A guide to internships
AIGA believes that quality internships provide an invaluable stepping stone towards professional practice and create continuity within the design profession. We thank those who open their doors to young designers and generously share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of design practitioners.
What is an internship?
An internship is a temporary job at a design consulting firm or in-house design office that is geared toward an upper-level student or recent graduate. Employers may hire interns to assist on a specific project or for a set amount of time, such as the summer or a semester. Students and young designers often develop their practice by broadening their education with a mentor, while gaining experience in a professional design environment. Employers benefit from each intern’s unique approach, perspective, and assistance during the creative process.
An internship is an important opportunity for students to:
- Apply design skills acquired in school to real-world projects
- Collaborate with professionals
- Gain insight into the professional world of design
- “Test-drive” a particular working environment where they may hope to land a full-time job
- Network with design professionals
How to find an internship
This process can be a job in itself! Although it may be time-consuming, students should remember that there is a lot to be learned from the experience, which can set the stage for strong career development. The process of seeking an internship provides valuable experience in talking about one’s work. Students will also learn about the professional practice of design and possibly discover new directions that their career could take. Competition for internship opportunities can be high, so students should be sure to start the application process early.
A good internship host will:
- Issue students a job description before the internship begins that includes expected responsibilities and work hours
- Provide an opportunity for students to work directly with a senior level designer or art director (who acts as a mentor)
- Situate students in an on-site, professional, ethical, and safe work environment
- Take account of student’s personal learning goals and answer their questions
- Provide students with the opportunity to experience a broad range of activities, including ideation and creative concept development, client interaction, new business proposal writing, and production preparation
- Ask students to perform administrative work only as it relates to the design profession
- Give students an evaluation at the conclusion of your internship
- Reimburse you for transportation expenses incurred for and while on the job
How to be a good intern
To make a good impression as an intern, students must exhibit the utmost professionalism. Students may receive more responsibility by presenting themselves as dependable, easy to work with, and appreciative of the internship opportunity. Students should take cues from co-workers and fall in line with the social style of the workplace.
As an intern, students should:
- Arrive on time and be ready to work as soon as they get there
- Treat everyone in the office politely and respectfully
- Prioritize communication and ask questions if they do not understand something
- Make no unreasonable demands
- Show enthusiasm and a willingness to help
Time and money
Internships may vary in their duration and approach to compensation. Internships typically last from a few months to a year. Students may be paid by the hour, the project, or a flat rate applied for the duration of the internship. Regardless of the compensation schedule, the total paid for hours worked must at least meet the required minimum wage rate in the state where the employment occurs. Employers are encouraged to also offer students invaluable small perks such as travel reimbursement, tickets to lectures, or specialized training, and recommendation letters or introductions to other professionals.
Students may also be eligible to earn academic credits for their internship experience. Students should check with their school’s career services office to find out if an internship qualifies for academic credit. However, academic credit may not be enough for an internship experience to qualify as “unpaid” under the U.S. Department of Labor’s internship guidelines. Employers will find a list of six standards that must be met for an internship to be unpaid, including a formal training program that “is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations.”
AIGA’s Philadelphia chapter has created a Paid Internship Pledge) that calls for “all private sector businesses to make a pledge to honor the law and fairly compensate the design students they may employ in the future.” AIGA urges employers to provide paid internships whenever possible, and to fully comply with the U.S. Department of Labor’s internship guidelines.