It's the beginning of a new fall wedding season, and I've got two fantastic new interns working for me here at Weddings in Vieques. Both recently graduated from college and want to pursue career paths in wedding or event planning so they've braved the Caribbean heat (this time of year can be brutal) to come to Vieques Island and learn how we REALLY plan a destination wedding.
In chatting with the newest girls (Liz is from Manhattan and Chelsey is from Nebraska), I learned something very interesting the other day. Many of their friends are jealous of their internships. Not for the reason you're suspecting -- the fact that they're spending a few cold months on a tropical island -- but because our interns actually get to learn to do things they want to do, they're not stuck sitting at a receptionist desk stuffing envelopes, running for coffee and generally doing only scud work. They're actually learning to plan weddings.
(Left to Right, Chelsey Commins and Liz Cooney)
We receive an amazing number of applications for every wedding planning season and we weed through them carefully looking for good matches for our program. The current interns help choose the incoming interns, and everybody in our office has at least a little input on my decisions about who to hire. We're a small team and everybody has to get along. Despite my jokes, I don't automatically toss every application from a Michigan student although my Buckeye status would make that perfectly understandable.
I wish we could accept EVERY applicant who really, truly wants to become a wedding planner, but we can't. And that's how I learned that many future wedding planners are having a rough time finding an internship that will actually let them learn something they can take away with them when the internship is finished. Letters of reference are not enough if the intern hasn't actually learned anything real about how to plan a wedding.
Many, many wedding planning companies (and wedding-focused vendors) do accept interns. Not all of them are paid (our interns get housing by the beach and a stipend, but not everybody is that lucky), but if you can afford an unpaid internship that will actually let you learn the mechanics of wedding planning, you should grab it and learn as much as possible. There's a chance you'll knock their socks off and they'll hire you afterwards. Or at least help you find a wedding planning job in the city of your choice when you're finished.
What kind of things should a wanna-be wedding planner look for when applying for internships? Here are five key questions to ask during your interview, if they haven't already volunteered this information:
1. Will I get to interact with clients and wedding guests at the actual weddings and events?
2. Will I learn how to read and write wedding vendor contracts? Will I learn how to manage a budget for a bride?
3. Will I learn about how your company works and how you market to find clients? Will I get a chance to participate in potential client calls and meetings?
4. Will I actually get to help plan the weddings or will I just be following to-do lists? How much planning involvement will I have?
5. What can I expect to learn during the course of my internship because I plan to give it my all?
Of course, you want to ask these questions in a tactful and positive manner. Don't even imply there's anything you aren't willing to do because, if you're an intern, you will do it all. And not everything about wedding planning is glamorous.
It's not glamorous to deal with dirty linens the day after an event. There's nothing glamorous about emptying wastebaskets and keeping the bathrooms looking fresh during an event. And tying bows for hours on end or inflating 200 balloons because that's what the bride wants can't be considered glamorous on any level. It's frustrating and sometimes boring. But it's all a part of the job whether you're an intern or an actual wedding planning account executive.
Make sure that you tell your potential employer if you have any restrictions, and be honest about your language skills (you wouldn't believe how many interns tell me they speak Spanish only to have me find out upon their arrival that their Spanish ends at the doorstep of a Mexican restaurant). Don't overstate your social media skillset or your computer knowledge of specific software you're asked about. Telling the truth (even if you've never done something) won't prevent you from getting hired, but it can definitely get you fired if you lie about it and then can't do the job when you arrive to start your internship.
There are a limited number of good wedding planning and event planning internships out there, at least in proportion to the number of young people who seem to want to go into this business. The growth of tourism and hospitality majors (and yes, you can even major in wedding planning although there's no way you could actually learn the practicalities of the business in a classroom) is a clear indication of the popularity of the field. So sometimes, to find an internship that will help you learn, you have to think outside the box.
Public relations firms do a LOT of event planning, for example. From tradeshows to press conferences to fundraisers and promotional launches, public relations firms do the gamut for their clients and an internship can help you gain a lot of useful knowledge. But it's important that you let them know your focus and goals going into it. You should be willing to do any task assigned you -- even if it means hours of sending out press releases and following up with reporters on the phone -- but also make sure they know you have a special interest in learning event planning. Phrased right, the interviewer should be impressed with your knowledge of their industry and willing to consider you for the position even though you're telling them you want to eventually focus on one aspect of what they do.
There are big corporations who have entire departments that spend all their time planning company events, whether it's training, team-building exercises, board meetings or community fundraising activities. If you identify the right office and the right person inside a company to approach, you might find the perfect opportunity to learn a whole host of event planning skills. They might not be wedding planning-specific, but they certainly will help you if you're still interested in pursuing the wedding career after the internship. They don't have to be advertising for an internship for you to approach them and apply.
I've seen really bad examples of underutilized and improperly trained interns at weddings and events I've attended. Nothing is sadder to me than to watch two young women standing in the wings doing absolutely nothing for hours on end except occasionally fetching beverages and running errands for their bosses. I don't know what they're learning in their offices during the day, but I know they're not learning anything just standing there at the wedding without any assigned responsibilities. In general, I'd say that means they don't trust their interns. But that goes back to how much training they actually give them ahead of real wedding events. Practice makes perfect and if you never get a chance to practice doing it, how will you ever learn to get it right?
I've preached about the uselessness of formal "wedding certifications" before -- I don't think taking a class (in a building or online) can actually teach you how to wedding plan. And the interns I've had in the past who came here with "certifications" were ready to burn them before they left here, realizing they mean absolutely nothing in the real scheme of things. There is no substitute for learning the wedding and event planning business on the fly and in the field. You have to find a good internship or entry-level position with a wedding planning company to gain the real practical knowledge.
Good luck and happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Sandy Malone Weddings & Events! Applications for Summer 2015 internships can be sent to email@example.com starting January 1st!