A review of job postings for interior designers on sites such as Indeed and GlassDoor require experience. Not all of them, but it varies from 1+ year, depending on the seniority of the position. This creates a dilemma for the college graduate who wants to enter this field with no experience. If you can’t land the job, then how are you supposed to gain the experience? The answer is internships. An interior design internship will help you learn how design and business work together in a fast-paced environment. As an interior design intern, you’ll assist in client presentations, update resources, handle vendor management, assist designers, and participate with design teams. Most importantly, interior design interns learn to create tangible design expressions and communicate the essence of these ideas.
Design internships are the best way to bridge the gap between going to school and landing a great job. Internships can help provide valuable work experience by learning the ropes from more experienced professionals. At the end of your internship, you will have relevant experience to help you decide if starting your career in the field of your internship is the right choice for you. It also helps that 7 out of 10 internships result in a full-time job offer. Equally important, is that many summer internships are salaried. However, this might only be $15 an hour, but it is better than some that don’t pay anything.
It will be to your advantage if you live or are attending school in a major city. This is where you will find most of the internships of any type. One place that seeks summer interns is the larger architectural firms that also have in-house designers. These firms may require that the NAAB (National Architectural Accrediting Board)and/or CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) accredit your degree in architecture or interior design.
The NAAB is an agency that evaluates architecture programs in the United States to ensure that graduates have the technical and critical thinking skills required to have a rewarding career in the profession. The NAAB’s accreditation is independent of the school’s overall accreditation.
Those enrolled in interior design will benefit from schools with the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. Founded in 1970, CIDA is an international non-profit organization that accredits post-secondary interior design education programs in the United States and Canada.
Examples of Internships
An international architect firm with 5,000+ employees offered an internship for candidates currently enrolled in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in architecture or interior design. Applicants need to have these qualifications:
- You have completed your third year of an undergraduate program or first year of a graduate program.
- You are returning to your program after the internship and will be graduating within one year.
- You submit an online portfolio that demonstrates design process and innovative design solutions (PDF format with 2-4 work samples).
- Experience using Revit required, AutoCAD, and/or BIM modeling software a plus
- Experience with Adobe Creative Cloud Suite (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign)
- 3-D computer rendering skills (Sketch Up, 3-D Max, and/or other modeling software)
- Proficiency in MS Office (Excel, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint)
- Hand sketching ability a plus
When a firm exceeds $1 billion in revenue, they can be selective. However, sizeable firms are not the only corporations seeking interns. There are opportunities at small residential interior design companies. For example, a NYC-based interior design firm posted for an intern to create a narrative within the space that reveals each homeowner’s personal story. After a thorough consultation, they carefully tailor each room to the client’s specific functional needs and personalized desires. On the technical side, candidates need to be proficient in all Adobe office programs, AutoCAD, Google Sketch Up, and Rhino.
Students can find other summer intern opportunities in integrated design firms. This presents the prospect of joining a team of architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, and master planners. As a participant in a uniquely collaborative design process, you will work hand in hand with colleagues across disciplines on a wide variety of innovative, sustainable projects. Again, proficiency in CAD and Revit, and good knowledge of Sketch Up and Adobe Creative Suite is preferred.
There are detractors when it comes to the value of internships. Some of the negative comments refer to the menial tasks assigned to an intern. For example, fetching coffees at the nearest Starbucks. Alternatively, your assignments offer useless experience, which is unrelated to your degree in interior design. You also need to consider the payment for the internship. Would you be better off financially working in a higher paying summer job? Money you could put towards your education (debt).
Are the hiring statistics exaggerated (as stated above)? A paid versus unpaid internship reports contrasting figures. In 2013, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) queried more than 9,200 seniors from February through the end of April. The study reported that 63.1 percent of students with a paid internship had received at least one job offer. Only 37 percent of former unpaid interns received a job offer. This is a negligible 1.8 percentage points more than students who had never interned.
Many of the world’s biggest internship programs (at recognizable organizations like Microsoft, Google, or Facebook) tend to compensate their interns. However, most companies offer paid internships. In addition, even the unpaid ones generate positive remarks. Most frequently, the comment from former interns is that they learned about the realities of working for a particular profession.
Another positive is networking. A student spending time doing an internship will expand their network of professional associates. Not only will you most likely be able to use the company as a reference on your resume, but you can also get to know clients of the company and freelance associates that may work for the company as well. These contacts could be invaluable when seeking full-time employment.