BA (Hon)est: Graduate Advice #4 – The Internship

So congrats – you’ve bagged an internship! You’re probably feeling excited but nervous – it’s totally natural. Being an intern is all about observing, listening and learning. Sure, you’ve learnt a lot in those 3 years at University but it doesn’t end there! Working in the industry is a-whole-nother world of hurdles and learning curves so make sure you’re prepared to do your best sponge impression and soak up every drop of the experience – good and bad (but hopefully mostly good!). I asked the team at gpstudio for any advice and tips they might want to pass on to graduates – some I have used here and some I will be using in future posts!

The work begins before you even step through the door on your first day – research! Which projects have they worked on? Who are their clients? What do they specialise in? How long has the studio been running? Who is on the team? Usually all of this information can be found on their website or with a little bit of googling!

It goes without saying really: be on time/early, be presentable, be organised (bring pencils, pens and a notebook just incase), be polite and be ethusiastic.

Also (I know I keep saying this but…) don’t work for free! Any studio that values your time will pay you at least minimum wage – how else are you supposed to live? Asking about money might feel a bit awkward at first but it’s best to be upfront about these things.

Don’t have ‘an’ attitude, have a ‘can-do’ attitude. You might be asked to do some menial tasks (scanning, printing, making tea and running errands) however everyone starts at the bottom. Performing these tasks correctly will prove you can be trusted with more responsibility. You might be asked to do something that you’re not sure about/have never done before. You might get a bit stressed out/feel the pressure and it might go slightly wrong. Use your initiative, ask for help if you need to and give it your best.

See everything as a challenge that you want to conqueror, whether it’s remembering everyone’s drink order or making a phone call. If you finish all of your tasks, show initiative and ask if anyone needs any help – it will earn you team player brownie points!

I know that I worried about ‘not being good enough’ and not knowing things but luckily I had Jo to reassure me: ‘How would you know that?’. If they wanted someone that already knew how to do things they would hire a Junior. As an intern you’re not expected to know everything and it’s really important to remember this – you will make mistakes and it’s ok as long as you learn from them. You’re expected to know the basics (idea generation, type terminology, paper terminology etc) and the rest you will pick up along the way.

Take notes on everything. How many sugars Jeremy has, how many copies of the presentation Anna needs printing – the size, the paper, the cover, the binding. If you write everything down it leaves less space for error, you should do everything correctly and you won’t miss anything off the list.

It’s easy to struggle on with a task to try and impress the team but really it’s just better for everyone if you ask for help. It will save time and stress – there’s no point leaving it until the deadline and then admitting you don’t know what you’re doing. This won’t go down well with your team and will make you look silly. Being an intern is the best and most important time to ask questions. You’re surrounded by successful designers who have years of experience and knowledge – they have been in your shoes, made plenty of mistakes and if you ask nicely, they will probably be happy to share their stories. Ask for tips. Ask about their journey – where have they worked before, how did they get to where they are now? What do they do when they’re not at the studio – visit exhibitions, talks, galleries etc? Who do they admire in the industry?

Just think about what you’re asking first – studios are busy places and nobody wants to be asked 100 questions every day. Asking good questions is different to asking any old questions. And also remember, they are designers but they are people too so not everything needs to be work related! Which leads me on to…

Yes, you have to know your onions, but you could be the best designer in the world and nobody would want you to work at their studio if you’re rude/arrogant/a liar/boring. Designers spend the majority of their week in the studio and so to be part of the team, you will need to be a nice person/funny/interesting/outgoing etc. Take an interest in the team members and make small talk – What did they do at the weekend? What are they having for lunch? Which area do they live? How do they get to work?These are all small conversations which will break the ice and hopefully lead to you being able to show your personality. This will help you be remembered too, and don’t forget the design industry is a small place – that’s a reminder from Jo!

Being social is important, but don’t spend hours chatting next to the coffee machine – you’re there to do work! It’s all about finding the right balance, which comes with experience. Ideally at the end of your internship you want your boss to be thinking something along the lines of ‘I don’t know how we would cope without (insert your name here)!’ – this is what will get you hired if it’s the right time and place.

(Not the TV programme!) Again, to be remembered you need to make an impression. It is scary talking to a group of people that you don’t know but don’t be a wallflower. Designers have opinions on everything so make sure yours is heard – a tip from my boss, Chris. I think he was talking about work mainly but maybe having an opinion on the best sandwich filling or who’s going to win Big Brother will help… it depends on the studio I guess?

All internships must come to an end, boo! Hopefully you will have enjoyed your time at the studio and will have learnt a lot. You might decide it’s not the right place for you, but you can still put it down as experience. If you’re lucky you might be extended or even hired – that would be amazing! If they’re not keeping you on make sure to say thank you with a card and small gift (maybe an in-joke that you’ve learnt whilst socialising?)/send an email to the whole studio(depending on the size), exchange email addresses/LinkedIn info and ask for feedback so you can improve. You might be leaving now but who knows, they might ask you to come back in the future so leave a good impression.

I hope that helped put your mind at ease/answered any questions. Overall, internships should be hard work but fun. If you’ve learnt nothing then either you’re doing something wrong or you’re not in the right place. Finding the right studio for you might take a while but generally you will be able to learn more in a smaller studio as they will be able to give you more time.

If you’re interning at the moment or will be soon let me know how you’re getting on – I’d love to hear different experiences! Good luck!

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© Natasha Nuttall | January 2022

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