Guide to Internships
Before we get to internships I want to address something that will definitely come up as you get into your graphic design career: Working for free.
When you start to dabble in a field or start going to school for something, you always get a few people that already think you’re a professional, or think that you’ll do things for them for free just because you know each other. My husband is getting his doctorate in physical therapy, and before he even started, people were asking him why their arm hurt and if he could fix their back. People have asked me to paint murals for them and I have to kindly tell them that I’m a graphic designer and not a painter. I can do hand lettering, but I can’t really draw that well.
Anyway, as you get started you’ll get people who aren’t really sure what you do and you’ll have to figure out the best way to explain it. I tell people I design logos and branding to keep it simple. I’m pretty sure my parents had no idea what I was doing the whole time I was in college and were just happy when I got a real job.
Then there are other people who know what you do and know that you’re just starting out, so they’ll ask you to do stuff for free. Sometimes this is a friend of a friend who’s starting a little business and just wants a logo but doesn’t know anything about design or how much it cost. But other times it’s someone who’s just milking the system and trying to get all their stuff designed for free by taking advantage of new designers. It’s obviously up to you, but here’s why I would encourage you to never work for free:
“You’ll get a lot of exposure.”
“I work with a lot of people who are always asking for designers, so I’ll pass your name along.”
This is a lie I've heard too many times. You’re doing this to get paid, not to get a bunch of random people to see your work. One time a guy asked me to do some work for him and when I told him my price, he told me he was hoping I would work in exchange for exposure. He ran a few instagram accounts with thousands of followers, but when I looked at them, one of a meme account and another was a sports account. Do you really think that anyone following those accounts would care about who designed a post? And even if they recognized that it was well designed, how many of those followers do you think are in the market to hire a designer for any reason? So that job was quickly turned down.
When was the last time you told your barista you weren’t going to pay them, but that you knew a lot of people that liked coffee and you’d send them their way? This doesn’t work in any other field of work, but for some reason people treat designers and artists like this. Don’t let people treat you that way! I have done work for free for companies that I believed in and I chose to not charge them. But anytime anyone expects me to do something for free, I turn and run.
You’re building a reputation.
As you’re first starting out, you’re building your reputation as a creative. While doing pro bono work can “look good,” you don’t want it to become something you’re known for. Take family and friends for example. Since most of the time they aren’t even 100% sure what it is that you even do, they’ll ask you to do random things here and there.
One of my dad’s friends asked me to paint a large hand lettered piece on the wall in his office, and for some reason I decided to do it for free. It took me about 20 hours and killed my back, and in the end he kindly gave me $100 (which really was kind because I had told him I’d do it for free). The problem with this was that when he decided he wanted another hand lettered piece painted in his office, he came to me, and it was a bit awkward to tell him that this time it would cost him a lot more.
You want to build your reputation as someone who does great work and is great to work with, not someone who works for free or even cheap.
Now on to internships! Internships are a great way to see what it’s really like to work in your industry, and learn a lot of stuff just from being hands on and working with other skilled creatives. And as far as I know, you should never be fetching coffee as a design intern.
Where to do an internship?
There are so many amazing creative studios and agencies, so the best place to start is to make a list of your top 20 and reach out. If you’re in school or have something else tieing you down location wise, make sure to only look for places within driving distance. If not, this is a great time to branch out and live in a new city!
Some places hire summer interns, some places just always have an intern or two, and some places don’t even advertise that they want/need an intern, so even if there isn’t a job opening listed anywhere, send them an email anyway. Apply to a lot of places and keep an open mind. There are a lot of big names in advertising and design, but don’t get caught up in that. There are also a lot of not as well known and small shops that are just as awesome, if not more. So don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the internship at the most well known place you applied to, but also don’t let that discourage you from applying. They may get hundreds of applicants, but they have to pick someone, and that someone might be you!
When to do an internship?
You can do an internship at basically any point on your creative journey. You just have to make sure that the internships you’re applying for match up with your skill level to some extent. There are basically three different types of internships:
No experience: These internships are for students who are just starting out and getting their feet wet. They know that you don’t have any experience, so the point of the internship is to teach you. Sometimes this means that you’re doing a lot of menial tasks with some instruction here and there, but sometimes it means you get to look over the shoulder of an experienced designer and then try your hand at it yourself with their guidance. It can be hard to tell, but ask a lot of questions beforehand to try and get a feel for it.
Some experience: These are for students in the middle or nearing the end of their time in school, or people who are self taught. You need to have a basic knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite and some sort of design knowledge, but you’re not expected to be a pro or know all the ins and outs of working at an agency. This is a great internship to do over the summer in between semesters to gain experience and get a taste of the real world. It will also give you a feel of what it’s like working in the field. A lot of agencies are pretty small, but some are really large, so getting a feel for what kind of environment you prefer is great before you’re ready to apply for jobs.
Intern to hire: This is for people who know what they’re doing, have experience, have a book, and are ready to get a job. It’s very common for agencies to want you to do a short internship before they hire you. This is mainly because creative teams are usually pretty tight knit and have a certain culture, and they want to make sure you fit. It also gives you a chance to make sure you enjoy their work culture and would enjoy working there. You have to be careful with these and make sure they actually have the intention of hiring you, because some places will keep you as an intern indefinitely and then eventually tell you they can’t hire you on full time. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But it is common for agencies to want you to intern first, so don’t let that turn you away from a job that you think you’d really love!
When to not take an internship?
DON’T TAKE AN UNPAID INTERNSHIP. If you get anything from this blog, it’s that you should never work for free. For some reason the creative field is the only one where people think they can get you to do stuff for them for free, and it’s crazy. Internships are the same way. You’re doing work for them, and it’s usually work that no one else wants to do, so you should get paid. Plain and simple. Now, don’t expect to make a crazy amount of money, but they should be paying you something.
After emailing a bunch of people and getting some responses, your second email needs to ask if the internship is paid and, if so, how much. Don’t be afraid to ask! They will most always have a set hourly rate already decided, so you can know right off the bat if it’s something you’re interested in. Also, ask if the position is part time of full time. Don’t ever take an internship without knowing all the details!
I hope this answers all your questions! But if you think of anything else or need advice, comment down below or send me an email!