How I Designed My Own Internship (Making the Most of My Off-Term)
People (including me) always say that you need to create your own opportunities, but never explain what that actually looks like. I want to talk about my own experience with turning a "failure" into an opportunity for success.
Fall term of 2017 marked the beginning of my sophomore year, which also meant it was time for the internship craze to start. In between classes and social activities, I was hacking at cover letters and scouring the internet for any and every paid internship that was relevant.
A lot of what I was applying to were media related (social media, PR, etc.) because they were extremely abundant and I felt like my blog was enough proof that I knew what I was doing. I still didn't really know what I wanted to do with my major, and I had barely gotten into the courses for it, so it would've been hard to speak to my educational experiences anyway. I just knew that I couldn't spend my upcoming off-term doing nothing.
As I dug deeper into that LinkedIn job search hole, I started discovering companies that I felt were literally speaking to my soul. I knew I wanted to be somewhere in business and tech, but it wasn't until I found companies like IDEO, Huge Inc., PMK*BNC, and Frog Design that I could actually envision what type of career I could have. They had positions made for Cognitive Science and Human-Centered Design majors (who can kind of be chameleons and hard to define) that I had no idea existed.
A social media internship would've been cute, but it certainly wasn't a passion or the direction I really wanted to go. But the new opportunities I was finding at these companies in business, marketing, branding, and ux design were what really interested me.
There was a problem. I was so under qualified for those dream internships. I learned this very quickly when position after position required a design portfolio and significant experience. My blog, in the state it had been, definitely would not have impressed them.
As fall term was coming to an end and my internship prospects were next to none, I was beginning to panic. What was I going to do for the next 10 weeks? By then, I had already dismissed the idea of a social media or pr internship. Not only because I didn't want to settle for an experience I knew wouldn't be valuable, but also because it wasn't financially smart. Many of those positions are in California and New York (ironically the most expensive states) and they pay minimum wage. I would be footing the bill for relocation and living costs in the time I'd be there.
Not So Bright Ideas
I think the whole "creating my own internship" thing first came when I had the idea to just quickly build a portfolio in the 6 weeks of Thanksgiving-Christmas break that our school gives us (I know, it's a long ass break). Frog Design had a listing for a design internship with a deadline that was much later than others, so I could at least apply to that one in time for my off-term. I didn't know Photoshop or UX, but I thought I could just learn as I go and it would all work out.
*narrator voice* It did not work out.
I wasn't sure why I thought I could compete against years of experience with 6 weeks of fiddling around with tools, but I eventually realized the foolishness. I also realized that there was so much more that I needed to learn to really be a competitive candidate.
Rethinking what "internship" really means
While trying to haphazardly build a portfolio in a few weeks wasn't the best idea, I was on the right track. What I needed was to build my skills and gain experience. And what is an internship if not an experience where you learn new things and build skills?
See, a lot of people get so focused on being able to toss an official "intern" title onto their resumés that they often forget the purpose of having an internship in the first place. You're trying to learn more about an industry and gain valuable experience so that you're better positioned for the career you want after college. That's all. Do you always need a company to facilitate that experience? Not necessarily, and this understanding is what lead me to today.
I knew exactly what I needed to learn in order to get to those advanced internships. It's only my sophomore year after all, and there will be plenty more chances to secure an internship at one of my favorite companies. I just need to prepare accordingly. And I now have the perfect opportunity to do just that. Rarely do students get a stretch of time to sit at home and just throw all of their concentration onto building their futures (except maybe freshman summer and who knows what you want to do with your life at that point? )
So I decided: f*ck it I'm just going to create my own internship this term and learn what I want/need to learn.
The Game Plan
I picked out the skills that many of these companies seem to be looking for and designed my "internship" around that. With so much at our fingertips on the internet, I know I can find a million tutorials and online courses that I can work with. I don't feel like I really need experienced guidance to do what I want.
+ Building my portfolio (design)
-The internship programs centered around ux require a portfolio or demonstrable knowledge of ui/ux design, web design, Photoshop, and Illustrator
+ Building my platform (branding, marketing, writing)
-My blog could definitely be an asset on my resumé, but only if I step up its game. I wasn't really helping it to grow to its full potential so I couldn't use it as a tool in cover letters and interviews.
-Work: Exactly what I'm doing now! I rebranded my entire website and even started a youtube channel so it's not just a personal blog but a platform that I'm building. My goal is to maintain it better and be more intentional about any marketing and branding strategies.
+ Putting knowledge into practice/community-involved work (business development, branding, marketing, portfolio building)
-As I gain these skills, I want to build something concrete with them that has an impact. I want to have something worthwhile to show for this term in addition to my platform and portfolio.
-Work: Start The Studio, a service geared towards young creatives who are looking to take their brands to the next level. I'm making sure it's accessible to those who may not be able to afford more expensive services by working flexibly with budgets.
So, I have 10 weeks to do this! I'll be continuing these even when I go back to school, but I'm making use of all the free-time I have to do a bulk of the work. This is just my little example of what I mean when I say that sometimes you can take control of your circumstances and spin it into something good. There are always multiple pathways to get to the same goal. You'll start to see that understanding the why first is always important. The how will come later.