The Value of Internships
With Summer fast approaching and tertiary institutes winding down for another year, fresh graduates will soon be on the hunt for ways into the mysterious place that is the working world. For many of these graduates this hunt will lead them to explore internships.
There has been much discussion on the value of internships, with some viewing them as an essential step in the career path any young designer, and others rightfully calling out unpaid internships as exploiting young talent. But work experience is still the best place to gain industry experience, and internships are sometimes the only way to get that experience.
Every week at Curative, we receive emails from eager comms and design students looking for internships, all willing to work for free. And while we think that is awesome, we believe that for an internship to be of value to both parties, we need to invest our time in them. And time is at a premium here.
So, rather than taking on interns year-round, we offer a Social Change summer internship once a year. This is always a paid position as we believe that everyone’s time should be valued. And, because we’re paying them, we put in the time, energy and effort to get as much out of our interns as we can. Having a focused and dedicated time for interns, makes for a much richer learning experience for everyone.
So that’s our stance on internships.
But we were curious - How do others view internships? We’ve tracked down a few viewpoints from some of New Zealands best to give us their perspectives.
Mark Easterbrook, Goodfolk
Internships work when both sides are really committed to making it a worthwhile experience. Interns need to be keen and proactive, finding ways to contribute to the studio. In return, the people around them need to have a genuine desire to help them make the most of being there. It’s really easy for an intern to end up stuck in a corner, doing nothing useful and being ignored. The worst internships feel like a waste of everyone’s time.
Ideally, an internship situation gives both sides something of value. Interns have the opportunity to better understand the commercial realities of the business, discover new approaches and viewpoints, and learn how to better their work through to constructive criticism. More experienced creatives dealing with interns can use it as an opportunity to develop their ability to guide and mentor. It can help them to better articulate feedback, give positive criticism, and even motivates them to be better creatives themselves - seeing the work of a talented intern fresh out of studying can sometimes remind you of why you do what you do in the first place.
Clinton Ulyatt, 3rd Eye
We get a lot of enquiry from graduates but not a lot of intern roles. Perhaps one or two a year across the business (Media, Advertising, Design). It seems that the focus from the educational institutions is on making up the numbers of EFTS (effective full time students). There is a bit of a void once the capping ceremony is out of the way. The Grads often have very little in the way of direction and what next steps to take to get their first role.
In my 10 years as a creative recruiter I have only ever had one approach from an institution asking how we can help students with career advice. There needs to be a co-ordinated drive, perhaps even involving government? To create intern opportunities with industry. A structure with a specified duration and remuneration attached. In as much as in the past trades have had apprenticeships.
There are huge benefits to be had by guiding grads into the work place. So often I come across wasted talent, stuck in dead-end jobs – who should have been lead into intern roles. We can help some of these people, but it really requires an industry initiative to champion the cause of grads.
I’ve always taken on interns. There’s such massive talent floating around Wellington, I’d be silly not to. They’re particularly important for Capital mag. Without their involvement, we miss that younger voice. Each intern brings new interests, connections and conversations. Their ideas are just as important as the extra set-of hands they provide.
We put a lot of time & energy into our interns. We ask them their strengths & interests & tailor work towards those. I want them to get the answers & experience they need. And I expect them to work hard while they’re with us – to use initiative, listen and be clever. They need to be adding.
It’s also important for me personally to help young people navigate the industry & mentor them. I admire people who want to make opportunities for themselves. I don’t know that I ever had someone to give me advice and support when I was starting out (I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway, cough cough). Personally, to watch somebody develop from an opportunity you’ve given them is humbling. It reminds you of where you started & the challenges.
Plus, I currently work with loads of my interns from years ago, so I know internships work. Source: TDK
Find out more about Capital Mag at www.capitalmag.co.nz
We think internships are really important but are adamant that they should be paid. While we really would love to take on interns, we’ve never felt in a position to be able to give give them the quality and quantity of input and work that they would deserve; Hardhat is only the 2 of us, our workload is pretty erratic and unpredictable as well as incredibly varied in the skills required. Budgets are often small, and we travel often so aren’t necessarily in the studio 9-5, 5 days a week, for months on end. Maybe one day! Source: TDK
Find out more about Hardhat Design at www.hardhatdesign.com
Joe Mitchell, HUSK
Internships seem pretty essential for your CV if you want to score a design job post-uni, especially given the surplus of graphic designers to jobs in NZ at the moment. I’m all for internships. It’s a big cliché, but internships are actually a pretty good way to see if you’re a good fit with a company and visa-versa. Lastly internships are also a really good learning experience when you’re a young designer too – most of my mates will say they learnt more from their 3-month internship than their entire 3-year degree.
