What is it like working in public affairs and communications?

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What’s it like working in the fast-paced world of public affairs, government relations and strategic communications industry on a placement or public relations internship?

Well who better to ask than the student who won the NUE Award for Best Student Contribution to a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise?

Mihaela Gruia, a student from the University of Sheffield, undertook work experience at FleishmanHillard, a global communications company.

In this blog Mihaela reveals all about the time she spent working for Fleishman Hillard, how beneficial the experience was and what it felt like to win at the NUE Awards.

How did you find out about FleishmanHillard’s work experience programme?

I found out about the opportunity through the Undergraduate Office within the Politics Department at my university – the University of Sheffield.

What was it that attracted you to FleishmanHillard and the opportunity to work for the company?

There are a few reasons which made me choose FleishmanHillard. First, I was interested in doing a placement in an area relevant to my degree, and the company’s relations with the EU was a fantastic fit.

This was especially the case since I had just completed a module entitled the ‘Politics and Government of the EU’ and I thought this would be a great opportunity to apply some of the theoretical concepts I had learned in lectures.

Secondly, I was impressed by their expertise and reputation and I wanted to experience this sort of professional working environment. They say you should learn from the best and I feel that this is exactly what I did.

FleishmanHillard has some of the best public affairs consultants and it was an honour to learn from their wisdom and expertise.

Finally, I was fascinated by the prospect of living in another country, experiencing a new culture, and polishing my French skills! Brussels is a very vibrant city so the location of the placement was a great plus.

How beneficial has the experience been for your personal and professional development?

My public relations placement year at FleishmanHillard was beneficial on so many levels. First, I boosted my employability profile and gained valuable skills that I didn’t have before. Secondly, I now have a wide range of examples and experiences I can speak about in interviews and assessment centres.

“I was impressed by their expertise and reputation and I wanted to experience this sort of professional working environment.”

Thirdly, I was able to seize opportunities that were previously unavailable for me.

For instance, winning an NUE Award, going on Forge Radio to share my experience with other students, participating in an ASET writing competition and getting involved with my Politics Department to encourage other students to do a placement.

These experiences led me to continually develop and reflect on the learning I gained. Finally, the placement gave me a fresh perspective on my academic pursuits, making me realise how lucky I am to spend this final year on my intellectual development.

What was the highlight of your time working for FleishmanHillard?

There are many moments that spring to mind, but two definitely stand out for me. The first highlight was winning second prize at the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association (EPACA) essay writing contest.

The second highlight coincides with one of the reasons for winning at the NUE awards, and that is identifying a new business opportunity. I felt that both these moments challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and put myself out there, despite the fact that there were high chances of failure.

I learned to be more resilient and confident in my abilities, and that is something that will stay with me forever.

Were you able to establish a network of contacts during your time at the company? How much do you think this will help you in the future?

Absolutely. Through the achievements outlined above I proved myself as a hard-working, reliable and driven individual, and this has subsequently attracted the support from those who valued me and my work.

I stayed in touch with a few colleagues at FleishmanHillard, individuals whom I admire and who have given me their full support, appreciation and advice, as well as trusting me and giving me challenges outside of my daily intern responsibilities.

I hugely valued those opportunities to work on new creative projects and being given full responsibility of tasks. I feel that those were the moments from which I learned the most about myself.

In terms of help, the on-going communication and contact with these people is of amazing value to me and I can only hope to stay in touch in the future and hopefully cross paths again.

How do you think your time working for FleishmanHillard has prepared you for your future career?

My full-time work experience has hugely influenced my decision-making for after graduation. First, I am a more confident person, much more aware of my potential and assets, as well as more understanding of the areas I need to build upon.

“I learned to be more resilient and confident in my abilities, and that is something that will stay with me forever.”

Having this awareness of my strengths and weaknesses has opened up a series of opportunities for me. In particular, I became very passionate about entrepreneurship and start-ups and I have taken concrete steps towards launching my own venture.

Having that full-time experience and working on a tight demanding schedule has made me more hard-working, resilient and efficient and helped me develop a commercial mindset.

I hugely value the learning opportunities I had there – the professionalism and etiquette instilled in me, the importance of cohesive team-work, as well as strong leadership for the successful delivery of projects and client satisfaction.

Overall, I am now just one recruitment stage away from my ideal opportunity at the New Entrepreneurs Foundation and I hope I will manage to draw upon my placement experience as much as possible and succeed in securing a position.

What advice would you have for someone else considering doing a placement or internship?

I have four pieces of advice.

  • Proof-read your application before you submit it (I can’t stress this enough – your application will be binned if you spell the name of the organisation wrong).
  • Go to employer events and chat to people. It’s better to say you met someone in the organisation when you apply (this was not the case for me with FleishmanHillard, but with other internships).
  • Don’t limit yourself to big companies with well-established placement schemes – research companies that match your interests and send them speculative cover letters with your intention to do a placement / internship (I had two interviews before FleishmanHillard that were obtained using that method). Also ‘think outside your country’ as it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the UK – universities are usually pretty flexible with accommodating your needs and if you end up doing a placement in a foreign country, it will make the experience all the more exciting.
  • Don’t be discouraged thinking that all your friends will graduate before you if you do a placement year. They will still be your friends no matter what.

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