The unpaid internships discussion has been bouncing around for a while now, and as a design student, currently interning, I thought my 50 cents were more than pretty valid. I can only speak on my experiences.
As a Graphic Design student, you're told to get as many internships as you can whilst studying. Because then, by the time you've graduated, you've got the degree, the experiences and the contacts to get straight into the working world. And to be very honest, up until about two years ago, I didn't even know there were such things as 'Paid internships'. I had no idea that people were getting paid to be interns. What! since when? Since that's the law apparently! Well I'll be damned.
So, are these internships really worth it? In the years that I've been studying Graphic Design, I've only ever had three internships, all unpaid. It's so difficult to get internships that when I do get them, I'm just really grateful. It's not that I want to support unpaid internships, of course I'd love to get paid, but at the same time, I have to be realistic. The world of Design is so fast paced, and there's a lot they don't teach you at Design school. Whereas on these internships, they throw you right in, but are still keen to teach you the ropes. I actually think they're a lot more patient and don't leave everything to guess work. Like they do in my design school.
Example: Uni Tutor: Think about how the stars align and use them for your inspiration Me: Erm, but my project is an info-graphic about coffee beans. Uni Tutor: Just take from it what you will. Me: *blank stare* This is a great contrast to my internships, where there's no time to "experiment", to interpret or to guess what the brief is. You either get it or you don't. Very often projects come in the same day that they need to be finished so it's imperative that I understand what I'm doing, otherwise it's a waste of the client's time and the company that I'm representing. At my internships, I work. I'm a Graphic Designer, and a professional one in the making. But I understand that I'm not raking up debt at Uni for nothing. If I'm going to work for a company for free, then I believe I should have a say on how my time is spent.
Size really does matter. I must stress that every company I've worked for as an intern has been a small company with about 2-6 people. If the company that I worked with was a huge or global one, where the employee count exceeded (let's say) 200, then, I'd be asking to be paid. I would not intern at a huge company without pay.
Things to consider:
The better thing to do is weigh up the odds; Analyse where the company is at. Ask yourself, or better yet try and find out as much of the following points as possible. What is the company ethics/ethos/attitude? Are they laid back? Approachable? Serious? Try and find out the personality of the company. I know this is probably taboo in the design world, but I have actually turned down internships because of the company ethos. Sometimes you have to be assertive and know what you want. How was the company set up? Did they start out as students? Are they invested in the now and the future? Very often, design studios that have fresh graduates, (or where the directors are fairly young) can be super understanding and encouraging. They tend to understand you as a student, and your need for progress, because they would have been there too. Establish your conditions. My one condition on unpaid internships, is that they pay for food and travel. That is the very bare minimum. I have done various 'free' jobs in my years of studying Graphic Design, all during my course. However this also means that I will not accept an internship when I finish my degree, unless that internship ended in definite employment. What are the benefits of working for this company? Where can they get you? Be a little selfish about it, this is your future. Ask if they know so and so and if you can be put in contact with them. This is your opportunity to network and get yourself out there. Encourage a review at the end of your internship, but also throughout your time there. Don't be afraid to afraid to ask but also use your own initiative sometimes! Learn to be independent, not stubborn. If you come across a problem, research it first, try all possible options, then turn to your boss/supervisor. Show them that you have tried to find the answer, I think they'll appreciate the dedication.
Can they help you get another internship or job when you finish at their company? Do they have a dress code? The Graphic Design field tends to be relaxed (Don't show up in flipflops though!)Is it a small tight knitted company? If yes what will you gain from being here?Is it a big company? How much will you be learning? Who will be your point of contact?Do they like tea? (Tea is very important, designers tend to love tea)ETC. ETC. ETC. ASK ASK ASK
Right now I love collaborating and experimenting with different artists and I take full advantage of interning because I know that once I've finished studying (and God willing) I get a job, I won't have time for side projects like these. Once I've graduated, my eyes are set on getting paid, not hunting for internships because I would have already done that! I'd love to say; "Don't do internships unless you get paid!", but then I also can't deny the benefits, even if it is unpaid. I think unpaid internships are okay as long as you have your own conditions and you value yourself as a designer. Personally, if I was an intern at a company where they didn't value me as a designer and used me to be the photocopy girl, I would first talk to my company about the situation. If for some reason, they refused to see my point of view. I would excuse myself from this company. Of course, as always I'm interested to know what you think. A lot of people with definitely disagree with me, let me know!
Finally, value yourself and your career and others will follow suit.
And for the record, yes I study full time, as well as work as a freelancer, and I work part time - with odd jobs here and there. I don't live with my family and I get little to no financial support from my family. This is to lay to rest any arguments that I can 'afford' to do free internships.