Are you a hiring manager responsible for building a marketing team? An internship program should not be an afterthought. Take the time to select candidates and support interns effectively to be productive team members and get a good start on their career.
Today’s guest is Owen Piehl, CoSchedule intern, who shares insights about how to get an internship for a specific role with limited experience. Owen talks about what college students and hiring managers need to know to make marketing internships successful.
“I started out as the social media intern. That’s what I got hired on as with little social media experience, I might add, and then now I’ve made the transfer over to the content editor intern.” Owen Piehl
“I was looking for something where I could get into marketing a little bit, learn a little more about just how marketing teams work. As I was researching, I saw a few openings for CoSchedule, and I did some research on the company.” Owen Piehl
“(Owen) You chose to focus on how your skills fit the role, rather than how your experience fit the description.” Ben Sailer
“Ask yourself what skills you have right now that might transfer. Combine that with a dedication to never stop learning, and you just might surprise yourself with what you can achieve.” Ben Sailer
“One thing I really appreciate about CoSchedule is it’s very results oriented.” Owen Piehl
What College Students and Hiring Managers Need to Know to Make Marketing Internships Successful With Owen Piehl From CoSchedule [AMP 233]
Ben: Hey, Owen. How’s it going this afternoon?
Owen: I’m doing well, Ben. How are you?
Ben: I’m not too bad. I’ve got my microphone issues.
Owen: Oh yeah. I’ve got it all worked out though.
Ben: I have a new MacBook Air. It’s a different type of input via Thunderbolt cable. Got it straightened out though. This is the first time that we have ever had a CoSchedule intern on the show.
Owen: Wow, I’m honored.
Ben: You’re the first. To kick things off here, how long have you been here now? It’s been since January, right?
Owen: Yeah, I started in January. I’ve been here for a few months now. I started out as a social media intern. That’s what I got hired on as with little social media experience I might add. Now I’ve made the transfer to the content editor intern. I’ve been going that just for about a week now. That’s going well. I’ve enjoyed my time so far, definitely.
Ben: We really appreciate having you here on the team. I think you’ve really done a lot to prove yourself very quickly. But going back to when you applied, when you were out on the job hunt looking for internship opportunities, what were some of the things that you were looking for as a prospective intern? And then what ultimately led you to apply here at CoSchedule versus anywhere else you could have gone?
Owen: Well, my experience is mostly in writing. I’ve been in journalism. I’ve interned for The Bismarck Tribune, a local newspaper of Bismarck. That’s where my experience lies, so I was looking for something where I could get into marketing a little bit, learn a little more about just how marketing teams work. As I was researching, I saw a few openings for CoSchedule and I did some research for the company. I really appreciated the values. The mission’s really great. I love the blog content, the podcast, and all that sort of thing. It just seemed like something I wanted to be a part of so I thought, why not apply? Just go for it and here I am.
Ben: That’s awesome. It sounds like you did quite a bit of research on the company and made sure that you knew what we do, what’s our culture like, and what our values like. Is it somewhere where you would be able to learn, where you would be able to be a good fit and so forth? Why do you feel it’s so important to take those steps to do that research and put in the leg work to make sure that you are as familiar as what you can be with a company before you put in your application or show up for an interview?
Owen: The first part of it is definitely just for myself, making sure that this is something I want to do, that I’m not walking into a situation where I’m going to come in on my first day and say to myself, what am I doing here? This isn’t what I wanted. That was the main thing to start.
Then when I decided this is something that I’d be interested in, a lot of that research was just preparing for the interviews, getting my application together, reading through the job requirements, adjusting my resume application off of there, and then preparing for the phone and in-person interviews. That was a big part of it, but mostly just making sure that it was something I wanted to do, and that the values and culture of the company were things that I would be in support of.
Ben: Something that you mentioned there is that you’re putting together your resume, getting your application together, and you’re preparing for the interview. But as you had mentioned, you were applying for a social media internship but you didn’t have any actual social media background. How did you get around that? What was your strategy?
Owen: I had joked with some of my friends that I was applying to run social media and I don’t even run my own. That was definitely a challenge getting into it, and I had to spend a little time just brainstorming. I was the editor-in-chief for my high school newspaper, so I ran their Instagram and I’ve done little things like that. But mostly, the way I got around it was just highlighting what I was good at.
