One of the most challenging transitions a young web designer will have to make is jumping from student of web design to professional web designer.
The field of web design is highly saturated, and that has created an extraordinarily competitive environment for those who are entering the field. Fortunately, you can put yourself at an advantage if you can gain real-world experience through internships, or if you can find other opportunities to work as a web designer while still developing and honing your skills.
Determining the Best Internship Opportunities
If you are a student, you are at an advantage. First, there is a good chance that your school has an internship program for students in your particular field. If this is the case, you can simply ask your advisor or department head what it is that you need to do to sign up.
If your school does not have a formal program, all is not lost. Ask your instructors or professors if they are aware of any local companies that are willing to take on web design interns. You certainly will not be the first person to ask, and if they can, the school staff will be happy to help.
Finally, don’t dismiss your school as a potential internship opportunity. After all, your school has a website that must be continually modified and updated. It’s more than likely that the people doing that job are other students, like you. Don’t be afraid to ask about internships or work-study opportunities within your schools IT department as well.
If you are a self-taught web designer, or you have learned web design through free learning websites such as W3 Schools or Khan Academy, you may discover that finding an internship or other opportunities a bit more challenging. After all, it will be up to you to find opportunities and make connections on your own.
On the other hand, your independent approach to learning web design can also work to your advantage. People love to help somebody that has worked to accomplish something on their own and has demonstrated the self-discipline it takes to complete their education independently.
Whether you find opportunities with help from your school or on your own, your next step is determining which opportunities are best for you. After all, you want the chance to use your skills in practical ways. You don’t want to spend several weeks in an office waiting for somebody to give you something to do, and you certainly don’t want to spend those weeks as a glorified errand runner.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your role during the internship. Remember that the business you will be working with will get something out of this also. Here are a few questions you should ask of anybody that is offering you a position as an intern:
- What projects will I be working on while I am interning with you?
- Can you tell me anything about the technology I will be using?
- What percentage of my day will be spent on duties that are not related to web design?
- Which of the skills that I have developed will be used the most during my internship?
- Are there any new skills that I will learn while I am here?
Use the answers to these questions to determine whether or not you should take on any internship that you are offered.
Developing Professional Skills when Internship Opportunities Don’t Exist
If you are unable to nail down an internship opportunity that works for you, then you will have to create your own opportunity. The best way to do this is to step out on your own and offer your services to people that are willing to be patient with somebody that has a bit of a learning curve to tackle but is willing to work at a discounted rate.
Do some research, chances are you will find a few small businesses, churches, and charitable organizations that cannot afford to pay an established design firm to create and maintain their web pages. You may be able to negotiate a win-win situation with one or more of these entities to work on their websites for a small fee, and, most importantly, a reference. Don’t dismiss the idea of volunteering your services either. After all, it is quite unlikely that your internship would have been a paying gig anyway.
Marketing Yourself for Prospective Internship Positions
First, if you have not done so, go quickly to LinkedIn and complete your profile. If you have done so, but aren’t making connections, you may need to make some changes so that it is as effective as possible. Then, send custom invitations to connect with previous employers, the businesses with whom you are seeking opportunities, fellow web designers, and anybody else who you believe could be a valuable connection.
Whatever you do, don’t use the generic invitation that is provided to you. Take the time to write your own. Once you have done this, it is time to put together your portfolio. Use Dribbble, DeviantArt or Behance if you want to showcase the artistic side of your work, or GitHub if you want to demonstrate your coding skills.
It seems almost too obvious to mention, but you’ll want to take the time to create a top-notch resume and to write custom cover letters to each company that you are interested in.
When you are discussing your talents and skills with others, don’t forget to mention other talents you have that may come in handy. For example, if you minored in English, your written communication skills might be a positive if you are going to work with a company that wants you to write content in addition to doing website design.
Finally, make sure that you are always actively developing and improving your skills. If there is a tool or a language that can help you become a better, more marketable designer invest the time and money to master it. You’ll never regret having an additional tool in your arsenal.
A Few Companies with Great Internships
And finally, if you are confident in the marketability of your web design skill set, and are willing to relocate for a great internship opportunity, here are some well-known companies that you may wish to contact:
- Google – User Experience:
If you are accepted into this program, you will work on projects using your web design or graphic design skills. The goal of these projects is to take complex processes and automate them for users. Interns tthat show talent and motivation will be given leadership positions on future projects.
- Facebook – Design and User Experience:
If you intern at Facebook, you will play a role in taking research and information gleaned from customer feedback and finding ways to improve the look and feel of the Facebook interface and experience.
- Washington Post – Web Design:
As a web design intern at the Washington Post, you could find yourself using your talents to help the News, Sports, or Lifestyle departments of the Post’s website. In each 12 week internship cycle, you will work on a variety of projects, and could even see some of your completed work displayed on the website.
- Vox Global – Web Development:
Are you interested in politics? If so, this may be a good fit for you. Vox interns work to develop political campaigns through the use of multimedia and digital technology. These internships do require specific technical skills such as HTML, DreamWeaver, and WordPress.