The Role of a Marketing Intern

Interns are often tasked with developing a strategy without proper guidance or a clear understanding of the brand.

Summer is approaching. Marketing students are looking for full-time jobs or internship opportunities...and companies are methodically crafting their job descriptions with hopes of attracting top talent.

In doing so, companies are encountering common questions, like:

  • How do I know if I should I hire an intern?

  • Where do I go about finding an intern?

  • What does an ideal candidate look like?

  • How can I ensure that I am attracting quality interns to my organization?

When to Hire an Intern

Firms should only hire an intern if the company is:

Sometimes companies task an inexperienced intern to head main departments without properly training them.
  1. Clear about their business goals.

    If a business is considering hiring an unpaid intern to file paperwork or focus solely on spreadsheets, then the company is not giving the intern the best exposure to the business or marketing field. Companies should only hire a marketing intern if a mutual benefit exists.

    Determining whether or not that mutual benefit exists depends on companies knowing their goals for the quarter and having a clear vision on how the intern could fit into accomplishing those goals. Before hiring, companies should map out a specific strategy with objectives for the entire organization, and then have a discussion about how the intern can offer a new and fresh perspective on certain elements of that strategy.

  2. Able to accept the responsibility of training and guiding an intern through an internship program.

    An intern’s success or failure largely depends on the company’s commitment to investing the time and resources required to make the intern truly effective. Because it takes time to train and onboard an intern properly, it’s important to make sure he or she is the right cultural fit and could potentially stay full-time. An investment in a bad intern wastes the company’s time and resources - so make the search count.

    In order to utilize a marketing intern to their full potential, the firm should have a person dedicated to managing the intern. This person should be knowledgeable about business operations and able to effectively answer any questions posed by the intern.

    Since most interns are fresh out of school and new to the marketing industry, they should ease into their role with adequate oversight. Handing over complete responsibility of important tasks like managing the entire social media strategy or creative content creation to an inexperienced intern is a recipe for disaster.

Where to Find a Qualified Marketing Intern

“It's very similar to sourcing for full-time candidates. We've posted internship positions on LinkedIn, sought referrals, met candidates through networking organizations like AIMA or AMA, and have posted internship positions through campus career portals.”

- Alexa Ellis, VP Marketing Implementation & Project Management (Swarm Agency)

Assuming most interns are new graduates, companies can capitalize on meeting prospects for internship positions at college or university job fairs. Job fairs are an excellent opportunity for candidates to make a first impression and for companies to assess if an interview should take place. Attending marketing-specific job fairs will help narrow down the candidate pool to marketing-focused, experienced, and passionate students. At the end of the day, job fairs maximize the quantity of candidates a company is exposed to in the shortest amount of time.

Firms can also find interns on college and university job boards. It may cost a small fee to post on the job board, but the more exposure the listing gets, the bigger the pool of applicants the company has to select from.

When using online job listings, companies need to be honest about the intern’s tasks. Setting clear expectations up front will lead to the right candidate applying.

Other ways to connect with interns:

  • Online Job Boards - Handshake, LinkedIn, Zip Recruiter, and Simply Hired are all online job boards that can help companies connect with more candidates.

  • Networking Events - Professional organizations like the American Marketing Association (AMA), the American Advertising Federation (AAF), etc. often have young volunteers present at events or have their own student-run organizations. Conduct research about university organizations in your city to see if your company can speak in a class or meeting. This also applies to marketing focused fraternities like Pi Sigma Epsilon. AgencySparks hosts SparkSouth - a marketing student conference where young marketers in Atlanta learn about brand, agency, and entrepreneurial paths from professional marketers.

  • Referrals - Sometimes the best candidates come from a trusted source. When searching for an intern, post application inquiries to personal social media accounts or throughout the company to see if someone knows a qualified candidate.

“Potential interns usually find us; through our website, LinkedIn or referrals from connections to DEFINITION 6.”

- Julia Gluck, Human Resources Director (DEFINITION 6)

“While we actively recruit interns from university and association talent pools, we’ve found that some of our most successful interns come as referrals from our various relationships. The best part is that these referrals often have a unique understanding of what makes us different – and subsequently, what kinds of interns would thrive in our environment.”

