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How to transform your design internship into a job

A design internship is one of the best chances you’ll have to show a potential employer what you’re capable of, so make sure you get your foot in the doorway

Don’t wait until you’ve graduated to start applying for design internships – you need to be chalking up experience as soon as possible. It’s simple: the more experience you have, the more employable you are. Play your cards right during your time as an intern, and you might even get a design job out of it at the end.

So how can you make the most of your design internship while you’re there? And how can you transform an internship into a job? Here are a selection of pro tips taken from The Design Student Handbook to help you get your foot in the doorway…

(Thanks to Sweaty Eskimo for the feature illustration.)

1. Don't let your CV become wallpaper
First you need to get an internship in the first place: be prepared for rejection, and don’t be surprised if many studios don’t get back to you at first. Draw up a list of all the agencies you’d like to work for – anywhere in the world – and rank them so you know where to concentrate your efforts. A good start is an email to the right person, so phone or dig deep on their site for a relevant name and email address. Send a brief, low-file-size portfolio, with a short and snappy intro. Follow it up with a call after a week if you get no answer. If they like your work, they’ll more than likely get back to you and invite you to meet up.

2. Start on the right foot
First impressions count for a lot, so do your research on the company before you apply for an internship, and again before interview. Prepare a list of questions and concerns that you’re keen to ask about in your first-day meeting to ensure that the studio is aware of your expectations during the time you’re there, and vice versa. Neither party wants any unwelcome surprises further down the line.

3. What to wear?
Every agency is different – so ask them what you should wear if you’re not sure. It’s almost certainly better to be overdressed than under-dressed, but if in doubt, smart casual is usually a good starting point. Whatever you do, don’t under-dress. It’ll look like you don’t care.

4. Confidence is king
It can be nerve-racking turning up on your first day, but take a few deep breaths before you go in: you’ll be absolutely fine. No one’s trying to catch you out – you’re here to learn how things work and, hopefully, make some long-lasting industry contacts. So relax, make eye contact and develop a rapport with those around you. Just be yourself.

5. Speak up
It’s always good when an intern contributes. Share ideas: even if they’re not used, it shows you’re listening and you’re willing to get involved. And you never know, your concept might just spark off the studio’s next big campaign.

6. But don’t overdo it
Nobody likes a know-it-all. Sure, you might know more about the history of Avant Garde Gothic than the middleweight, but there’s no need to shout about it. Be considered in your approach, and think outside the box where appropriate – boasting about how much you’re into Facebook, Twitter and social marketing won’t necessarily get you remembered, whereas sharing your thoughts and ideas about how to use new technologies – whether or not they’re actually possible – may stick in people’s minds more.

7. Stick the kettle on
Of course, the age-old method for interns to win favour is to be friendly, enthusiastic, and offer to make everyone a brew – however good you are, don’t think you’re above it.

8. Show spirit
The most important thing to remember during an internship is that you’re there to work hard, regardless of how much the studio may (or may not) be paying you. You’ve put yourself forward, and have been accepted, so keep up a good work ethic. Ask questions – not just 'how' but 'why'; be social with colleagues; and don’t worry too much about making mistakes – it’s better to try hard than to be hesitant. There really is nothing worse for a studio than an intern with a lack of passion.

9. Regular meetings
During your internship, ask for regular feedback. Creative directors are busy but they – or the designer you’re working with – should have time to give you feedback if you schedule it. Don’t leave it to a time when you think they ‘might not be busy’, ask for a regular weekly meeting that you can both make. It’s important to get this feedback to track how you’re doing, and pick up some valuable tips.

10. Become irreplaceable
This means rolling up your sleeves, and getting involved. If your team is working late, you work late. And always ask if anyone needs anything doing before you go home. Be adaptable, show that you can be relied on, and aim to solve problems – not make them. No job is too small: put your all into every task you’re given. Act as though you’re already on the staff. If by the end of your internship the studio can’t function without you, they’ll hire you.

Taken from The Design Student Handbook – your definitive guide to breaking into the industry. You'll find the digital version of this magazine available to buy within the Computer Arts app – here, if you're in the UK; or here in the US.

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