Deciding between multiple internship or full time jobs offers to successfully jumpstart your UX…
When looking for your first design job, employers are typically looking for designers who already have experience on their belt, and most commonly they look at your internship experience. Though there are some schools where getting a summer internship is optional, I would consider getting an internship is a crucial first step to getting a design job. Most internships last about 3–4 months and take place in the summer or fall. There isn’t a lot of time to do substantial work, so ultimately the decision to choose an internship over the others is based on what on your priority is.
As the industry continues to grow and more people are realizing the value of design, getting an internship isn’t always a guarantee towards a full time job, due to the amount of competition for experience and multitude of skills other designers may have compared to you. This doesn’t mean you are better or worse if you have more or less of the skills required for the job, but it’s a matter of how you apply them and what you get out of the internship.
If you are fortunate and have multiple offers, it can be super tempting to join a company that has loads of reputation and perks over a smaller company, and that’s fine, but as I said before, it’s more than a shiny name everyone recognizes. Ultimately, you should choose a place based on the kind of experience you gain, what you learn and how you can utilize it to get to where you want to be. With multiple opportunities, you need to always weigh the pros and cons of each one (you can read more my Identifying Design Company Fit article).
The most important tip: Before accepting an offer, compile questions and talk to your potential managers.
Though this step is a necessity when choosing a full-time job, it still holds value during the internship process as an internship is the first step towards full-time. For both internship and full-time roles, I made sure to keep in contact with my potential managers and asked them numerous questions about what the job entails, what my role was going to be, the project, day to day tasks and more.
To make sure you get the best experience in the limited time you have, here are some questions to guide and make it easier to choose the best path, despite not completely knowing what to expect. These tips also apply to full-time job offers too.
I divided questions and organized them into four sections: your project, team, location and perks, and personal development. These are all key factors in choosing your next opportunity.
Disclaimer: I do not salary and negotiation as the focus is on understanding what you want to get out of your job. With any offer, salary should be considered when making your decision as you want to be compensated well for your work.
What kind of projects will you be working on?
When deciding between internships, you want to be very clear with what you will you be working on. Will you be working on one single project or multiple projects? Getting a scope of what you are working on will give you a better sense of your responsibilities and the outcome.
I think the goal you should strive for when deciding on an internship project is a problem or prompt that is fleshed out but still broad in that you get to design a whole product experience, or part of an existing product. This can lead to tangible impact within or beyond an organization, and measurable outcomes. These projects hold more weight and allow you to apply the skills you’ve learned rather than projects that require you to just utilize one skill at a time (i.e. illustrations for how the future experience would look like but isn’t part of a cohesive case study).
Some people end up working on more exploratory work and though you get to utilize a wide range of different skills, you might not be making as much of an impact compared to a project that’s specifically designed in the context of designing an end to end experience, the result will be a more structured use case you can use to present to other organizations when looking for full-time opportunities.
What are the deliverables?
Depending on what you want to get out of your internship, understanding the outcome of your project is a good indicator of what you would be working on. For a product design internship, you want to create a solid case study which allows you autonomy over what skills you use and how you collaborate with others. That puts you in a more realistic position of how an actual product design full-time role would be what an internship should be preparing you for, and also allowing you to develop your own design rationale of how you approach problems.
When people list out skills they expect you to use and they are not clear with expectation for you to come up with a solution and showcase your design process at the end of your internship, you may want to follow up with your potential manager to get more information on this. If they are expecting you to utilize very specific skills, that might mean that the project has a narrow scope, or they’ll make you work on smaller projects within a product space, something that could be hard to quantify and not a specific case study (i.e. little to no research).
2. Personal Development
What skills do you want to develop?
Knowing what skills you want to utilize and improve over your internship can make it helpful for your potential manager to provide a clear framework to how your project will be structured. This is also helpful for yourself when building out projects for your portfolio and for future job interviews as a student. This could be from prototyping and sketching to public speaking.
