How I got an Internship without a Portfolio

I got into Design because I thought I could do something with my life, I was always artsy. But I never knew the difference between being an artist and being a Designer. But anyhow, I trusted my gut and jumped right into a heavily fee structured college.

First year, I wasted just doing mediocre work but I had the ability to grab inspirations from every place here and there and submit something, yet mediocre. It was time for internship and I had absolute worthless portfolio to show, I was scared I will have to repeat my module. Which means, I will have to work harder and I was more into working smart. (Note: I never read books, articles nor did anyone inspire me to follow them.)

I knew what I was good at, reverse engineering. Reverse Engineering, I like to define it as, “Knowing what you want and working your way behind it.”

Now what do I need :

  • A Portfolio
  • My specialization
  • List of Companies
  • Motivation

I am going to go through these 4 points, but in the reverse order. (Remember, reverse engineering?)

4. Motivation

Now, being a designer we all know that deadlines gets the best out of us. So MOTIVATION, Check. I got my ass to the admin office, got a list of companies which my seniors applied for and asked her to email it to me. There were around 30 companies and barely a few days to narrow them down and apply. My motivation comes out of fear of failure, I might be a bit lazy but I hate failing because I know I can be good at what I do. And I am good at what I do is because I can Focus.

I got the list of companies but I was way too lazy to filter on which companies where good and which weren’t. There were only two types of companies which I wanted to join -

  • Start-ups — I will use what I know and be a part of something that might grow and become huge or might just fall. So startups were a clear cut no-no for me.
  • Multinational Companies — I was very keen on working for MNCs, the reason being I could learn from people who already know stuff and I wouldn’t have to work my way around trial-and-error.

3. List of Companies to apply

Getting back filtering those 30 companies by admin sent me wasn’t something I was keen on doing. I didn’t want to step out of my routine to get this done so I just pushed it into my everyday routine, tea time. We usually have two tea breaks in my college, so I took the opportunity to go talk to my seniors and ask them about their internship experience and what were the companies they shortlisted. Luckily, this turned into a discussion so I got a lot of people pitching in their views. Now, I had 7 companies people told me which were worth applying for.

2. Specialization

Now I had no specialization whatsoever, looking back at my work I wonder how people even gave me internship. But then I realize I knew how to get my way around. So I looked into all 7 companies and I did some research and what kind of work they and how I can add value to their company. I was still getting a hold of being a design student with absolutely no idea how to use grids, bad typography and even worse color choices, lastly, I didn’t even know how to use Illustrator.

Startups were of no use to me, because I would be a lone wolf learning by myself and a lot of pressure to perform even if you didn’t know. Plus design startups do not add any value to your portfolio unless its a digital application growing at the speed of lightning. So I scraped out small and medium companies which left me with just one, a 150 year old Advertising agency. The reason I chose this also was because it was close to my house, now that I look back at it, probably that was the only reason.

To break it down

  • I didn’t want to travel
  • I for sure did not want to work for a startup
  • I wanted to learn how to polish my sales skills by adding design value to it
  • Learn from people who have already made mistakes in their lives

But this all left me with just ONE company to apply for, so I knew for a fact this cannot be a hit and run. I HAD to get a job here.

1. Portfolio

My work was absolute shit, I knew it and I knew it will get better in time. But I didn’t have that luxury in hand right now. It was time to stalk my only company from top to bottom. I went through everything they did for past 150 years, honestly, I just went through their award winning campaigns, design approach and how the company expanded and sustained themselves for so many years.

Remember, if you know what the company does, did, are doing and how YOU can add value to it. You can show up to an interview without your portfolio. Here is how —

  • Be passionate about the value you will add to that company. When they ask you what you do, you should be able to explain them what you are interested in(I am not talking about being good at it, because its an internship, the person interviewing you will also know that).
  • Do your Homework about the company and what they have done in the past and why you narrowed it then down in particular.
  • Portfolio showcase. Make sure you have something to show if they ask.

This guide was not to cheat your way around getting an intership but to actually get it smartly. I got my internship without showing my portfolio and also I learnt alot in that internship, I worked hard for two months to be the first intern to get paid in that company.

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