Career Moves: Preparation helps senior land 'Conan' internship
Todd Leonard '14 credits resources available through the Student Professional Development Center for teaching him some of the best practices he used through the "Elon in LA" program to secure a late-night TV internship.
Elon University senior Todd Leonard's interest in late-night television developed his freshman year on campus, and it didn't take long for the media arts and entertainment major to identify "Elon in LA" as a possible route to interning for such a program.
Periodic visits to the Student Professional Development Center helped the native of Cary, N.C., prepare for interviews and know what to include in cover letters after enrolling in "Elon in LA." Sure enough, once in California for the 2013 spring semester, Leonard landed a position on "Conan," the late-night show hosted by comedian Conan O'Brien.
Leonard is the latest person to be featured this year in a series of E-net profiles on the successes of students and alumni who have used the Student Professional Development Center to find job and internship openings, or to prepare for interviews and improve applications with guidance from staff.
He answered questions recently from the SPDC about his experience.
Tell me about the company and your role as intern.
"Conan" is a late-night talk show filmed on the Warner Bros. Studio Lot in Burbank, Calif. It's hosted by Conan O'Brien and features celebrity guests, musicians and bands, and stand-up comics every night beside Friday. During the majority of my time at "Conan," I was a production intern. Aside from going on coffee runs, running to the mail center on the Studio Lot for deliveries and pick-ups, or doing lunch or dinner runs, any given day as a production intern could be completely different. Being alongside about 15 other interns, we were responsible for helping out with any aspect of the show. "Conan" employees typically call the office coordinator or the intern phone when they need help with something, and these calls provide the majority of the tasks that production interns are responsible for. Since there are so many different departments that make up the production of the show on a daily basis - research, writing, camera crew, make-up, costumes, music, graphics, etc. - there's a variety of tasks to be done. The last three weeks of my internship, I was also given the opportunity to be a research intern. It was nice to be able to work within a specific department. There are about four people in the research department, and I was responsible for researching information about upcoming guests and put my findings into a comprehensive folder chronicling news and social media posts of the guest that was then passed over to producers who would craft the interview.
How did your interest in the internship develop?
My interest in late-night talk shows began around the beginning of my freshman year at Elon. I knew I wanted to experience what it was like working for one of them before I graduated, so when I knew it was a strong possibility if I were to take part in the Elon in LA program, my interest quickly grew. (Another Elon student) who interned with "Conan" and shared a lot of his experiences interning there also got me interested in the internship.
What did you learn from the experience?
I learned that working hard and being nice is crucial. When Conan gave his parting words during the last broadcast of him hosting "The Tonight Show," he emphasized the importance of being nice and working hard, and these values carry through the "Conan" office. This goes hand-in-hand with what I learned during my experience at "Conan": it's all about who you know, especially in the communications/entertainment industry. Of course, it's crucial to find joy and enthusiasm in the work you're doing, but it's equally crucial to take the time to know the people you're with. Some of the best moments I had at "Conan" were when I would get coffee or lunch with an employee and get to know them better. As an intern, employees value those who seek to get to know them better, and I valued having the opportunity to learn from people who have a lot of experience in the entertainment industry, specifically the world of late-night television.
Who did you work with in Student Professional Development Center to prepare for your internship, and what help did you receive?
I've met up with counselors during my time at Elon who have been instrumental in crafting internship applications, knowing what is important to include in a cover letter, and what to highlight during an interview.
How would you mentor and assist Elon students in achieving their career goals?
I'll share with them my internship experiences and what I learned from them. Being able to work at the Student Professional Development Center for about two and a half years, I've learned a lot about things students can do while in college to be in a better position to achieve their career goals when it comes time to graduate, and I'm always willing to share this with others. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone is looking for help with career-oriented things - whether it be looking at a resume, questions about an internship, how to lay out a LinkedIn page, etc.
What recommendations would you share with other students about career services?
Take advantage of the services offered at the Student Professional Development Center as early as possible. Form relationships with counselors there who want to help you as much as possible and see you succeed. Career Services offers a lot, so utilize all of the resources available. They can help you shape your resume, fine-tune that cover letter you've been having a hard time with, find internships in your desired field and/or location, and see what field is best for you through career and personality assessments, etc. The hardest thing to do is make the initial step in meeting with a counselor, but once you do that and see how great the staff is, you certainly will be coming back for any career guidance in the future.
Which faculty members did you work with to prepare for your internship/employment and what help did you receive?
The faculty member with whom I worked the most was J. McMerty. He runs the Elon in LA program, so he oversaw what internships students were looking at and provided guidance through the whole process of picking an internship. He constantly mentioned how important it is to represent Elon in as strong a light as possible, and set yourself apart from other interns you may be working with. He also mentioned how it's about who you know, so he emphasized the significance of being friendly, professional, and creating connections with those you work for and intern with. He was great at providing strong advice on what I could tweak with my resume, and got me mentally prepared to take advantage of my time while interning with "Conan" by talking about what employers are looking for in their interns before my internship began. We also had allotted times throughout the semester for students in the LA program to talk about their internships. It was great to hear from others and it motivated me to be more invested in my internship.
Sometimes I feel it's easy to be invested in simply obtaining an internship, and the actual act of interning is lost in the shuffle, so it was nice to be reminded about how great of an opportunity it is to intern and renewed my desire to soak in as much as possible.