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Unpaid Internships Pay Off

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Unpaid Internships Pay Off

– by Junko Bridston

Young college graduates are having difficulty finding their dream job. The Associated Press reported that about 1.5 million bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 in 2011 were out of a job or underemployed. They are more likely to be hired for positions that don't fully utilize their skills and knowledge, leaving students feeling like they overpaid for their education. 

Most design students take unpaid internships with the hope of landing a paid job. Is being an intern really worth it? Working for no pay can be difficult and it is equally difficult the first time your abilities are put to the test while you are trying to find a career that suits you. In this blog post, I'll share some of my learnings and experiences as a design intern for Funny Garbage.

It had been three months since my graduation when I started a design internship at Funny Garbage. I had major concerns about finding a paid design job but I knew I needed more experience and wanted to test the waters. These concerns were quickly superseded by the challenges of working for big-name clients in a fast-paced, digital agency.  

All in all, it turned out to be an invaluable learning experience. The following tips are based on my learnings and are intended to guide future design interns.  

1. Be Organized

Unlike school, where most of your work is done independently or in small groups, you will likely be working with many other people; not only designers but developers and clients as well. You will be expected to share your files with them and if you are sloppy and your layer organization is a mess, your files will generate more work for the team members instead of helping them. Always be as organized as possible; don't expect your supervisor to ask you to be organized, they will expect it of you. If you are organized, you will differentiate yourself as a useful asset to the team and save everyone time.

2. Ask Questions

When you are assigned a project, make sure to understand what is being asked of you. It sounds simple but you'd be surprised how many people have difficulty with this crucial step. You should be 100% certain of what you are being asked to do before getting started or else you risk wasting your time and your team members' time. At the very least, even if you think you are completely certain of what is being asked of you, quickly confirm what you believe the task to be with your supervisor. 

3. Have Fun & Seek Inspiration 

In order to keep motivated and maintain passion for your work, you really should go out and have fun outside of work. Have you checked out great exhibition at MoMA? Did your classmates tell you that they were working on cool projects? Your boss and co-workers will likely appreciate if you share your inspiring experiences, even if they are not directly connected to your work.

4. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Taking an internship position is not always easy and what you get out of it is largely up to you, the intern. In most cases, you will be polishing your design skills under the guidance of senior designers. The sheer number of Photoshop and Illustrator shortcuts you can learn in a week is staggering! 

In some cases, you may be asked to work on internal or client projects that will look great on your resume and potentially in your portfolio – please use discretion when using internship work in your portfolio and confirm with your supervisor before doing so.  

For those of you out there with little to no experience working in a design office environment, you will learn about office culture and courtesies. Along these lines, you will gain a better sense of whether you are going into the right line of work and of what your ideal office environment is. If you don't enjoy the internship, analyze the situation and try to pinpoint what was making you unhappy so you can avoid falling into a similar situation in the future.


Interning is a good way to get your foot in the door to the industry. Even if the place you interned doesn't have a job opening, your co-workers most likely have contacts at other businesses in the industry. Chances are if you're a recent college grad, you don't have many professional references for future jobs and you can benefit from the connections you'll gain as an intern. 

I was fortunate to be hired for fulltime position at Funny Garbage at the end of my internship because I was a good fit for the team and they were looking for a new designer. This was a somewhat unique experience though and I would speculate that most design interns are not offered fulltime positions at the end of their stay.

In the end, even if you are unhappy with your internship, you will gain a better understanding of what you do and don't want to do in your career. So be positive and get ready to learn! Funny Garbage offers interns a great learning experience in a fun work environment. If you are interested in an internship at Funny Garbage, check our jobs page and contact us!