How To Nail An Internship

How To Nail An Internship

I never expected to end up in design. My creative subject at school was drama – not art or design. After school, I pursued careers very different to design. And yet here I am, deeply in love with a profession that takes everything that I love and lays it out on a silver platter for me. I believe that no matter who you are and what you are interested in, there is a space for you in design.

I was privileged enough to find my dream company during my second-year job-shadowing. I spent a week – a mere five days – at a tiny studio in Woodstock, and I walked away thinking to myself, “that is my dream job.” This, of course, was because of both the work and the people. I spent my third year internship at the same company – though the studio had upgraded itself to Kloof Street – and immediately afterwards, I landed myself an ‘apprenticeship’ (when I was not sweating and hyperventilating over my third-year final project, I was at North) which, in turn, resulted in a full-time job from the moment I walked out of Inscape for the final time.

I didn’t give any thought to how I would behave during my internship, but looking back, and having been able to witness and observe my colleagues and the people that come in and out of the studio, I have realised what made me valuable (what still makes me valuable as an employee) and what separates the good from the forgettable. The list below may seem small, but it holds what I deem as the most important pieces of advice you can and should take with you into every internship and job you ever have. So, without further ado:

  1. Always be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
  2. When work is offered, be the first person with your hand in the air.
  3. Don’t listen to music in the studio. You will miss out on the casual conversation around you that holds important information and insight into the company, its culture, its workings and the client work.
  4. “Seen but not heard”; “Speak only when spoken to” – these sayings DO NOT apply to you. Always be ready to brainstorm and throw your ideas out there. The more willing you are to be heard and to be part of the team, the more valuable you make yourself.
  5. The ever-cliché but so important: BE YOURSELF. At the very most, you’re aiming to land yourself a job; at the very least, you’re looking to learn something. Speaking to the former, if there is one thing I have learned it is this: landing yourself a job is more than likely going to result in waking up and heading off to the same office every single day. This means you’re going to be around the same people every. single. day. And so this means that you have to make sure that your colleagues become your work family; that they are the brightest, shiniest stars out there; that you genuinely get on with them. For this to happen, you have to be yourself.

A couple of months ago, I was at an event where I saw an old school-acquaintance. We exchanged pleasantries and asked one another what we were doing in life. She mentioned, proudly (and proud she should be), that she was working for Saatchi and Saatchi. She asked me what I was doing.
“I’m a designer for a visual communications agency called NORTH VCA,” I said.
“Oh, cool,” she responded, tapping away on her phone.
Impressed she was not. I say this story with no bitterness or ill-thinking. It is an observation which I am relaying in order to leave you with one last thought: the structure of creative agencies is changing. Don’t turn your nose up at the small, boutique agencies. They are, more often than not, becoming the stars of the show.