Getting that internship

A year and a half ago I posted about my non-traditional situation, seeking advice. Since then I’ve read through many topics primarily regarding school and found the forums to be an invaluable resource. I thought I would share my experience about finding an internship so it might help someone who, like me, was a bit lost in the world of design. I would have loved a topic on finding internships back then, perhaps you guys can contribute your own experiences too.

Over two years ago, I figured out that I wanted to do design. I was entering my junior year at Colorado College, majoring in biology. I didn’t want to give up on my major since I very much enjoyed biology and found it helpful in my design philosophy, however I knew I needed to put more effort in my studio art minor. CC isn’t known for design, but our fine art faculty is very strong. At CC if you’re serious about a particular subject and want to further pursue it, the school will give you the tools. I found a professor in the art department who was willing to help me with industrial design so I wrote a proposal for an independent study with the aim of building up my portfolio. About a year ago, at the beginning of my senior year, I spent a “block” (CC’s unique acadamic structure) working everyday on design projects with the resources at hand. It was a very autodidactic process, but I learned a lot and got good feedback from my professor.

The second semester of my senior year I spent a lot of time developing my web portfolio which included work from my studio art minor, my own photography and the design projects I had worked on independently. I discussed the results with my adviser and began to look for design firms in the US and Europe where I might be able to intern. My thought was that an internship would be important for developing the skills to go straight to a graduate industrial design program. I realized only later that returning to undergraduate work would be more suited to my situation. I used the company listings on Core77 and went through almost every studio’s website, finding the places whose work I liked and thought would provide a good experience. I ended up with a list of about 40 agencies.

The career center at CC helped me polish my resume and cover letter, and eventually I sent out emails to those 40 design firms. I graduated shortly thereafter, and returned home to Paris where I was dedicated to finding an internship. I realized that sending my requests in May for an internship in the fall was too early for most design firms. Many didn’t answer, many thought I was applying for the summer. Generally, I didn’t get the response I expected. I decided to move into action with the studios that hadn’t flat out rejected me. I called many of them and had some very constructive discussions, but still negative answers. Most of the firms in the US didn’t seem all that interested. I got the feeling that they already had a strong competition from design students and that they were worried I wouldn’t be able to integrate directly into the work flow because my skills weren’t sharpened enough (in their mind). One lesson I learned, however, was that communicating by phone was far more effective in conveying my passion for design. The general interest was definitely increased by my calls.

After a disappointing month of rejections, I tried to focus my efforts on Europe. I was able to find a few contacts directly in the industry through friends and family. Even though the options were not all prestigious I found some very interesting possibilities. This was the second important lesson I learned. Having connections in the field improved my chance of success tremendously. For example: my father spoke to some of his coworkers in the consulting industry about my search, one of them was friends with the chief designer at graphic design firm in Italy (he turned out to be a French-speaking Italian who went to Art Center). I contacted him, immediately making the connection with his friend (my father’s coworker) and I instantly had an in. Since I was looking for an internship in product/industrial design he gave me a very good option with a rather famous Italian furniture designer.

Eventually one of my original email requests hooked in the Netherlands and I had a positive reply. It was an answer from a design firm that I looked up to highly – I couldn’t have been happier. I went in for an interview and was immediately accepted. I loved the city and in my mind there was no doubt. I’ve now been working here in the Netherlands for a couple of months and thoroughly enjoying it. Learning at a lot, contributing a lot and finding the whole process tremendously rewarding. As I prepare my applications I’ve found something very telling about Europe. Most of the designers here find my efforts in building a portfolio for school very surprising. They tell me that no portfolio is required to enter school in the Netherlands: “You go to design school to learn design, how can you have a portfolio before going in?” It’s a very good point, and it makes me realize that finding an internship in Europe is probably easier. All you need is passion and an interesting background, but the skills do help.

I am still working hard on my applications for schools (mainly in the US, aside from ENSCI in Paris), but I’ve found a slight issue in reworking my portfolio. Most of the work I have done here cannot be used in my portfolio since the products I am working on are not yet in production and thus are limited by my confidentiality agreement. The reason for my internship was partially in hopes to improve my portfolio, so I must admit that backfired. Nevertheless, I don’t regret this internship, in fact it’s been eye-opening and convinced me to go forward with my studies in design.


  • Talk to everyone about design, find people in the field and getting an internship will be much easier.
  • Discuss things by phone or better, in person. Email is too dry a medium for presenting your passion. (A cover letter is still important though)
  • Look into internships in Europe. There are lots of excellent options that might be easier to get into and just as rewarding.
  • Beware of using the results of your internship in a portfolio, they may be confidential for a time.
  • Don’t give up!