How To Land Your Dream Internship!

The search for your first internship can be tricky, but the energy and focus you put into the process can pay off in unrivaled real world experience, round out your CV / résumé, and even result in a job offer!

An intern works in a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training (rather than merely employment). The benefit of being an intern is that you have the opportunity to be mentored and learn without many the pressures and responsibilities that regular employees have. Additionally, you can earn college credit towards your degree. (I’ve been earning four credits per semester and in the process, I get to skip the general design class that my school offers.)

Many large companies have a section on their website with specific information for internships with openings and contact information. Even if they’re not currently seeking interns, it never hurts to still make contact and forward your résumé.

Another source is an online message board like Craigslist, though it can be tricky to navigate since there are plenty of companies looking for unpaid help while disguising it as a mentoring opportunity.

Perhaps the safest way to find an internship is to discuss your top choices with your teacher or school counselor. Often, they have connections to the company you’re seeking (and, they also have a short-list of who to steer clear of). I landed my initial internship interview because of my teacher’s personal connection and it also made made my transition from the classroom to a professional setting almost seamless.

Chances are, your top choices for an internship are probably the same as your peers. So, make yourself stand out! A little confidence can go a long way- you’ll never know if an opportunity awaits if you don’t try. Work harder to uniquely showcase your work. Instead of sending over a plain résumé, design a custom logo, folder and letterhead. Or, how about a fold-out poster? I know of one designer who made a special book (complete with rounded corners) and assembled it by hand!Personally, I’m all for sending over (or leaving behind) a folder of information instead of a book because it can be easily updated and modified to suit the focus of the internship you’re applying for. It can be as simple as building a stripped-down press kit tailored to an internship, complete with a letter of introduction and a beautiful résumé.

Adding in visual samples (via print-outs and an optional CD) of your work and a business card (impeccably designed by you!) will round it out:   

   

If your initial meeting is in person, it’s also nice to have a small portfolio of your best work handy. According to AIGA:

A portfolio is portable proof of your design education and a document of your work. A display of exercises, talent, thinking and solutions to visual communication problems. The physical form of the portfolio is completely up to you. It should, however, not be too precious or complicated. Nor should it require delivery by freight elevator. It is a communication tool, not a self-centered reflection of your personality.

The more simple and classic the portfolio, the better. Your work should be the focus, not the shell it’s being carried in. Something like this is completely acceptable.

Contact the appropriate person who handles internship opportunities; often times, this is an HR employee. Don’t feel like you’re being a pest. It’s all about follow-through. The important folks at ad agencies and design firms are often super busy. They have emails to answer, meetings to attend, and proposals to pitch. Getting back in touch with a possible intern is probably not at the top of their lists.A designer at a top agency visited my brother’s design class and told them point-blank that out of the entire class, maybe 10 students would consider setting up an internship and promise to make contact. Perhaps two would actually follow through.Make the effort to correspond and keep the line of communication flowing. If you don’t hear anything back immediately (or ever), don’t be offended! Try, try again. If email doesn’t work, place a call or send a letter. Before I landed an initial meeting for my internship, I spent most of last summer sending off perhaps 10 emails and leaving messages with two different people.   

Adrian Shaughnessy also reminds you:

Never forget, when approaching a design studio, that you will be judged by the quality of your approach. Your phone call, your e-mail, your letter will be scruitinized like a sniffer dog checks contraband at an airline carousel. Get it right and you’re halfway there, get it wrong and the prospect of stacking supermarket shelves starts to beckon.

Show up on time (or early). There’s no need to dress overly fancy, but also don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. If you have a CV / résumé, bring a copy to hand over. Make sure it is impeccable; there’s nothing worse than spelling and grammatical errors on the résumé of a designer-to-be. Either a print portfolio or a CD will work. I’m a bit ‘old school’ and have always printed my work and slid it into a portfolio so that the interviewer can flip through it at their own pace (and ask questions as needed).The issue with a presentation on the laptop is that something always seems to go wrong at the most inopportune times!

Additionally, either you or the interviewer will have to click through the document and this adds another lever of distraction. And whichever way you decide to present your work, always remember to always turn it towards the interviewer.

If you do land an interview, remember that the interviewer is taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. Do your best to not over-talk yourself or the work. The interviewer has probably seen it all before and can make an instant judgement whether you and your work will ‘fit in’ with the company’s culture. When the interview is over, thank them for their time. Within a day, send a personalized email (or letter) thanking them again; be sure to include your contact information – you never know; they may be so impressed with your manners and thoughtfulness that they’ll call you on the spot!

Keep an open mind; always be willing to pitch in to help with any (and all) tasks. If there’s nothing for you to do one day, offer to assist other departments (with permission, of course). I’ve done filing, spray painted shoes in the parking lot, sourced chandeliers, and spray-mounted advertisements to boards.

Even while performing the smallest tasks, I learned something and interacted with people I hadn’t met before.The more you absorb from these varied experiences, the more rounded you’ll become. You might also discover that you’d prefer to work in another department. The interactions you have on a daily basis could strongly impact your future, so treat everyone with respect. Chances are, they know others in the industry. Always turn up on time (ask your supervisor what time they prefer. Sometimes, they might not be ready for you first thing in the morning) and don’t rush out the door as soon as the day is over. Design is about commitment and getting the job done right, not about the number of hours you’ve worked.

1. If you’re searching for portfolio to transport and display your work, A.I. Friedman (located on 18th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue) in New York City has an unparalleled selection. Their website also has some nice choices. More options can be found here or at most art supply and drafting stores.

2. Here’s a comprehensive list of online internship resources.

3. And, if you never hear back after an interview, it would still pale in comparison to this experience! I love hearing about (now highly successful) designers’ first interview experiences.

Do you have any internship experiences you’d like to share?

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