and more senior supervisors on a daily basis. While this casual and highly collaborative workspace generally worked well for a young and creative agency like Sharp, I could see how sometimes the decreased focus on protocol and routine meant that there was sometimes confusion between colleagues about the assignment of tasks and the status of projects. This created some awkwardness and frustration, especially in moments of high stress or transition. My time in Theories and Models helped me understand the source of this frustration. Messick writes in his work on leadership theory that while good leaders do provide feelings of inclusion and belonging to their followers, the presence of a vision and direction is equally important to good leadership. Leaders at Sharp make a point of consistent collaboration with all employees, allowing them to feel fully integrated into the office and develop fulfilling personal friendships in addition to professional growth. However, if the leaders at Sharp do not create, promote, and execute their direction for any project, regardless of the size of the task, then it is difficult for the followers to effectively carry out group goals. This became very clear to me during my time at Sharp when some lower-level employees would start a project and either get confused or receive conflicting instructions which hindered their progress.
My studies on Gender and Leadership also informed how I understood how Sharp functioned. Unlike many other fields, the vast majority of leaders in my company were women. This allowed me to really observe the qualities of successful female leadership without pressures and influences of being compared to a more stereotypical (i.e. masculine) leadership style, a trend which I both studied from an academic lens and witnessed in my personal life. Fortunately for me, gender studies has been a fairly consistent topic during my time at Jepson, and oftentimes my professors would include discussions on current events related to women’s issues into our studies of the intersection between gender and leadership. Sharp’s female-heavy environment provided a unique addition to my reserve of knowledge on this subject. Through working closely with my multiple supervisors, I could watch how my co-workers could move from task-oriented to socio-emotional oriented strategies easily depending on the task. While a more democratic and nurturing style was certainly the most common, my boss was never afraid to assert authority and set some direct goals and expectations for our team when a more aggressive tactic was required. Overall, I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work at Sharp Communications, and I am very proud of my hard work and the skills I developed there. I never imagined that this experience would raise my confidence so dramatically. While I do not think I will return to Sharp following graduation, I look forward to keeping in contact with my newfound mentors, and for the first time in many years, I look at my uncertain career path with excitement instead of just fear, and I can’t wait to see where I end up.