I figured rather than trying to lie and come up with not very relevant somewhat social media experience, I’m confident in my abilities as a writer, creating content, and I knew that I’m a fast learner. I’m going to be able to come in and pick things up as I go along, and so I try to really highlight that in my applications and interviews just to get around that lack of experience.
Ben: For internships, obviously, the expectations are a little bit different. Certainly, employers don’t think you’re going to come in here with a full resume and five years of experience or anything like that. It sounds as though you chose to focus on how your skills fit the role rather than how your experience fits the description.
Owen: Yeah, that’s a good way to describe it.
Ben: I think that’s really smart. You worked for your high school newspaper, but as you had also mentioned, you worked for a daily newspaper. Was that straight out of high school or just very shortly after high school?
Owen: I started pretty much immediately after I graduated my senior year. I worked for that summer before I came to Fargo.
Ben: Which is really, really awesome. I think that’s a really cool achievement. This is a two-part question. How did you land that opportunity, and how did that opportunity help prepare you for this internship?
Owen: How did I land it? I was in my school newspaper. I started as a sophomore at high school. I was the news and sports editor my junior year, editor-in-chief my senior year. During my senior year, because I was the editor-in-chief, they were holding a senate debate between Heidi Heitkamp and Kevin Cramer.
Ben: Who were congressional or senates.
Owen: Yeah, congressional. I might have misspoken there.
Ben: No, you didn’t. I’m interjecting just for our listeners who might not be as familiar with North Dakota politicians, but they were in a senate race.
Owen: Yeah, definitely. Basically, it was put on by the North Dakota Journalism Society—I’m probably saying that wrong—they picked a student journalist, and they reached out to me. I got a phone call one day asking if I wanted to do it. Obviously, I said yes. I got some questions from people around the school and did that.
That was a great experience, but then afterward, I was talking to some people. Amy Dalrymple who was a copy editor/reporter at the time for The Tribune, came and talked to me and gave me her card, and I made that connection. By that summer, she was transferring into the role of editor-in-chief at The Tribune. I just reached out to her and said, hey, I don’t know if you guys are doing internships or what the deal is, but I would love to apply for anything that you can offer. I was able to get that job and it worked out pretty well. I worked for them for that summer and did some freelance work after that. What was the second part of the question again? Sorry.
Ben: I don’t even remember. No, I’m joking. The second part of the question was, how did that experience help prepare you for what you do here at CoSchedule?
Owen: I’d say that the biggest thing is learning how to take edits. I’ve always been a good writer. That’s probably my main skill in a professional environment, I’d say. For a long time, I’d turn in assignments for school and I wouldn’t get much feedback. I’d turn in articles for my school newspaper, I won’t get much feedback.
Then when I went to The Tribune, all of a sudden it was professional. I was writing these pieces. They were going to go in the paper. A lot of people are going to see them so they had really high standards that they were upholding. Right away, it was a shock to my system where I’d turn in an article, it came back, and it was just completely filled with red ink.
I had to learn pretty quickly that you can’t take it personally. All those edits are there to improve your work, and that’s definitely something that I’ve been able to carry in both to school but also at this internship. Just being able to take edits and learn from them and not take it too personally because people are just trying to uphold a high standard of work and they’re trying to help you get there. That’s definitely something I learned from that. Also, just expanding my skills as a writer, learning how to work within teams, meet deadlines, workflows, that sort of thing. I definitely learned a lot about it as well.
Ben: Something that is so important when I’m applying for jobs in this industry, especially at the entry-level but in general, probably, is to focus on skills and not just responsibilities. For example, Owen knew that he could write well and figured that he could do well in a social media position not because he was good at social media and not because he really even knew anything about social media, but because he knew he possessed a core skill that was transferable to the role and would be essential to the success of anyone in that position.
Rather than being intimidated by the fact that he had never really done social media work before, he just saw that as an opportunity. If you see a job description out there and you want to apply but you hesitate because it requires you to do something that you’ve never quite done before, ask yourself what skills you have right now that might transfer. Combine that with the dedication to never stop learning and you just might surprise yourself with what you can achieve. Now, back to Owen.
You have a very strong belief in yourself, in your own skills, and you seem very aware of what you know you’re capable of. Which I would imagine has really served you well when you’re coming fresh out of high school and you have an opportunity to write for an actual newspaper. You’re halfway through college and you’re applying for internships and getting a sense of what it’s like to work in an actual office environment. I think it’s easy to underestimate how much confidence and how much courage that can take when you are fresh out of high school and not even legal drinking age yet.
