The Secret to Going From Unpaid Intern to Full-Time (Paid!) Employee

design intern to full-time

One of the most important lessons Lindsey Selden learned from her graphic design internship at Planet Propaganda had nothing to do with design and everything to do with speaking up for herself. Lindsey began as a part-time intern, and, after a few intermediate steps, ended up with a full-time position.

Lindsey discovered that promotions were never going to be handed to her automatically and she’d have to be her own advocate in order to make them happen. This can be an uncomfortable lesson to learn, but it’s much better to realize it early on. No matter which field you’re in, you can apply Lindsey’s hard-earned lessons to your own career.

[Editor’s note: Since we conducted this interview, Lindsey has returned to the States from Berlin and is looking forward to beginning the next chapter of her design career in California. The content of this interview relates to her time at Planet Propaganda.]

What is your current company name and job title? If you’ve changed titles since you started at your company, what was your job title when you started?

I am currently a designer at Planet Propaganda. I started out as an unpaid intern working three days a week, quickly began working full-time, eventually transitioned into a paid intern, and finally was hired.

Something that I think is worth pointing out is that all of these changes occurred because I pursued them. It can be easy to imagine that when one enters a job-type arrangement, you are instantly on some kind of upwardly moving track. In some work situations I am sure this is true, but that was not my experience. I had to be my own advocate, and as uncomfortable as that can be, it is a skill that I think is very important to cultivate.

What is a typical day on the job like for you?

I am actually currently living in Berlin, so my “typical day” is a bit atypical. But, before moving I’d say I would have maybe two client meetings/presentations a week. At any given time I was actively working on projects for two to four clients. The majority of my day would be working at my desk in front of a computer, but I’d have a few internal meetings daily, along with informal questions, critiques, troubleshooting sessions with other designers, our production designer, or my creative director.

Now that I am in Berlin, I am only working 30 hours a week, and for two clients with whom I had already built up strong relationships when I was in the office. I still have meetings and presentations, done via Skype, but I don’t have the luxury of being able to collaborate in the same way as when I was in the office. I can, however, wear pajamas to work, so I suppose that makes up for the long-distance and time difference.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?

I really like the breadth of my job. The process is such that I get to use all sorts of different skills, or parts of my brain depending on the client and what specific part of the project I am at.

What did you study in college? How does your major relate to your current position?

I have a BA in Sociology from Reed College. Having the experience of completing this degree prepared me in all of the clichéd ways: I learned how to learn, stay organized, set and meet goals, talk in front of an intimidating audience, etc. After school I spent about a year and a half doing office work, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do in terms of a “career.” Graphic design felt like a really good fit for my interest in visual arts and communication, so I went back to school and got a BFA in graphic design at the Academy of Art University.

What advice would you give to college students who are interested in working in your field?

My advice to someone looking for a graphic design job out of college would be to go on lots of informational interviews while you are still in school, where you can see all sorts of different types of work environments, as well as show your work and get some feedback from professionals. I think, though I can’t say this for sure, but I think the clearer you are about what type of design jobs are out there, the more specific you can be in what kind of job you are interested in, and how your skills match up with that job.

Does your company hire interns in your field? If so, how would someone go about applying?

As far as I know, Planet Propaganda does not offer paid internships. And, I think that is likely the industry standard. One can always submit their portfolio; there are instructions for how to do so on the website. But if you are really serious about getting any internship, making contact with a specific designer or other employee at a firm is always better than sending over your stuff to the generic address.

Lindsey  Selden small

Homework time! Lindsey talks about the importance of finding a specific person to send your portfolio to instead of just using the generic address provided online. Decide on a few agencies you’re interested in interning with or working for and spend some time researching people to contact. Good luck!

P.S. Want to learn what it’s like to work as a graphic designer in other environments? Don’t forget to check out all the content under the “Graphic Design” tag on the AfterCollege Blog.


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