My Best Advice to Interior Design Students is Internship

Toward the end of every semester, interior design students will ask me if they need an internship. My answer is always yes. I usually follow it up with an even stronger yes. The truth is that interior design instructors are limited to the amount of information shared in a 16-week semester. If I am honest with myself, I know from my own experience that I learned more by working in the field than by studying design, which impacts the way I teach every day. It is increasingly important that as an industry, we work together to develop the next group of interior designers.

professional development interior designers

I have a good friend whose daughter was studying accounting in college. After her first year of study, she took on an internship at a tax firm. The next year, she did an internship with an auditing firm, and her last year, she did one with a payable/receivables at a private airline company. Each experience was uniquely different, and the full range of experience she gathered was invaluable when she graduated. She was able to get an inside look at what she liked and didn’t like about each type of accounting.

Interior design isn’t much different. There are many avenues a student can explore. Yes, there is residential and commercial, but there is so much more. Early in the semester, I usually go on a tangent about the different opportunities in design. I don’t want them narrowing their thoughts to just residential or commercial. There is so much more to consider, and internships are the best way to explore those opportunities.

Related Article: 9 Ways to Mentor Interior Designers and Why Mentorship is Important to Our Industry

Just in commercial alone, you have many different avenues from hospitality to education. These are two distinctly different disciplines. Also, don’t forget the vendor side of things. Not all students want to sit behind a computer for hours upon hours drawing. Some would be much happier helping other designers with evaluating and picking products.

Internships allow students to take what they learned in the classroom and expand that knowledge with applicable situations. No lecture or class projects can replace the value of being in a design firm or learning from those who do the job every day.

While I was an interior design student, I worked for three uniquely different architecture firms. One was super small and still, to this day, my favorite. The other two were big firms that were becoming even bigger. The experience I gained from each helped me focus on what I loved about design and what I didn’t enjoy so much. From this experience, it led me down a different path altogether, and that was to start GA Interior Solutions.

I am very open with my students on how I got my first job, which was essentially I asked for an opportunity. I took my skills from my past marketing career and asked an architect if he needed help. It took about two months of working as his office manager before I was designing my first commercial project, a homeless shelter. This experience led me to the next job, which led me to the next. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for that first opportunity.

7 More Reasons Internships are Important to Interior Design Students

  1. Exposes students to the real-world experience and allows them to see how design firms operate
  2. Networking with other interior designers, vendors, and clients
  3. Improves professionalism and what it means outside of a school setting
  4. Learn how to work in teams and gain valuable experience from others
  5. Gain work experience and increase marketability for future jobs
  6. Explore potential career opportunities in different settings
  7. Secure future employment through connections, references, and job opportunities

My last word of advice to interior design students is to ask for a paid internship. My reasoning is simple. Just because someone is a student, does not mean they do not bring value to a firm. From fresh ideas to relieving workload from overworked designers, the student intern offers value to a design firm; therefore, the student should be paid. I will explore this topic in "Why Pay Your Interior Design Interns - 5 Reasons You May Not have Considered."

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