What I’m super strongly against is when companies – either implicitly or explicitly – use this as an opportunity to try to get fresh young designers to work for free, sometimes for months. It’s just the same as those job adds that ask for a young designer to do a massive commercial project for free as a “great portfolio piece” – it’s nasty, cynical and exploitative. Beyond the justice aspect there’s also the practicalities of it too – if you want someone to work for free full-time for 3 months over summer, unless they’re living free with their folks it’s going to be pretty unrealistic. I think if the interns going to provide value for your organisation you should pay them – it’s that simple.
I was really lucky to score a bunch of freelance jobs early on in my degree, and when I eventually had to complete a mandatory internship for me degree I was able to use a full-time freelance opportunity I’d already been offered for it. I’ve probably done about half a dozen internships so far – both paid and unpaid.
I started my career as an intern and remember it felt like a massive deal, I was so jazzed to have some place to release all my creative energy. I knew nothing but got offered a full time job after a couple of months, probably cos I was just putting everything into the place, which long term is not great. It was a chance to taste the industry and I never deviated for many years until I realised I wanted to just focus on the things I really enjoyed and sidestepped my career to illustration.
Try to choose an internship carefully so you can really test the waters, no point busting your ass for an advertising agency when all you want to do is illustrate. We do hire interns and pay them, the process takes some time to find the right fit, we want them to get as much out of us as we do from them. Famously our first intern of Kapu Toys, is now the CEO. Source: TDK
Brendon O'Dwyer, Dow Design
I think it’s key for grads to get hands on experience, and working for free whilst you’re studying is ok in my opinion. You’re still learning lots about everything, and there’s so much you’ll learn in a studio that Uni will never teach you. If you’re taking on a full-time internship and you have a qualification its only fair the studio / agency pay you. Its a bloody hard industry to get into as it stands, with too many creatives looking for work, when you’re straight out of school.
Do what you gotta do, if you’re good enough you’ll get in, but you shouldn’t be working for free once you’ve finished studying. If you can’t get work in a studio, find your own freelance clients, work on some arts / cultural projects, or heck — come up with your own ideas and throw your energy into that, it could well be the thing that gets you noticed by that cool agency.
Eden Potter, AUT School of Art and Design
At AUT Communication Design, we regard internships as training opportunities. This is quite different from ‘work experience’, which is a whole lot more casual. Internships should be about some kind of structured training or mentorship, which is invaluable to build the intern’s knowledge and experience. And if the intern is producing usable work, the organisation is benefiting financially as well. We don’t promote ‘work for free’ on our online job board, and believe that if a design intern is creating value for the company, they should be paid. Unpaid internships are actually socially and economically discriminating, since only students or grads with financial support from elsewhere can afford to work for free. We totally reject the myth that ‘unpaid internships’ are some kind of masochistic rite of passage into the industry. Like it’s what you have to do to break in or something!
Check out AUT at aut.ac.nz
Kris Lane, Alt Group
The gap between design school and a job is a hard jump. Design school can't teach you everything that you need to know, so internships can step in to help to meet people, see how a studio works and help out on a couple of jobs while you are there. Each year, a few design students in their final year work in the studio during their term breaks and they work on a range of jobs from photoshoots, design work and sit in on studio life. We strongly belief that all positions should be paid, so always encourage people getting paid for the work in the studio. Hearing about everyone's final project and talking about the state of design education is what we love about meeting new people and having them work on some upcoming projects.
Tan Desai, Designworks
When planned well, internships can be extremely helpful for both the agency and the intern. In order for it to be successful however, both parties need to make an effort.
What I’ve seen work quite well is when an agency really understands their own processes and has the right people directing the intern. The agency really needs to have a plan about how they will be utilising the services of an intern.
It’s a great platform for students & graduates to springboard off into a real job. For agencies, it’s an opportunity to get a fresh perspective and find some exceptional talent.
Internships also help the creatives leading the intern hone their leadership skills. It helps them improve their briefing skills and the ability to give constructive feedback.
One of the biggest qualities that agencies often look for in an intern is the right attitude. As students you need to start an internship with an open mind and a bit of hunger in the belly. Be enthusiastic. Be a sponge and do all tasks to the best of your ability. It’s all part the learning process.
The best way of getting a foot in the door is to get in touch with agencies that really inspire you. Show them your work and request to see them in person to talk about how you might be able to give them a helping hand. Having an online portfolio is really handy as it’s easy for you to email and easy for agencies to view. You can upload your portfolio on free local sites like CreativeConnect.co.nz. It’s all about getting out there and showcasing your talent to the industry.
We know there’s some great talent graduating every year, and we’d love to hear from you.
Check out Designworks at www.designworks.co.nz.