What advice would you pass along then for anybody? Whether they are in a situation similar to yours where they’re in school or whether they’re anybody. If you feel like an opportunity is maybe going to be challenging or daunting in some way, how do you push past the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, the fear that you’re not going to measure up in some way? Because I think that really stops a lot of people from even trying.
Owen: Definitely. I mean, that fear’s always there. I can’t say that I don’t feel that. I came in for my interview and I remember thinking, oh, what if they don’t like me, this, that? Whatever it is, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a part of being a person. You have to put yourself out there and go for things if you want things to happen.
I’d say for people in my position, a big thing is a lot of times, if you’re in school, whatever it is, you know what you have to do to get a passing grade. You get a rubric mentality where you’re just checking things off. You’re not really going the extra mile, but you’re doing what you need to do. You’re not really going to succeed just doing that.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten is that you’re going to get out what you put in, and that’s with anything. That’s with life, jobs, school, friends, whatever it is. Whatever effort you put in, that’s going to be directly correlated to what you’re gaining from the experience. It’s definitely just a matter of—for me anyways—just trying to remind myself that I have high expectations of myself.
Definitely, there’s a part of me that worries about not meeting those expectations, but the only way to move forward, gain experience, and become a better person professionally, personally, is just by going in, putting that effort, and trying. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I guess that’s the main lesson that I’ve learned.
Ben: The famous Michael Scott quote. I think that’s really awesome advice. I think that there’s a lot of maturity in the way that you describe that because you’re not denying that fear exists, but you are using it or harnessing it in a way that is productive rather than inhibiting. It’s very aspirational for people, in general, to strive to think that way. It’s only been about four months that you’ve been here. What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned so far from your time here at CoSchedule?
Owen: Some of the biggest things I’ve learned. I didn’t know what content marketing was. I didn’t know how to run social media. I’m learning. If I got into the marketing side of things, getting into that stuff, I pretty much had no knowledge in that area. I’ve learned more than I could mention in our time that we have here in those areas. Other than that, I’ve learned a lot about working within teams, trying to optimize the effort that you put in each day.
One thing I really appreciate about CoSchedule is it’s very results-oriented. I’ve worked in places where they care a lot more about are you in at this time? I was working at Subway for a while. They’re always watching over your back. You have to be optimizing your time, super efficient, all these kinds of things. I feel like at CoSchedule, it’s a little more relaxed, but no one’s relaxed about doing their job. Everyone’s trying to push, be the best they can be, get the best results they can. It’s just finding that balance of being comfortable in your role and then maximizing your output based on your skills. I don’t know if that really answers the question.
Ben: No it does. There is really no right or wrong answer to what you’ve learned in a relatively short space and time, but if anything, it really may be just reiterating the value and applying to things that align with your skills, even if you have no idea what all the things on the description actually mean. Which for internships and at the entry-level in this industry, you’re not going to know everything that there is to know. But you weren’t scared off by any of that, which I think is great.
Obviously, you spent a lot of time on our website and really doing your homework to make sure not only that this was going to be the type of company you want to work for, but also that this is going to be a place where you’re going to be able to learn things that are relevant to helping you get where you want to go.
What are some things from your perspective that you think that hiring managers for a marketing team could do to make sure their internship opportunities and those job listings are appealing to students and prospective interns? Because some kids like yourself, you’ll apply for stuff because it seems interesting even if you don’t know everything that is listed on the description. But some students might see that and see a term or a description of responsibilities, if they don’t know what all of those things are, they might not apply. From your perspective, what did we get right, basically, that maybe other folks out there can replicate?
Owen: To start, the CoSchedule job listings were everywhere that I looked for. If I looked up a marketing internship, it showed up. That was getting it in my head. Then when I actually looked at it, you guys had, for the job description, there was the description of what you would be doing and tasks, what things you’d be doing within the team. But I don’t know that there was really a requirement other than you can work and you know how to write—basic skills. Then there were things like "would be nice," and you talked about being an active learner, being interested in your work, marketing. That got me interested in it.
