Design Internships

Advice on how to land your first design internship.

June 17, 2020
Advice from someone who’s been on both sides of the table.

The coveted design internship. It can be a hard, even daunting, process to get a design internship, but it’s far from impossible. There are ways to increase your chances of getting noticed, getting your foot in the door.

When you’re applying, it comes down to showing that you have the skills, passion, potential, and standing out from the crowd.

Who am I?

My name is Suhaila and I’m a Product Designer at Kik. I was in your shoes, not long ago. My undergraduate program had 6 internships. I know the stress of looking for a co-op job, applying, interviews, rejections, and, finally, scoring a job! Specifically, I know how hard it is to get a design job as a student. Yet without those experiences I wouldn’t have found my passion for design.

I am now across the fence, hiring design students to work with us at Kik, and to provide students with the same opportunity and experience that was so valuable to me. So now, having been on both sides of the hiring process, I’d like to share some tips for students applying to Design internships.

1. Create an online portfolio

I cannot stress enough the importance of having an online portfolio. This is pretty much the only thing that matters. It’s the first thing employers look for in an application, and it’s what we use to make our decision. We want to see your style. We want to see your thought process. We want to see that you have some experience and that you’re serious about becoming a designer. This is especially crucial if you’re applying for a job at a tech company.

Put your work online. Create a website. You can create a simple site using just HTML and CSS, both of which are relatively easy to learn (try CodeAcademy). Don’t know how to code? No problem! There are a lot of sites that you can use to host your design work. Here are a few: Dribbble, Squarespace, Semplice, Dunked, Behance, Tumblr, Wordpress, and many more.

Don’t have design work?

A good way to start is by creating flyers, banners, websites, and logos for clubs and organizations at your school. This will give you some experience in graphics and illustration. You can also design websites and logos for friends and families. This is a really good way to learn web design quickly.

You can also including some artwork in your portfolio (especially digital artwork and graphics). This will give employers an idea of what your personal style is. Artwork isn’t a substitute for design work, but a few selected pieces in your portfolio alongside some design work would be helpful.

Want someone to review your portfolio? Hit me up!

2. Enhance your resume

Even though your portfolio or website have much more weight, your resume is still the first thing that we see. Use this opportunity to make a good first impression. Make it stand out! And make sure the link to your portfolio is clear. Use colour, a different font, a new layout, and whitespace to your advantage. Use this as an opportunity to show off your design style (basically use your design skills to enhance your resume!). Employers are constantly looking at resume after resume in black and white, and seeing one that has some character is refreshing, and leaves a lasting impression. Just make sure it’s readable!

Make it one page. Remove (or shorten) any content that is not immediately relevant to the job you’re applying to. Put the important content front and centre. Employers generally spend no more than 10 seconds scanning your resume, and most don’t go past the first page. The easier it is for us to read and find the important information, the better your chances are at getting an interview.

Want someone to review your resume? Hit me up!

3. Research the company

Do yourself a favour and look at the companies. See if this is a place you really want to work and if the product excites you. Pick a few companies that you really want to work for, and personalize your resume for each. If you can, reach out to designers at those companies and introduce yourself. This research will also help you during the interview when you’re asked questions about the product, and so you can ask intelligent questions about the company.

Apply, even if your degree isn’t related

Everyone gets into design a different way (art, psychology, engineering, programming, business). It’s those experiences and backgrounds that make you unique. Use that to your advantage and highlight your unique skills and experiences. Having a diverse team is key to creating and building on each other’s ideas.

4. Meet us in person

If there is an information session, or if you have an opportunity to meet some employers from that company, do it! This is a great way to learn about the company culture, meet people who work there (and you might be working with), and to leave a lasting impression.

5. Consider writing a cover letter

Cover letters aren’t mandatory, but they’re nice-to-haves. They’re especially important if this is the first design job you’re applying to, or if you don’t have a lot of design work to show. Use this opportunity to introduce yourself, let us know why you’re interested in design, and why you’re interesting in the company.

But, do not attach a generic cover letter

Either personalize it, or do not include it. We can tell the difference between a generic cover letter and a personal one. Changing the company name and job position doesn’t count as personalizing the cover letter. Put some effort into it (see above).

Final thoughts

Applying to jobs as student can be quite stressful and daunting. Take it one step at a time and don’t worry about getting everything perfect right away. It’s a learning process and you’ll learn a lot on your journey. Take that first step and apply. And always work to improve your skills.

If you ever need feedback, help, or have any questions, hit me up!

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