What to Look For in an Internship While Still at School

Alvaro Uribe
Products of Design
Published in
7 min readApr 1, 2023

Doing an internship while in school can be highly advantageous as it allows you to gain real-world experience and apply what you have learned in the classroom to a professional setting. Internships enable you to learn new skills, gain insight into your chosen field, build your professional network, and establish industry relationships. By working alongside experienced professionals, you can learn valuable lessons on how to communicate, problem-solve, and collaborate with others in a professional work environment. Additionally, internships often provide students with academic credit, which can help to further their academic progress and provide them with a competitive edge when it comes to job searching.

When choosing an internship, it is important to consider which part of the industry you are truly passionate about and your level of experience. The internships that you apply for should align with your skills. Depending on whether you are a sophomore, junior, senior, or graduate, will define your ability to succeed and enjoy an internship.

Below are what I believe students should expect from an internship and what the office will expect from them.

🥚 Freshman Year

The key word here is preparedness. I won't go too deep into freshman year for two reasons. Firstly, most universities offer a foundation year that sets the groundwork for students’ education, but it is a mixture of skills that are hardly focused on a single profession. Therefore, it may be challenging to put together a portfolio to join a relevant business in their field. Instead, you can use that extra time to get ahead by taking additional lessons online, watching YouTube videos on the software you will be learning, polishing your drawing skills, and exploring crafts that will keep your creative minds active.

Secondly, freshman year can be intense for many students, and taking a break to recharge and prepare for an intense sophomore year to come can be beneficial. Overall, freshman year is an important time for you to adjust to university life and explore your interests, but it is also a time to prioritize self-care and mental health. By using this time wisely, students can set themselves up for success in their future internships and careers.

🐣 Sophomore Year

Exposure is key. Students should aim to get exposure to a creative environment of any kind. It often happens that as a sophomore, you try applying to big-name agencies or companies you admire and never hear back or get an auto-response encouraging you to apply at a later date. Even if you were to get the internship, you would not be able to get as much out of it because you are not putting into practice a larger variety of skills learned. You should be open to learning from smaller businesses that will take you in and teach you skills that will help you excel in their junior and senior internships. Therefore, students should aim for independent designers, workshops, collectives, and studios that have limited resources at hand. This may not be what you want to hear, but these independent business owners wear different hats and roll up their sleeves to do hard but necessary work and can teach you more than just design. One day, you might be one of them. This is also a low-pressure opportunity to explore and discover where you want to focus. You may realize that ceramics was not for you, that furniture doesn’t excite you anymore. That is worth thousands of dollars they won’t be spending trying to become a furniture designer. Maybe it reinforces their passion for a subject, which is also invaluable.

What will a company will look for at this early stage is passion. Companies know you are still learning, so they will look for someone thirsty to learn, grow, and who is not going to be a burden. Attitude is the keyword here. They are choosing to have an intern at this level because the tasks at hand are simple, mostly manual, and usually time-consuming. So someone with a “ let’s do it attitude” will be welcomed. So find someone or a company you admire and respect because you will feel like you are supporting work that is meaningful to you, instead of just checking the internship box in your resume. Where to find these? Look for craft trade shows, your local manufacturing area, and pleases with entrepreneurial creatives share spaces.

🐥 Junior Year

The key word here is practice. Now that you have at least one or two years of Industrial Design thinking under your belt, your goal should put to practice different skills. Agencies or in-house teams are great for this, as they offer a variety of projects where you can hone your sketching, model-making, prototyping, and other skills. This will also expose you to how to present a project to different stakeholders and how to work in a team. In this stage, you will most likely be under someone’s wing, a senior designer to whom you will report. This is a great opportunity to learn from people in the field and gain valuable insights that can help you grow as a designer.

What will a company look and expect from you? They will look for someone who has a promising portfolio and is coachable, no one wants a prima donna in their office. While you are in a better position than you were as a sophomore, aim for mid-sized companies, with lesser celebrity names. You will still be at a disadvantage compared to a Senior or a recent graduate in those more know applications. In terms of your work, the company will look for great sketching skills so you can join in the ideation phases of a project. This is not necessarily being able to draw a nice car in one hour, this means being able to think with your hands and propose ideas quickly and visually. Same with modelmaking, being able to quickly develop mockups of ideas using simple materials is a must. Last, rendering and basic CAD. You might be able to join in doing computer work for accepted concepts, that are still crude and not engineered for production. Knowing how to build Solidworks, Fusion 360, Rhino, and render in Keyshot will be required. It will also be expected that you are comfortable with Adobe Creative suite and you are comfortable putting presentations in In Design and editing things in Photoshop and Illustrator. This may vary from office to office, but they will like to expose you to every step of the design process and have you contribute as much as possible.

🐔 Senior Year

The key aspect of this year is critical thinking. At this point, you already have the necessary skills, and now it is about using them to create meaningful and impactful designs for users. This is where you get to apply to your dream company, which you have been preparing for. Networking is crucial, and you should put your best foot forward as this could lead to a potential job opportunity after graduation. The competition will be fierce, so apply early on, you have Juniors applying and taking the recruiter's time and attention away, you have talented recent graduates also applying, and Masters students with complementary skills which may set them apart in the application process.

The company will expect you to have strong skills in sketching, modeling, and using design software. Good communication skills are essential as you will be working with various team members. Attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions from senior members are also vital. Additionally, you should have a basic knowledge of manufacturing processes and exhibit strong time management skills to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines. Professionalism is a must, and you should be reliable, and punctual, dress appropriately, and adhere to company policies and procedures. Finally, you should be eager to learn and willing to take on new challenges.

By demonstrating professionalism, strong technical skills, and a willingness to learn, you can create a lasting impression on your employer and pave the way for future career opportunities.

🦄 Master Degree Students

Growth is the key factor in your career. With a graduate degree, you are likely looking to settle into a company that can help you flourish and reach your full potential. Such companies are often larger with a clear corporate growth structure. However, you will be competing with other graduating designers from your year, so leveraging your background is crucial. My recommendation is to consider large corporations outside of the tech industry with a proven track record of hiring. They have a better ability to identify candidates with diverse backgrounds and appreciate their uniqueness beyond their work. Additionally, startups are worth considering as they are building their culture and hiring practices, which will get your foot in the door from the get-go.

If you have a Bachelor’s in Industrial Design, you may be considered just like a Junior or Senior student. However, this is an advantage, as you have likely had some opportunities to build a resume in Industrial Design or another field, making you stand out from others. Recruiters will assume that you possess the professionalism and maturity to take ownership of your work, collaborate with a team, receive constructive criticism, and turn it into success. These are qualities that come with experience and you might already have some under your belt. Therefore, highlighting them in your application will work in your favor. I’ve observed that many graduate students are more definitive about their career goals and preferred employers. They know that they possess the right attitude to excel in an internship.

Overall, it’s important to prioritize your personal and professional growth when deciding on your next career move. Seek out companies that align with your values and have a culture that supports learning and development. With a clear focus and a willingness to learn, an internship will quickly become a career.

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