I’d say that the CoSchedule About Us page, that’s really where I’ve got for my first moment where I said, okay, I could really see myself working here. You have the values laid out really well. There’s a video introducing it. The appeal to the North Dakotan in me, I was born and raised here, that local talent, trying to bring jobs to the area—I really appreciated that.
I’d say that the main thing that let me know that I had made the right decision in applying—this was after I had gotten it but I’ve seen this before—was being told that we gave you this job because we trust you to do what’s right. I think that’s something that people my age don’t hear a lot of the time. They have a lot of people looking over their shoulders, whether it’s parents, teachers, landlords, or whoever it is not trusting them, always trying to nag, or whatever it is.
Just that knowledge that just by being hired here, I had that trust and I have the room to make mistakes and go from there, that was a huge thing for me. I really have appreciated that throughout the application process and in my time here.
Ben: If we were to go around the office, I think a lot of people would echo a lot of very similar sentiments. Continuing down that train of thought, is there anything that you think a manager or hiring manager on a marketing team or a supervisor on a marketing team, what can they do to help support interns? What kind of things do you feel that someone in your position needs, within reason, to ensure that you can be successful? Because so many things are going to be completely new.
Whether that’s responsibilities, things you have to do on the job, or even just learning how to work in an office, that’s a big thing when you’re early in your career. From your view, no right or wrong answers here, what are some things that you think are really essential for helping interns get started on the right foot?
Owen: Like I said before, knowing that you have the trust of the higher-ups and of the team in general, that’s a huge thing. I think onboarding materials are really important. I know when I came to CoSchedule, I had three days’ worth of onboarding stuff. That was my first assignment, just going through learning about the teams, where everyone works, going around the office and meeting everybody, getting to understand the mission.
I had sit-down meetings with all of the heads of departments. I thought that was really huge because I’ve done things before where you’re just secluded into your area, your team department, or whatever it is. Getting that broader overview of what my role within the entire company was, I thought that was huge.
I’d say also having as-you-learn tasks, just having someone that you can just ask questions off. You’ve been that for me. I sit right next to you. If I have a question, I can just ask you about it. I don’t have to sit there, worry, and think, oh my gosh, I can’t get this done. I don’t know how to do these things. Just having that open line of communication and knowing that you have the space and the trust of your team to be able to continue learning, try to improve in your role. Those are the main things.
A big thing for interns is flexibility. That’s another thing I appreciate about CoSchedule, the schedule flexibility is really great. I know a lot of people want to apply for internships but they have in-person classes. They have to be in the office for this amount of time and they can’t. They just can’t do it all. They end up not applying when they probably would have been great for that role.
I’d say that’s a huge thing for managers or whoever it is. If they’re looking to hire interns, just understanding that some of your best candidates are going to be doing other things. They’re going to be in clubs. They’re going to have their classes. They have homework. They have things they’re working on. Just being aware of that, being flexible, and allowing them to continue learning and growing outside of their work I think is a huge thing.
Ben: Absolutely. I think that’s such an interesting balance because obviously, hiring managers are going to want to see that students have extracurricular activities and you have all these achievements and things like that, but that time has to come from somewhere. That is why here, we are pretty flexible with schedules.
You might be here for a little bit of time in the morning and then there might be a break and you come back in the afternoon or whatever is necessary to work around the school schedule. I think for anybody who is in a position to hire interns, I think that it’s a seemingly small thing that is actually a pretty big thing because the role has to fit the realities of your schedule, and it’s not reasonable to expect that you’re going to be here 40 hours a week, do your schoolwork, go to your classes, and do all of these other things too. It’s okay to have some flexibility. It can work if you’re ducking in and out of the office throughout the day.
Owen, this is really cool. Like I said, we’ve never had an intern on the show before. But for anybody who is in a position to be hiring interns for their marketing team, hopefully, this has been insightful for them. But also, for anybody who is maybe earlier in their career, maybe still in college, looking for internships, I really hope that your insight is able to help them just answer some questions that they might have. I know when I was in your position, it can be pretty high pressure, especially when you really don’t feel like you know everything you need to know to get a start.
Owen: The only way to get better is to try to learn. That’s all you can do. I’m glad if I was able to help anybody learn today.
Ben: That was a great attitude. I think that’s really all any of us here are trying to do. I’m actually going to see you down the hall in about 30 seconds but I think we can wrap it up here.
Owen: All right. Sounds good. Thanks, Ben. See you back at the desk.
Ben Sailer is the Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.