Being aware of skills you want to develop will make you a more well rounded designer, and will open the door to utilizing those skills to your advantage. I always aim to focus on the skills I am worst at and have co-workers help keep me accountable of getting better by providing feedback on it.
Is this a space you are passionate in?
Knowing what you want to work on stems on what you care about. Working on something you care about will make you happier and more motivated when encountering obstacles. I’ve worked on mainly enterprise/business products, which is great because experience, but not what I really want to spend my energy working on in the long term.
Once you get stuck into working in one product space, it can be hard to get out and pivot. This can make finding an opportunity for something you really care about challenging.
I like to encourage students to pursue opportunities in tons of different spaces for experience, but when doing so, also try to discover the things they care about. This can be thinking back to what makes them happy or the things that make them happy but can be improved.
Who is on your team?
Before my internships and full-time job, If I can, I always like know who would I potentially be working with. That way, I could reach out to them and get a sense of what they were doing and how they felt about the team. Doing this gave me a better sense of the team dynamic and the kinds of day to day work designers did in that particular company. The more varied experiences and backgrounds that designers came from, the better.
Will I have a mentor?
Mentorship as a junior designer is so important. A mentor is where you can ask someone all the questions that might be uncomfortable when asking your manager, and allows you to sort out your thoughts and get actionable advice. Organizations who value personal growth with co-workers will mention this from the get-go and pair you up with someone. If it isn’t something that is super clear, definitely ask because if it isn’t a given that you will receive mentorship and that is something you value, the internship opportunity might be focused on producing output more than growing you as a designer. Communication and having a resource to help you navigate through an organization is just as important as the work itself. Learning from someone more experienced can speed up the process of your growth, and can allow you to make more calculated decisions in that.
What is the design culture like?
Does the design team do weekly reviews? Stand ups? Critiques? Off sites? These are all ways to see how each team works through problems together and how well everyone is aligned on each other’s work in order to reach their goals, their team’s goals and the org’s vision. It’s also a way to gauge at how close everyone is. Working on a close knit team makes all the difference when it comes to asking questions, exchanging ideas, and feeling supported when working through challenging problems.
4. Location and Perks
Where is the location?
I find that design doesn’t just exist in the Bay, but in other areas as well. If you have the chance to work in an area that isn’t where you live, all expenses paid, then I say you should go for it (if everything else aligns too). It’s a great opportunity to travel, explore what the area has to offer, and potentially have it inform your design. I found that living in another state has allowed me to expand my network and discover opportunities to spread the design culture.
What are the perks? Events?
Though not necessary, perks and events are a great way to meet new people, have fun on top of working hard, and feel taken care of. I love events that are related to my work, offsite events with my team or with other interns and anything related to food.
Now ask yourself, what do you want to get out of your internship experience?
Is it working on a cool project? General design experience? All the about having fun while doing the work you love? You have 3 months to try it out.
If you want join the company full time, maybe don’t get an internship but get more experience somewhere else. This is what I did when I was deciding between Intuit and Google. I knew I wanted to join Google full time, but still wanted to get a different experience in a totally different industry in a location that wasn’t in the Bay Area. This is one of the driving factors of joining Intuit, along with having a more personable interview experience and meeting the VP of design for the first time. As a result of choosing this internship, I got to see the growing design culture in another state, meet an amazing team of individuals with varied experiences and work on the project with the full intention of building a strong case study that showcased the impact I was able to make in 3–4 months.
If the company is generally hard to get into, or competitive in that there is no guarantee you will get a full time offer with the company, that might be a reason to take it, hopefully with a solid design team and good project to boot. Or, if you simply like the company, are invested in it, that’s another good reason to take it. There isn’t a right reason to choose one offer over the other, it’s a matter of being intentional with where you want to invest your time over a short period of time and understand that taking this internship offer, it will help you get to where you want to be, whether it’s furthering specific skills, creating a strong project to put into your portfolio, making connections, exposing yourself to new environments, or doing one or all of the above.