The gap between being a UX student and a UX professional can seem like an impossible space to cross. The knowledge you learn in a classroom setting can be very different from the design skills you will acquire while in the workforce. With most employers requiring at least 1-2 years’ experience, how is a fresh UXer ever supposed to get a job? Landing an internship can be the bridge between being a newbie in the UX world and a designer with some practical experience under their belt.
In this guide, we’ll go over exactly what you can do to land a UX design internship in a few simple steps. We’ve broken our guide down into the following sections:
- Questions to ask yourself before getting started
- Enhance your skills
- Develop your brand and portfolio
- Expand your network
- Apply for internships
- You got an internship! Now what?
Now that we’ve laid out our guide on how to land a UX internship, let’s get started.
1. Questions to ask yourself before getting started
Before you jump straight into applying for internships, it’s important to consider what you hope to get out of it. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Why do you want an internship?
Think about both your short-term and long-term career goals. Trying to get your foot in the door of a highly regarded company? Feel like you need a little more training and guidance before assuming a role with heavier responsibility? Or maybe you’re living in an area with a heavily competitive job market. Asking yourself questions like these can influence how you start looking or where you apply.
Paid or unpaid?
With recent school fees and student loans still looming around, most students aren’t in the position to accept an unpaid internship. Luckily, most internships these days are paid. However, some unpaid positions can offer even greater earning opportunities down the road with a permanent position in the company. While the opportunity to obtain some highly valued experience in the field is appealing, it’s best to be realistic about your current financial situation and the amount of effort you’re willing to put if there is decreased or no pay.
What size and type of company?
There can be a huge difference in the skills you learn while working as an intern based on what type of company you work for and how big they are. Interning with a smaller organization or start-up can offer the chance to be involved from the very beginning of a product or idea all the way through to its first final draft and continued iterations. You may be able to assume greater responsibility within your role at a smaller company and have more direct access to the customers that will use your product. Bigger companies (think Google or Adobe) provide the ability to work with bigger teams and learn from multiple industry professionals. You may have access to more advanced resources or programs and get to see how the UX design process works on a larger scale. Not only does the size of the organization you’re interning for matter, but what they produce and how. Here are some key differences between some of the company types you might consider:
- Product-based company: These organizations are involved with creating either a physical or digital product for businesses to sell to consumers or other businesses. These are jobs like helping design the newest Samsung Galaxy phone or the latest Nintendo system.
- Service-based company: A service-based company works on providing software to clients that fills their needs and fits their priorities. This may include working on better Firewall software, easier to use electronic medical records programs or more efficient information technology systems.
- Design studio: This is where you’ll find the design process to be heavily esteemed and utilized. Design studios work to create the best possible product for their clients no matter what it is. Here is where you might be able to design an updated logo for the NBA or a more innovative pair of Sony headphones.
2. Enhance your skills
Oftentimes, the learning curve of a designer doesn’t end when their schooling or training stops. Most internships understand that you’re not going to be producing senior-level work right off the bat. But, there are still a lot of things you can do, both design and non-design related, that can make you feel better equipped in the workforce, show your enthusiasm to grow, and help you stand out from other applicants.
Boost your design knowledge and expertise by participating in daily design challenges or taking courses in Sketch or Adobe. You can also read different design books or magazines, watch a documentary or series about design, and subscribe to influential YouTube channels that help get you thinking like a pro designer. Anything that shows you are actively working on your design skills and staying attuned to the growing trends in the industry can help increase your attractiveness to hiring managers and get you a position as an intern.
3. Develop your brand and highlight your work
Your personal brand is something that shines through in your interviews, portfolio, resumé, LinkedIn profile, networking opportunities, and more. Your skills and passions, motivators and values, achievements and goals, and where you are in your career journey thus far are all topics to explore when cultivating a brand that fits you. Showing who you genuinely are and what type of designer you aspire to be can positively influence your chances of being accepted for an internship. Below are a few areas to focus on when building your brand and showcasing your skills.
