Arlette Hawkins G’20 talks Cosmo Magazine, succeeding in a remote working environment

Arlette Hawkins, a 2020 alumna of Elon's iMedia graduate program, discusses her internship with Cosmopolitan Magazine, the T. Howard Foundation internship program and succeeding in a remote working environment.

Tell me about your time at Elon, your experiences and your internships.

I attended Elon University for graduate school through the Interactive Media program (2020). Before attending Elon, I received my Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Mass Communication with a minor in Spanish from North Carolina A&T. I studied abroad in Seville, Spain in 2018 and went overseas with Elon to Cuba in 2020 (before COVID restrictions). While studying abroad, I vlogged about my experience in my YouTube series, “Arlette Abroad.” I talked about what it was like to be Black and abroad, how I secured scholarships, and what it was like to live with a host family. As a Gilman scholar, I served as a video correspondent covering specific study abroad topics. Upon receiving my latest degree, I completed four internships in various sectors of the industry, including editorial (Cosmopolitan Magazine, 2020), video production (UNC-TV, 2019), broadcast production (E.W. Scripps, 2018), and public relations (A&T Register 2017-2019). I wanted to explore all sectors before graduation to be well versed in the industry.

Tell me about the T. Howard Foundation program and how it assisted you with finding your summer internship.

The T. Howard Foundation is an organization designed to help minority students secure internships in the media and entertainment industry. Students apply and go through an interview process. After that, they are considered in the final talent pool, which is basically sitting area for viable internship candidates. As applicable opportunities come through the foundation, they inform students in the final talent pool. Students interview with the companies and are offered internships should they meet the needs and qualifications.

I received my most recent internship through the T. Howard Foundation. I was emailed about an opportunity with Cosmopolitan Magazine through the foundation shortly after graduating. The Final Talent Pool qualification lasts until the summer of the year of application. I applied through the link, interviewed and was offered the internship the very next day. Life comes at you fast.

Interning virtually can be a big change in a lot of ways – how do you set your self apart and be seen and not just be a face on a screen once a week? 

I’ll start with the interview process – I showed a lot of personality. Smile, smile, smile! Video interviews are weird enough, not showing enthusiasm only makes them more dreadful.  Cosmopolitan is a fun brand so I was professional, but I was not afraid to laugh or share embarrassing parts of relevant stories within my interview. I did a little more research on the brand, like exploring their media kit and looking up who I would be interviewing with. I mentioned key points in my interview of things I learned through research to show I wasn’t just hopping on the internship because of the name – I was truly interested. I also mentioned what I was doing currently to show I wasn’t wasting my newfound free time.

Because no one was looking over my shoulder like they would be in an office space, I had to keep myself busy. Before my official start date I wrote down ideas I’d like to pitch, set goals for myself, and read through the recent issues of the magazine in print and online. I got dressed every day for work. Yes, I was fully dressed to sit in my room all day. On the first day I wore a dress, and my manager said, “Look at you all dressed up for your first day,” and we giggled because we both knew how weird this new process was. After that I dressed a little more casual but still appropriate. Sometimes I wore a Frida Kahlo shirt and shorts, another day a button-down top and pants. I know they couldn’t see my entire outfit, but the idea of getting ready made me more efficient. I would gauge attire based on what company you are working with. Cosmo’s brand allowed me to be a little more lax than, let’s say, J.P. Morgan Chase.

I always kept good energy. On Fridays, I would wish my team Happy Fridays. On Mondays my manager and I would agree when the Mondays felt very Monday-ish. I took the initiative to see what was needed from my supervisor of me. I also volunteered to do things for other editors, this way I met more people on the team and learned more about the brand. Because the internship was only five weeks, every minute counted….better yet every 30 seconds. They heavily emphasized not wanting to overwork me, but it literally felt like I was getting paid to have fun. I was doing what I loved – writing, pitching stories, interviews. Everything. They also gave realistic deadlines for assignments, so nothing felt too stressful. Some things were more urgent than others so those took precedence.

What are the best ways to communicate with your supervisor regarding how you/the team you are on can best work together virtually?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions for clarity, especially because of the distance. It’s not fun to have to redo an assignment or get it returned with a bunch of errors because you didn’t want to ask a “stupid question” (which doesn’t exist, by the way). I also let my supervisor know what I’m working on so she doesn’t have to wonder or assume I’m too (or less) busy.

We scheduled check-ins twice a week, and the team mainly communicated through Slack. This broke down some concerns that “oh, she may not be available,” Slack gives you the option to list your availability through small icons. I could see if she was in a meeting or available. The talent acquisition specialist also worked to ensure we had everything we needed to complete the internship.

How do you navigate working alone; building and maintaining autonomy; staying busy and productive and adding value?

The first two weeks were pretty slow because there was a lot of on-boarding. My supervisor and I were still crafting what I wanted to do throughout the entire internship. This being the first virtual internship for all of us, we pieced it together step by step – that also eliminated some nervousness. I set up a little space in my room and in the family area as my focus spots. These were also ideal for video calls because of lighting and locations being less distracting. Changing scenery definitely makes a difference. I played soft music because silence can lead to a wandering mind. I kept water nearby so I had no excuse to tour my kitchen. I charged my devices before work, but chargers nearby so I wouldn’t go on a midday quest.
I made a daily to-do list of things I needed to do. I woke up a bit earlier than the time required to clock in just so that I was alert and gathered for the day. I made sure I adhered to deadlines completing tasks as early (but accurately) as possible. My lists helped me decide how much I could handle in a day or week. I could not accept every request, but there were three interns so we balanced them well, ensuring everyone was able to be an asset.

In adding value, I let my supervisor know my skills including SEO, video production, and puns (yes, being corny is a skill). When she heard about video production she got me in contact with that team to connect and see where I could help there as well.

How have you been proactive during this time so you can add value to your team?

On a personal level, I was already working in a digital space. I was updating my portfolio, toying around on Adobe, and pitching ideas with friends of future projects. I let them know where I was (physically) and things I was interested in. So for instance, I’m in Richmond, Virginia, and I told them about the current events around here. That led to pitching a feature. I’m an HBCU graduate, and when MacKenzie Scott announced her generous donations to HBCUs I was able to write that piece from the perspective of someone who could relate to that story on a deeper level. I shared links to more resources about HBCUs because I personally follow them. So my added value, besides the technical skills, was my personal background.

What are best ways to build meaningful professional relationships virtually?

I would suggest being as active as possible. Not just with your leadership, but your fellow interns as well. Even when I didn’t want to look into another camera at 5 p.m. on Friday, when we had organized Happy Hours, I still attended them. They were so much fun! These may be your future co-workers, bosses, or those who help you land a position at a company. Besides their leverage, they are really cool people. One associate and I studied abroad in the same country and talked about that.
As far as with your supervisors – be genuine. How are you really feeling? And you don’t have to pour your heart out, but express what makes you nervous about applying for jobs. Talk about ideas you and your friends have for the next greatest app. Ask them how did they got their start. Did they move away from home? Did they always know what they wanted to do? Pick their brain – they expect it. If you don’t, they’ll wonder what’s wrong.

Any final tips or insights?

Leave the door open for the next candidate. Even if you hate the internship, tough it out so that the next person has a chance. Document your work – I kept a running list of everything I did to finally sum it up on my resume after the program. I asked how could I stay involved after the internship ended, through freelancing. Not all industries work like that but it doesn’t hurt to ask.