Designer ISO Internship: First Contact

As the school-year end draws near, in come the requests for creative internships. I was lucky a million years ago. I worked while I was in school and was hired full time at the same place upon graduating. But the need to capture the attention of a potential employer never really ends.

Almost every email I receive leaves out the most important elements that make it likely the internship seeker will strike gold.

It’s a daunting task, asking busy people to pay attention to you, knowing you’re likely to receive complete silence, that you’re completing against hundreds of your contemporaries for a few available slots, not to mention that the slot is likely to be unpaid (something I don’t believe in).

Selling yourself is hard, even for veterans. Some never learn it and vow to hate the concept. On a dating site you might point out a potential mate’s qualities and interests to show that you read their profile and are paying attention. If you’re a new graduate looking for a creative position, you should do nothing short of that as you reach out to potential employers.

Human beings like to be known, understood and valued. Your potential employer wants to know how you will benefit them. Your being an intern should enhance their work and the company, even if they firmly believe in giving a newbie a shot at creative firm life. Your job is to do the work of connecting dots for them. Bring the goods to them instead of making them hunt for the goods.

Sounds like a tall order? Not really.

Here are some DOs when reaching out to that design firm. (The DON’Ts are implied):


  • Personalize: Address your email to a specific person if you can. I’m a one-person firm and my name is on my About page. Use Ms. or Mr. or a first name; either works. But take the time to do it. Call the company in question if you don’t know whom to direct the email to. Calling someone by their name is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do.
  • Basic research: This can be as simple as spending a few minutes on a website to discover the nature of the company’s work. Is it high tech, sports related or nonprofit? Know this before you reach out so you can use this information effectively.
  • Specify: Now you have the above information. Don’t say, “I saw your site and would like a position.” Say why you contacted them specifically. Believe it or not, the person you’re contacting wants to feel like you singled them out for a reason. Even if you are casting a wide net for a potential position, you want to avoid making it appear that way. Instead say, “I’m interested in using my design skills for social change. I see that you do work for organizations such as _____. I think our values would be a good match.” Back that up with any examples of your projects, other work experience, awards or maybe volunteer work. Also, make it clear that you noticed or admired specific work of theirs, and briefly say why.
  • Benefits over features: Since you must keep it short and sweet, lead with benefits. Follow a brief mention of your skills/abilities with why the company would benefit from your presence. What do people ultimately care about? They care about money, their time, their reputation, their values. They want things to be easy, comfortable and fun. You could say, “I’m an independent self-starter and have no preconceived notions about what kind of work I do. I believe those qualities are beneficial in a creative, fast-paced environment where flexibility is key.”
  • State an action: Close by asking if they are willing to do a phone or in person interview. You are more likely to receive a reply if you ask for something specific. Don’t leave it open ended.
  • Be courteous: Don’t be flip, hip or tell someone to view your portfolio. Being brief has benefits but being too brief leads to sounding like you have better things to do. Simply say, “Thank you for your time. I’m including a link to my online portfolio should you be interested in viewing it.”

All of the above can take place in one small paragraph. You can even create a template that includes each of these points, which you can customize for each recipient.

Now go get ‘em.

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