Guides

How to smash your internship

Zackerea Bakir

Being an intern can feel like an extended interview, where you’re under constant pressure to prove yourself. But try to relax. Embracing everything you’re asked to do will help you find what you love and show what an asset you’ll be.

I don’t know about you, but internships make me think of two things: being an unpaid coffee collector, and that surprisingly enjoyable film with 75-year-old intern Robert De Niro.

However, having now been there, done that and never actually bought the coffee I can say, with full confidence, that being an intern is great. And I am actually being paid to say this.

When I first stepped through Output’s door I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t a designer. I didn’t study graphic design. I didn’t even know what a brand agency did. One internship later and I’ve worked on projects for so many different sectors. VFX technology, suicide prevention charities, sustainable battery technology, fintech startups and a household name TV channel.

I’ve learnt so much and I want to share some of these learnings with you. So here’s my top advice on getting the most out of your internship experience.

Jump all in

Internships can be an overwhelming place to start. It’s easy to want to hide, but try embracing everything that comes your way. At Output I got the chance to do a bit of everything. I started on brand identity. Pattern-making, logo design and free-form gradients were my introduction to the design world.

I followed this with client audits, competitor and comparator research and exploring how Output could evolve their social media. This all offered invaluable insights into building a design language and the strategic thinking behind creating a coherent brand identity. 

There will be projects you love. And there will be projects you really hate. Don’t suffer in silence, be honest about the jobs or roles which really aren't for you. Internships are there for you to learn about what parts of agency work you enjoy most.”

After this I moved on user experience and wireframing. This was where I really found a passion in exploring user journeys and narratives across a page. I started to feel like perhaps the UX side was more for me. By jumping straight in and really embracing each task I was able to explore what felt right, which gave me agency over the direction of my internship.

Don’t suffer in silence

There will be projects you love. And there will be projects you really hate. Don’t suffer in silence, be honest about the jobs or roles which really aren’t for you. Internships are there for you to learn about what parts of agency work you enjoy most. It’s important to steer that conversation. Be polite, but be vocal.

By telling Output how much I enjoyed wireframing the Output content hub I was able to move away from branding, towards more of a role. Knowing when something isn’t for you and addressing it means you can focus on the elements of the internship you really love. Don’t waste time dreading those Tuesday afternoons doing unbearable tasks — say something.

Get paid

This one is super-important. Gone are the days of rushing around all day for nothing. Most internships are paid and it’s important you make sure the ones you apply for are too. After all, just because you’re an intern doesn’t mean you’re not working. A lot of what I’ve done has been helpful in pushing ideas for real clients. It’s important that work is rewarded. So, get paid.

Take the pressure off

Internships can be pressure-filled experiences. You suddenly feel like you need to prove yourself. Sometimes it can feel like an extended job interview, but it’s not. It’s a learning opportunity. So I say take the pressure off, be experimental in your work. Have fun with it.

One of the first tasks I did was exploring the initial layout of this very content hub. I got excited and pitched an idea: a 360° fully interactive spinning vortex you moved through, covered in 90s electro posters, lasers and music.

It was ridiculous. It was impractical. And it might be the best idea I’ve ever had.

Sadly the ‘Ministry of Soundbites’ will not be premiering anytime soon. However, it did teach me how exciting really pushing an idea can be, and the importance of refining it to get something simple and hardworking.

By removing the pressure of making something perfect I was able to really push my designs and have fun with the work I was doing.

Do big things with your weekend

This one is optional. However, be aware. The first two days of the week you will be asked what you did on the weekend. The second half? You’ll be asked what your weekend plans are gonna be. So please, make them exciting. For the sake of the chat.

Asking for clarity can help you focus on the areas people think you need to develop, hitting targets to progress to the next level of your career.”

Clarity is key

I had to include this because I’m not great at getting clarity. Ultimately an internship is a learning opportunity. It’s a place to find out what role you enjoy and how to pursue it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we just knew what we needed to do, and what skills we needed to progress? Just ask. Everyone wants you to have the best experience and get the most out of your time. By asking questions like “What do I need to progress?” you get the most important thing: clarity. 

It was during one of these conversations we came to the decision for me to move into strategy. We explored the best way I could progress and, low and behold, I am now a junior strategist. This only happened because I asked what was the best direction for me, and how to achieve it.

Asking for clarity can help you focus on the areas people think you need to develop, hitting targets to progress to the next level of your career. After all, no one wants to be an intern forever, not even De Niro.

Socialise after work

This one is  of course optional, however the ‘real’ chats happen outside of the office. People can be busy during the working day, getting their head down and plugging away at jobs. And although people may be busy, the agency environment does thrive on a social life. In a more relaxed environment you get the chance to learn about the people you work with and can get some really helpful advice, alongside conversations about the latest epic tv-show twists.

Have fun with it

Yep, it’s a cliché to end on. Have fun. An internship can be a space where you get to explore and experiment with your work in a low-pressure environment. That can be super-fun. 

Over the course of my internship I’ve created a design language using real-time 3D VFX software and destroyed a digital ‘piece of paper’ (actually a dialogue box) in a thousand different ways. I’ve pushed my skills and learnt so much along the way.

I mean, come on, getting paid (remember, make sure your internship is paid) to play around doing something you love is a great opportunity, so embrace that. Enjoy yourself, because that’s where your best work comes from and your best work gives you the best opportunity to get a job at the end.

Got any more questions? Want to find out more about internships? Feel free to get in touch and I’ll see how I can help.

Zackerea Bakir

Zack (he/him) started his career in design right here at Output, with a successful internship leading to his role as Junior Strategist. As well as writing about his experiences in the industry, he’s interested in the role of representation, and how it can be improved to create more inclusive brands.