Internships Lay the Foundation for a Successful Career
As soon as you join the workforce, a reality sets in: smarts and talent play second fiddle to experience, and who you know.
At least in the eyes of hiring managers. Remember: their careers are on the line too! A bad hire means lost productivity, disrupting company culture, and less trust for the hiring manager’s judgment among their peers. They’re looking for a candidate who can jump in and immediately solve problems. If a former manager can account for their ability to do so, even better.
Internships baby, internships.
But where does one get started—building a body of experience, and a symphony of voices to sing your praises?
Internships baby, internships. A good internship puts some cash in your pocket and lays the groundwork for the rest of your career. Those first opportunities, contacts and projects serve as your proving ground.
We spoke with some creative professionals who hit the ground running by kicking ass in an internship. How did they maximize their experience and use it as a springboard for a successful career?
The biggest advice I have for students these days is to complete as many internships as you possibly can while you’re in school. One of my internships was at eROI in Portland, OR. During my time there, I gained exposure to agency culture, worked on several projects and made some great connections. Completing an internship allows you to gain some great experience that can lay a strong foundation towards a rewarding career.
My first job out of college was a design internship at McGarrah Jessie, an advertising agency in Austin, Texas.
I’ve completed a handful of design internships, all of which helped me gain skills and experience that helped build my portfolio, but my time at McJ was pivotal in my career path for a few very important reasons.
1. The people: It was five months of working with some of the most talented designers and art directors in Austin. Everyone works hard and cares deeply about what they are doing. I found that if I put myself out there and asked questions everyone was willing to teach me how to do something.
2. They did not treat me like an intern: I got to work on actual projects and my work was held to the same high standards as everyone else.
3. I learned how to get my shit together: McJ was the most organized environment I have ever seen. I learned a lot about how to work efficiently and how people collaborate with each other on a larger scale.
I started my career in advertising on the other side of the building, in account management, though I always knew my heart was in the creative product. So one day I quit my job and went back to school for graphic and visual design. To obtain my degree, I had to complete an internship, and was fortunate to land one in studio production at GSD&M. Production was not precisely the field I wanted to work in, but it was a foot in the door.
During my internship I worked my tail off. I met as many people as I could, asked a lot of questions, and volunteered for every opportunity that came my way. Eventually, these led to some design jobs. As a result, I applied for and received the design internship for the following semester while also fulfilling a second semester as a production intern. I stuck to my mantra of meet people, work hard, volunteer—and eventually was pulled in to do some work for a couple of group creative directors. They liked what I did and asked to see my portfolio. From that day on, they kept me as busy as I’ve ever been. When my semester ended, there were no job openings for a designer so I was brought back as a freelancer. I freelanced at the agency for a little over a year and was subsequently hired as a senior designer.
When I talk to students I always say, “If you want to be successful, NEVER stop learning, meet lots of people, ask questions and work as much as you can to attain the skills you need for the job you want.” At least that seemed to work for me.
I was very lucky with my internships. Both were attained by people knowing me and recommending me; it was my good reputation that preceded me in laying the foundation for my career. Through the internships, I learned the value of my voice and perspective to move projects forward while also learning how design functions in the “real world,” and by doing that, I was able to turn both into paying jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still constantly learning, but I was definitely more prepared for the expectations of life outside of school with them under my belt.
Going into the 2011 Nike intern program, I really had no idea what to expect. I was still in school at SCAD Atlanta where I had become pretty comfortable with my skills (at the time) as well as being open and friendly toward new faces. Which, I think, was very helpful for being thrown into a new city, knowing nothing about the surroundings or the people I would encounter.
After day two of Nike’s intern orientation, I knew that the program would be a fun experience no matter what the outcome. Nike’s working culture seemed very relaxed, entertaining and welcoming. All the ice breakers helped do exactly such with my 100+ intern-mates.
From a previous intern experience, I’d found that trying to embody my 20-year-old idea of being professional worked to my disadvantage, due to not showing my true personality. So I inherently tried the opposite during my Nike internship. The more comfortable I felt being there, the more “right for the job” I was. What’s the worst that could happen, right? I could either be myself, make my experience great, or struggle to fit in, and ultimately still not end up getting hired. I capitalized on this thought, spending as much time as possible talking to, getting lunch with, and bonding with fellow interns and co-workers.
Three months isn’t all that much time, so there were many sleepless nights. I was also well-equipped to work with the team I was placed on, having extracurricular goals of my own in apparel and design. Many times, I found myself executing projects where I saw potential portfolio work or experience to be gained. This meant identifying places where I could create additional assets for projects, and walking the floor asking if I could lend a hand, or simply discuss work in progress with my directors and co-workers.
The experience I had (and cherish) at Nike had a direct impact on the events to follow. Following my internship, I was hired at the beginning of 2012 as an entry level designer on the same team I had been working with for the summer, which provided a smooth transition for me. I learned the working style I thrive in, and try to carry that with me to every role and studio I encounter. There are obvious things like: time management, learning to work as a team of creatives, how to present work and communicate about it etc.
But my internship taught me other, subtler skills. Being comfortable in my working environment made a huge difference. My hunger to seek additional assets for projects remains, and continues to help me in my current jobs. It’s also how I ended up with some of my key portfolio pieces. Most importantly, I learned the value of fresh perspective and youth.
As an intern, you’re expected to take risks and make mistakes, but you have to learn from every decision you make. At the beginning of my career, I took risks without looking back. Coupled with being hungry for good work, these experiences landed me where I am today.
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