Internships, Experience, and Discouraging People

17 Aug

I was taking a quick twitter break from a project, and I came across this article.

Jessica Hische basically sums up everything I wanted to write about unpaid internships. I never took an unpaid internship in school. And I held 4 separate internships during my 4 years in design school. I simply couldn’t afford to spend my time ALSO working for free. While the places I interned might not have been the most exciting or glamorous companies out there, they offered a way to make some money while I learned more about what I loved, and they all provided me with invaluable experience. Almost any job will teach you a lesson, if you want it to.

I lowered my standards after I graduated, and I took an unpaid internship. At the time, I remember thinking ‘this is dumb, I have a degree in design,’ but I was so desperate to have a job at a real agency. They told me that they were preparing to hire another designer, and I thought that it would be way better to have a foot in the door. Imagine my surprise when I showed up for my first day at work, and there was a brand new, paid designer working there. I stuck it out for a couple of months, and I learned that the atmosphere was pretty unprofessional, I was just as qualified as the people I worked for, and if I wanted relationships with these people, I was going to have to do all the work. I was also given very little work. I would have welcomed the typical intern duties, making proofs, making coffee, preparing files for print. Anything would have been better than sitting in my secluded corner with my computer that I brought from home, wishing someone would throw me a bone.

There was a valuable lesson in that experience, and it was that if I don’t value my time, other people won’t either. Why would that agency exert itself to find projects for me, when it wasn’t costing them anything to have me sit in their office, just on the off chance they could find something unimportant enough to give me? And I had a degree, and a fair amount of experience at that point! It wasn’t like I was incompetent.

Anyway, all of this made me think about how about a year ago, my friend and I were thinking about just starting our own design studio. We emailed some of our old professors to see if they could give us any wisdom, and one of them got back to me with the advice to work at an established firm to see how they do things before we get any crazy ideas. That’s a great plan! Except most established firms are looking for creative directors with 10 years of experience, or unpaid interns.

We ended up not moving forward with that idea, but here I am, a year later, and working on my own. I only wish that I had started on this path sooner. The traditional path seems to be: graduate school, get a lowly job, and work your way up to glory, gaining valuable experience and work along the way.

I’m pretty sure this idea is turning into a myth as opposed to a legitimate life plan. My graduating class graduated with 1 person immediately moving on to a full time job in their field. I don’t know how many people from this year had jobs right out of college, but I’m willing it bet it wasn’t many.

Sometimes I feel badly because I never got a traditional job. But I’m not a traditional person. I was homeschooled for most of my school years, and instead of getting an hourly job, I capitalized on the fact that I was one of the few older kids in my neighborhood, and ran a small babysitting empire. When it looked like I might not get into design school, I scheduled a meeting with the dean to convince him I was a good fit. I didn’t do things the way other people did, simply because I didn’t know what they were doing. Penelope Trunk says that homeschoolers are going to run the world, and I don’t think that’s a crazy thought. We aren’t all scary weird!

The world of employment is rapidly changing, and my generation is bearing the brunt of this. The fact that jobs are so scarce means that people are finding newer, more unusual ways to employ themselves. I think that for my field, this means a lot more freelancing and contract work, with designers employing themselves, and seeking out projects, because companies are less willing to have a dedicated designer full time. I also think that sounds incredibly exciting. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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