- Nicole Wedekind, Account Director (Modo Modo Agency)

What Makes an Ideal Intern Candidate

When looking for a marketing intern, or filling any marketing position, companies need to revisit their organizational values prior to crafting their interview questions. Candidates will have prepared answers for the most common interview questions, so it’s helpful to ask creative or unique interview questions to get the full measure of a candidate.

“We select our interns the same way we consider employees who are joining us full-time. Depending on the position the potential intern might do a face to face interview with multiple team members from our client management group to project management and creative. We bring on interns who are curious go-getters, unafraid of being proactive and are excited to get as much experience under their belts as possible!”

- Julia Gluck, Human Resources Director (DEFINITION 6)

“If we have a fantastic intern, we'd like to offer them a full-time position at some point, so we take the interview process very seriously. We're looking for culture fit, demonstration of passion for digital marketing, and signs that the intern is highly motivated.”

- Alexa Ellis, VP Marketing Implementation & Project Management (Swarm Agency)

There are important qualities for any marketing intern to possess - regardless of company:

  1. Curiosity

    A skill set can be taught to anyone… but a positive, eager, and curious mindset cannot. An internship is all about learning - so any intern must be innately motivated to learn. Encourage interviewees to ask questions, introduce them to multiple members of the team, and take note of how each candidate approaches opportunities and challenges.

  2. Leadership

    A fresh perspective is a huge benefit of having an intern. However, gaining value from that fresh perspective requires interns to take initiative. Companies should look for a candidate who carries themselves well professionally and is not afraid to speak their mind in a respectful way, as these are indicators of leadership potential.

  3. General Marketing Knowledge

    Since training an intern will already take time away from the team, building someone from the ground up will be even more exhausting - so be sure to hire someone who has a general understanding of marketing. While not all candidates will have a portfolio website, companies can ask for things like:

  • Writing samples

  • Social media profiles

  • Previous marketing class projects and/or presentations

  • Creative samples

“Our selection process heavily emphasizes fit – we work to find alignment with our core values: we want an intern who brings the same curiosity and enthusiasm as the rest of the team. We expect the intern experience to be a learning process, and it’s more important that our interns have an appetite to dig into and learn about our clients and our agency, rather than a certain set of pre-existing skills.”

- Nicole Wedekind, Account Director (Modo Modo Agency)

What to Offer in a Marketing Internship

Without the brand knowledge or proper training, sometimes companies can task an intern to handle tasks they are not equipped for. Thoroughly train the staff and have a dedicated intern manager

Again, any marketing internship needs to serve both the company and intern. Pepper the following focuses into intern tasks to ensure interns are getting the most value:

  1. Different Disciplines

    Marketing encompasses multiple departments from SEO to social to creative to strategy to email automation - introduce the intern to multiple departments and tasks - even if it’s at a very general level. Marketing students often don’t know what they want to do until they try the different disciplines of marketing… so even if they aren’t a “graphic designer,” a brief introduction to the Adobe suite will expand their knowledge and equip them for future projects if the team ever needs something done fast.

  2. High Productivity

    An intern who is not challenged often becomes disengaged. To prevent this, consider crafting an “intern project” that the intern turns to when they finish their core tasks, and can later use as part of their portfolio.

  3. Networking

    Take the intern to outside events to meet other people in the field. This could inspire them to pursue a certain path in marketing, invoke new outlooks on current processes, or connect them to the marketing world. Investing in their relationships now could benefit the company in the long-run.

  4. Independence

    Teaching interns how to lead, develop, and even fail in their own projects will lead to immense growth.  Allowing an intern to have full control of a specific project (again, nothing too critical to the business!) will not only give them a real stake in the success or failure of that project, but it will also help company leadership see the full potential of the intern/whether or not he or she is worth hiring down the road.

Speaking of interns, AgencySparks is looking to hire a summer intern! Our internship program offers exposure to brand-side marketing, agency-side marketing, as well as hands-on experience in many areas of marketing. We are so excited to pour as much marketing knowledge, work experience, and networking as we can into the eager candidates - so please spread the word! Applications will be accepted until March 15th.

If you’re an intern looking for an internship program but don’t know where to start, read The Marketing Career Path to determine multiple marketing career opportunities.