16.07.23 — Design

Landing a Design Internship

This is a post that I originally wrote and published way back in 2016 after my colleagues at Erretres asked me to reflect on my experience of finding an internship as a design student. Since I relaunched my website in 2019, the post has sat idly as a draft, but I recently reread it and realised that it’s pretty much the same advice I’d give someone today. Things have changed such as the pandemic forcing most things to shift online, but I stand by the main points I make, so here it is in all its untouched glory…

When it comes to looking for a work as a designer, lots of people claim to have a comprehensive guide on exactly how to land that dream position, but as a relatively fresh face in the industry I can’t profess to know all that much just yet! Herein I won’t be trying to convince you that I possess the secrets to the perfect technique, but rather I’ll share what worked for me personally as a design student venturing into the big scary world of professional work.

I should also point out that going to work in a design studio isn’t the only path available, as you might want to work as an in-house designer, start up your own design business, go freelance, or even change fields completely — I have friends who between them have done all of the above, and it’s working out nicely for all of them.

Moving back though to making the jump from study to work, the first and most daunting step is actually managing to land yourself the internship or job that you want, and so to break it down I’ve compiled a list of the things that worked for me. Here we go…

Plan your attack

You probably have an idea regarding the kind of place you’d like to work, but if not then browsing design blogs to find who has produced work that you like is a good place to start, but there’s also directories like Studio Index which list design studios based on location. Try compiling companies of interest into a list from most to least interesting, and then you can easily decide how many applications to send at once, all whilst keeping a record of the responses you’re getting.

Grab their attention

I have seen first hand that companies are inundated with applications, so in order to be considered it’s a good idea to design something which makes you stand out. Whether it be creating a personalised website or sending a printed portfolio packed with goodies, use your creative abilities to ensure that your application isn’t just filed away never to be seen again. One package I created contained a printed portfolio, cover letter and business card, all bound together using neon green card to catch the eye. For more ideas or should you find yourself completely lost, I found the publication Flaunt by UnderConsideration a pretty neat source of inspiration.

Make it personal

There’s nothing more boring than being handed an A4 CV or receiving an email which has clearly been copied, pasted and sent to loads of other design agencies. Designers all still human beings at the end of the day, so I found a good way to start a conversation was to send a personally written letter directly to the director of each company, talking about their work and injecting a little bit of my own personality.

But equally, don’t waste their time

Any good design business will be pretty busy, so do your best to keep everything you do succinct and straight to the point. Applying for a design job isn’t like applying for any other, and there’s no generally accepted application protocol, so if you don’t think something is necessary then don’t include it. Instead of sending a CV for example, I added a small column to my cover letter which outlined a few details with a link to my full CV online should anybody care enough to actually read it.

Try not to irritate

As I said, design companies are often busy and sometimes you’ll definitely have to follow up any applications with an email, phone call or even a knock at the door, but do know when its time to stop. Constant harassment will probably leave a bad taste in the company’s mouth, and can also waste valuable time you could otherwise spend on further applications.

Have luck or have perseverance

If nobody has told you yet then take it from me, you’ll be facing a lot of rejection in the process. Sometimes you’ll have a bit of luck and find a company which is ready to take on an intern or new employee, like I did at Erretres, but otherwise you’ll be needing plenty of perseverance. If a studio doesn’t take you on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t think your work was up to scratch, it was probably because your work and theirs just weren’t compatible. Take it as them saving you the trouble of working somewhere where you don’t fit in and carry on full steam ahead — I and everyone I know were rejected countless times, but we all made it in the end. Keep on going and good luck!