Making the Most of Your Entertainment Internship

If you're looking for a career in entertainment, your first challenge is going to be to get the experience you need to launch your career and still eat.

Careers in film, music, radio, and television typically start with internships—and few of these pay. Those that do won't begin to cover even the most basic costs of living. Why put up with that?

Even if you're not looking to host Saturday Night Live or cut a platinum album, you'll find that entertainment is a sexy industry, and there's lots of competition for the supporting behind-the-scenes roles. The internship is where many a company executive started on the road to money and glamour in one of the most creative industries around.

Still interested? Here's what you should know:

How to Find the Internship
The larger entertainment companies have job hotlines. Call the company's main switchboard and ask for the internship hotline. If they don't have one, ask for the internship coordinator, who can get you the skinny on the opportunities and what you need to do to get them.

Big companies such as Sony and Universal hire between 50 and 150 interns every season. You'll have better luck finding an internship if you look for one in the off-season—spring or fall—as opposed to summer, when there are more people vying for the spots.

The best way to land an internship, however, is probably through networking. One enterprising insider, Stefanie Cohen, landed her internship after talking to a guest lecturer at her college who worked for MTV. He gave her the names of people to contact—and these proved to be the stepping-stones to her internship at VH1, which, like MTV, is owned by Viacom. She then parlayed that experience into an internship at MTV, the place where she ultimately wanted to work.

How to Land the Internship
Opportunities in this industry vary widely, including interactive, artists and repertoire (A&R) (a music-industry function), copyright, distribution, postproduction, and publicity.

If you know where you want to work in a company and make your objective clear when applying, you'll have a much better shot at getting the job you want. If you can show you've got a passion for the work through classes or extracurricular activities related to it, that will help you land the internship.

Finally, mind the deadlines and application procedures. If you blow those, you're going to end up selling tickets to movies rather than helping make them.

Know What You're Getting Into
Interns do a lot of grunt work, so be ready for it. "We have problems with students who come in and complain," says Lindsay Sayles, the internship coordinator for Mercury Nashville, a country-music record label. "A lot of the work is really menial."

Some argue that interns are an exploited class, but if you're going to get in this door, grin and bear it. Sometimes you'll learn from the experience, other times you'll just be getting lunch. "There's a lot of on-your-feet work, so many people asking you to do things at the same time," says Cohen. "Always, always be willing to do things for other people."

Make the Most of the Drudgery
Absorb everything you can on the job: Ask questions, observe how others do things, and talk to people. "We give interns so much photocopying and mailing to do, but they just don't read what they're looking at," Sayles says.

Says Sabrina Tubio-Cid, a production associate in MTV's on-air promos department, "It's easy to be a bad intern by being lazy. You need to show that you're interested in the work you're doing. Ask for stuff to do. Check in with people throughout the day. Be more outgoing. Being timid is no good. You have to realize that you're there to get something out of it."

Use the Internship to Network
Besides experience, interns gain the contacts that will help them land jobs after the internship ends. Collect business cards from everybody you meet. You never know who could help you get a job later on. Once you're in the industry, you'll find that moving ahead is about who you know, who those you know know, and who you end up knowing.

Internships are what you make of them—and what you take away from them. In the entertainment industry, you won't make much money, so you need to make sure you're getting the experience you need to land a job later on. And that experience is something money can't buy.

  • Define Your Internship Goals
  • How to Get the Internship You Want
  • Entertainment & Sports Industry Profile
  • The Insider Guide to Jobs in the Entertainment Industry