Tool #2: Is an internship the best way to get what you want?

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Many internship guides will advise you that if you want to be successful and gain experience in the field of design, you need to get the right internship. You should first consider, however, whether an internship will actually be the best way for you to get what you want, to gain the skills you need, and to participate in building a practice and a culture you want to be part of.

Here is a checklist of things to consider before you set out:

a) What do I hope will be the outcome of my internship? Am I expecting a job, to get better at a specific thing, to enter a certain network of practices, a reference, or to ‘get discovered’? You might want to consider that most internships do not lead to jobs in the same studio, company or institution, but might often simply lead to more unpaid internships.

b) Have I investigated training courses that might give me the same skills that I think I will gain from the internship?

c) Could I gain just as much – or perhaps even more – relevant experience by working with my friends, self-initiating a project, setting up an co-working space, organising an exhibition and other events?

d) Am I interested in producing design and culture for commercial gain, for the public good, to change society or to create culture everywhere and for everyone? Find an internship, an organisation, and work that will help you to achieve that.

e) How will I fund my internship if it is unpaid or underpaid? What happens if I can’t afford to do one? Some people will be able to rely on family help, others will rely on student loans, and others are forced to fund their internships through other part-time jobs. Is it worth it, or might there be another way to get what you hope to gain from the internship?

f) If I am choosing an internship based on a prestigious name, have I really considered what experience I would actually like to gain beyond listing that name on my CV? Remember that interning in a more prestigious and sought-after studio or institution will not necessarily mean that you will get the most interesting or relevant experience.

g) Have I considered whether I want to take an internship simply to ‘get ahead’, i.e. to gain advantage over my peers, and what that might mean? The effect that this might have on me and my community/ peers? Have I thought about whether there are alternatives to a competitive approach to working in the field of design and the cultural sector?

h) Have I thought about how the choices I make early in my career might create a pattern for how I organise and value aspects of my life and work into the future? If you accept terms that are not respectful to you early on, this dynamic can become normalised and is therefore more likely to repeat itself in various ways into your future. ☐

i) Have I considered how the free work I might contribute to a studio/office/institution will not be solely for my benefit, but how it might also be propping up and supporting the very functioning of that studio/office/institution? Have I thought about the implications of this? You may think that your role in the world of design and culture is very small, but your valuable time, skills and passions are exactly what the sector relies on in order to keep running.

“Is an internship the best way to get what you want?” has been adapted from a text by the Carrotworkers’ Collective.

Last edit: 05.06.2014