Microsoft, Redfin, KOMO professionals offer internship advice

At this month’s Career Kickstart event, communication students absorbed advice about how to land an internship from professionals who know how hard it can be to enter into the working world.

Students looking to go into a variety of fields, including marketing and public relations, broadcast journalism, mass media technologies, publication design and foreign services, listened to the experiences of representatives from Microsoft, Redfin, KOMO news and a biotechnology company to learn from their missteps and triumphs.

Darcy Jacobson (B.A., 2005), event manager for the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association (WBBA), never thought she would work in the life science industry given that she dropped out of biology in college, but she stressed to keep an open mind.

“Don’t limit yourself to (opportunities) in the communication field,” Jacobson said. “Be open and broad and if you’re interested in different topics, then try different things.”

Jacobson had a wide range of jobs before working for the WBBA, but she said she has found her niche and is living her dream.

“I sold steaks, which was lovely because I love food, and I sold an experience, but now I get to work for an organization that supports people that save lives,” she said. “It sounds really cheesy, but it’s totally true. So finding your passion … and considering that there might be something out there that you never thought of might find you the perfect job.”

Dane Brandon, a software engineer at Redfin who graduated from the University of Washington with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science, couldn’t agree more.

“I would stress that it’s a good idea to try a bunch of things out while you have the chance and definitely don’t just take a summer off and do nothing,” he said.

Brandon did three internships and one summer of research during his years as an undergraduate student, and chose both big and small companies to work with. He ended up liking the small company better, landing him at Redfin.

“Internships are really a good way to find good matches,” he said. “It’s a two-dimensional relationship and you should really think of it that way.”

Travis Mayfield, director of digital social strategy for Fisher Interactive Network (the parent company of KOMO), and director of advertising at Microsoft, Jen Whelan, focused more on the importance of meeting people and building relationships.

“The more people you interact with, the more opportunity you have to just meet somebody that has a sister, brother, friend that wants to match-make you,” Whelan said.

Whelan compared the life of a career to the children’s tale “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” where one thing leads to the next that leads to the next, etc. Starting that process is a crucial step.

“I would say that one of my biggest pieces of advice would be if somebody comes up to you and says, ‘I want to talk to you about an opportunity.’ Your answer is yes,” Whelan said. “You say, ‘Let’s talk,’ no matter what. … You never know where it’s going to lead.”

This was true for Mayfield, who said that every job he had stemmed from the last.

“It’s all about who you know and making relationships,” he said. “You have to prove yourself as you go along, but meeting people is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career and being open to meeting people.”

Mayfield’s first step in the process was landing a fellowship that led to an internship with the Today Show, where he worked with Katie Couric and Ann Curry.

“To say that it was life changing would be an understatement,” he said. “It was amazing. I got to go on shoots, I got to write interview questions that Katie asked on the air the next day, I sat in the control room, and helped produce the summer concert series.”

It was in Couric’s office after discussing the polish color of her last pedicure that changed the course of Mayfield’s career. With her feet up on the desk, Couric called the news affiliate in Spokane, where Mayfield was going to school at the time, to tell them about an awesome intern she had and the rest is history.

“So internships can change your life,” Mayfield said.

Melissa Yang, a senior communications student, said she came to the event to “take advantage of the opportunity to learn how to be a more competitive applicant.”

The biggest piece of advice she took away was to “be open to any opportunity because you don’t know where it will take you. It’s not always a linear path.”