A design intern's survival guide to Ad-land

  • Date 8th July 2015
  • Author Carlie Smith
A design intern's survival guide to Ad-land

Taking the leap..

The transition from studying to working in ad-land is a big leap. It’s a bit like leaving high school. You finish up your senior year as the big kid in school, experienced and above authority before starting university and realising just how little you really know – and just how much there is to learn ahead.

Personally, after finishing up my studies and beginning my design career I was my own boss in a sense. I was able to develop my own style and branding through freelance work for friends and family whilst ‘winging it’ through those first jobs, trying frantically to recall lessons learned in uni lectures.

Starting out as an intern designer at an ad agency is a bit like being thrown into the deep end with floaties on – sink or swim, you just have to give it all you’ve got and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that surrounds you.

So, if you’ve considered starting a design internship – or aspire to work in an advertising agency, here are my tips that may help make your life easier;

Communication is key
You need to learn to communicate and work with other designers and agency departments (I’m looking at you, account service)

This is perhaps the most essential tip on my list, as communication truly is the key to get things done and produce the best work possible. It is not just for the betterment of your agency, but for yourself as a junior. It is the difference between career stagnation and real progression – as you will need to be able to communicate with your team in order to get the most out of yourself, enabling you to grow and improve. More importantly, your communications skills grow as does your role within an agency – and good communications skills can be the difference between winning a new client or losing a brief down the track.

Be open minded
Embrace the unknown

And be realistic. It’s only natural to be excited about starting your first ‘industry’ job, and you will most likely spend the night before your first day playing through scenarios of how the day might play out, but try to keep your wits about you. There is a good chance your experience of an advertising agency will be nothing as you’d expected – but that’s not a bad thing! You will have Friday afternoon drinks, agency and client lunches, and there may or may not be a dog walking around your open plan office, but you will also be pushed to your limits, working long hours, and constantly learning.

Tools of the trade
Strive to upskill yourself in as many different types of software (or hardware) you can get your hands on

A no brainer, really. It is and always has been a competitive industry. To be able to ‘make it’ you will need to know your stuff. Your skills will improve naturally (and quite fast) with every project or job you undertake, but in order to give yourself the best chance of survival, it helps to be proactive in up skilling yourself, constantly sharpening your tools. From here it’s all about finding the right opportunity. With a bit of luck you’ll start working on jobs that best suit your abilities initially, before cutting your teeth on bigger and more challenging projects as you develop. I was lucky enough to score an internship with Affinity, with a talented creative team around me whom inspire and challenge me every day.

Get with the times
Put yourself ahead of the curve

You need to bring a thirst for knowledge, and a drive to keep yourself up to date with what’s going on in the industry. Equipping yourself with an understanding of the latest trends and technologies will help not only your proficiency with design tools – but your conceptualisation and ideation abilities will also benefit greatly.

Be organised
If your time management skills aren’t up to snuff – sort it out!

Take notes, keep a diary close by, and plan what you need to do ahead of time to save yourself (and the rest of the agency) the stress of rushing around to meet deadlines. Oh, that’s another thing. Unlike your uni essays, a faked doctors certificate won’t get you an extension on a client deadline, you must be able to manage yourself (and sometimes, other people) in order to hit deadlines for work without exception. And if you don’t think you can, go back to step 1; communication is key – let your team know and work out a solution.

“I’m an open book”
Try to avoid clichés in your interview

But seriously, be eager to learn everything and anything that comes your way. In this industry you need to be versatile, especially so with print fading out and digital design taking over. I know my goal as a designer is to be able to complete every brief given to me no matter what the task across all types of software and channels. It doesn’t hurt to gain additional skills such as writing, social media, marketing, app design, animation and 3D photography – the more you know the better the designer you will become.

Your potential new agency is looking for a great attitude and an openness to learn; they know that you don’t know everything, that’s why you’re applying to be an intern! 
Like most things in life, you only get out of it what you put into it. But I’d whole heartedly recommend an internship to anyone. It’s a great chance to put theory into practice and hit the ground running for your first ‘real’ job.

Better input always leads to greater outcomes

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