Your portfolio will probably be the biggest representation of who you are and what you can do as a designer to a potential hiring or project manager. This is where they will look for culture fit, past experience, and what you can bring to the team. While you want your portfolio to be unique and show your individual style, there are a few industry standards that hiring managers may expect to see: usually three case studies that display your expertise in design, prototyping, and information architecture and research. Getting your portfolio to showcase your best pieces of work accurately and portray your personality can take some work. If you’re having second guesses as to whether your portfolio is visually appealing or user-friendly, ask a friend, former teacher, mentor, or colleague in the field to take a look at your work and give some feedback. For portfolio inspiration, check out these portfolios belonging to recent UX bootcamp graduates.
Whether it’s a personal blog or your LinkedIn page, exhibiting your UX knowledge on your social media pages can be a small but effective way of impressing internship managers. Sharing posts from big-name UX influencers or voicing your opinion on the latest prototyping tool shows that you like to stay up-to-date as a designer and have a good grasp of different UX concepts. Evidence of your interest in the UX industry outside of the office or school environment lets employers know you are serious about your career and your desire to learn.
You may be looking for an internship to provide you with the hands-on skills most employers look for when hiring a UX designer. However, some internships prefer you to have a bit of experience under your belt before being accepted as well. Try looking into doing some UX-related volunteer work or take the time to bring your own projects or ideas to fruition. You can also do a little freelance work by asking around or posting your services on sites like Upwork, Craigslist, or a local social media page. You never know who may need some help improving their UX!
4. Expand your network
Now that you’ve made sure your skill level and personal brand are well-represented in your online presence and portfolio, it’s time to put yourself out there! Here are some ways, both in-person and online, that you can connect with people that may be able to help you grab an internship position.
Go to networking events
Attending local UX events is a great way to connect with other designers. Having meaningful interactions with other UX students and professionals can help you learn more about design and give you insight into what other people’s experience in the field has been like. Networking events can also offer the chance to meet with people that may know of a potential internship opportunity for you.
Join online communities
While it’s great to be able to attend in-person networking opportunities, online design communities can be just as beneficial. Follow other UX designers as well as design studios, agencies, and influencers on YouTube, Medium, Twitter or other social platforms. Even looking to see what Facebook groups are available for UX designers in your region can be a great way to network from home. Not only might this help you find an internship position, but it can also help you learn about new trends and ideas in design.
Use LinkedIn to your advantage
LinkedIn is a unique social platform that is tailored to help people find career opportunities, including internships. Take some time to make sure your page is open to recruiters and hiring managers. Posting links to your resumé and online portfolio lets people know you are serious about looking for work and gives them a quick and easy way to see your credentials. Follow the companies you want to intern with and you’ll be able to see their latest job openings and connect with their employees. You can use LinkedIn as a social platform as well by messaging and interacting with other designers and colleagues.
5. Apply for internships
Optimizing how you look for internships and apply for them can make a huge difference in how easily you find the internship that’s right for you.
Look on multiple job boards
Sticking to one job search site like Indeed or Monster can limit the number of internship opportunities you come across. There are many other job boards you can use to broaden your search, including AngelList, Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, and more. Looking for a remote internship position? Check out Remote.co or Remotive.io.
Visit company websites
Going straight to the source can be a great way to look for internships in companies you admire or want to secure a more permanent position in. Most business websites have a Careers page that lists all of their open positions. Applying right from the employer’s website can also show your interest in their company and that you already have some knowledge about what they do.
Attend local career fairs
Taking part in local UX career fairs is an easy way to get in touch with hiring managers from companies or studios who are looking for UX interns. Having in-person conversations with different hiring managers often leaves more of a lasting impression than an electronically submitted resumé. As a bonus, you can also explore lots of different internship opportunities and have the chance to ask questions about the position directly.
6. You got an internship! Now what?
Landing a UX internship is something to be proud of! Take some time to acknowledge your dedication and hard work. However, having a career in UX design takes a constant desire to keep learning and improving your design skills. Interns and senior designers alike can benefit from adopting an always-learning mindset. While you work as a UX intern, keep striving to become a better designer as well as meeting and learning from other designers. If you’re keen to learn more about how to break into the UX industry, check out the following:
What You Should Do Now
- If you’d like a step-by-step intro to find out if UX design is right for you - sign up here for our free 6-day UX short course.
- If you are interested in becoming a UX designer check out our UX design course (you'll learn the essential skills employers need).
- Find out more about our graduates: their journeys, portfolio projects, and salary increases.
- Or get in touch with one of our Career Advisors to discuss if our courses are right for you.
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