As an aspiring Public Relations Professional who has spent the past three years in Education, I knew coming to Spain that I wanted to explore opportunities in the Communications field for a change. I want to pursue a career in the PR field when I return to the states, and I feel I’ve been out of practice the past few years. I also thought it would be really cool to land a PR internship here and observe the similarities and differences between agency operations in Spain vs the US.
So, I began trying to land a PR internship even before my arrival to Madrid. To be honest, it took me longer to get adjusted here in Spain than anticipated. It wasn’t until December, before winter break, that I took the time to actively email several agencies I was interested in interning with.
Over the following weeks, I heard back from several of the firms telling me that while they appreciated my interest, there was no need for my services at the moment. In the meantime, I had heard of a Journalism Internship opportunity (more on that in a later post) which I accepted. I studied Journalism for a while before switching to PR in college, and understand the value of practice in the cross-disciplines.
Two days after I accepted the Journalism Internship, I was leaving my gym and noticed I had a voicemail from a Spanish number. It is incredibly rare for my phone to ring here in Spain, and for it to be anyone other than my dad. It’s all about the whatsapp these days. Curious, I listened to the voicemail. I did not understand a word of it. I continued to listen to it on my walk home from the gym. I listened to it back in my apartment. Frustrated, I hopped in the shower to take a break from deciphering the message. Then, I listened to it several more times and considered asking my roommates for help.
Now, let me just be clear. My Spanish isn’t terrible. My listening has improved significantly. At a certain point I got the general gist of the message. Someone had called me and wanted me to call me back. The thing is, I couldn’t make out WHO. Finally, I figured it was possibly a PR firm getting back to me. I scoured my ‘sent’ file in Gmail until I found a name that made sense.
It was Ketchum. Not a very standard name to begin with, and more confusing to understand when said with a rapid Spanish accent. But certainly a firm I had heard of before. Ketchum is a huge, global PR firm that I would have been honored to work with! I called the woman back and we got the ball rolling with some emailing back and forth. She told me the general hours (9-2) and I told her I couldn’t do those hours everyday because of my Fulbright position. Her response? Setting me up with an interview.
So, I did what I always do before an interview: got super nervous and worked through my nerves by preparing eloquent responses to commonly asked questions. Only this time, all preparation was done in Spanish. I wrote out common questions and answers, and then I practiced them. In Spanish. By the time the interview rolled around I was as prepared as I could be, and it was all for naught.
I got to the office on a Monday morning, and met with the lady I’d previously spoken with. I was so ready to impress them with my fluid, practiced Spanish. Of course, they caught me completely off guard. Here is, mas o menos (more or less), how the interview went (it was conducted in Spanish, but here it is in English):
What is this Fulbright thing?
Well, it’s an organization that brings Americans abroad to study or to teach in efforts to create cultural exchange between America and other countries of the world.
So, are you a student?
Not quite. I’m a teaching assistant working with the IE University.
So, you study at the IE University?
No, I help the professors there. I am not enrolled in any classes.
We need you to be a student. We have already spoken with Fulbright. Can you put us in contact with someone at the IE so we can try to figure this out?
Sure, I can have them contact you today.
How long are you here for?
Can you work here for a year?
…Well, I don’t currently have any obligations so I will go wherever I have work.
We want you to work with us full-time for a year.
I can’t work full-time…I’m here through Fulbright and I have other commitments.
Translate this, I will be right back.
**I translate a paragraph from Spanish to English**
Please have the IE get in touch with us today. We hope we can make this work!
After that, I left very confused. I wasn’t asked a single interview question that I had prepped for. I was told both that I couldn’t work for them if I wasn’t a student, and that they’d like me to work for them full-time for a year. WHAT?! Lack of understanding to the max.
So, I spoke with my contacts at the University and for about a week they went back and forth trying to find a way to make it work so that I could sign a contract with Ketchum Madrid. Finally, I hit the brakes and emailed the woman at Ketchum to let her know she should move on. Even if they found a way to call me a student so I could sign their contract, there was no way I could work for them full time.
I later asked my Spanish friends what the deal was. How could a company require me to be a student, and also require me to work full-time? Are they providing the time-turner to make this plausible, or…? It turns out, that one of the side-effects of the crisis here in Spain is that companies are hiring people for full-time work, but calling them interns and paying them intern salaries. Some of the youth, not surprisingly, are not even making enough at their “jobs” to provide from themselves. It’s sad.
The way to work around this, my friend tells me, is to enroll in online courses to achieve student status, and still be able to work full-time. With the situation here the way it is, I don’t think I could live with myself if I took a job that should go to someone Spanish anyway. When my Spanish friends tell me I have better chances of landing a job here because of my English, I just nod my head and hope my chances will be somewhere nearly as good in the states.
Anyway, the fabulous PR Internship opportunity in Spain passed me by and I suppose it must have been for the best. If nothing else, interviewing with a company in Spain is just another experience to add to the list!