3 answers

Interning or Making Money

Asked Vista, California

I'm curious about whether I should be focusing on interning this summer as an animator for real world experience and connections or work to try to keep the cost of my education down? Any advice or experience possibly with both? #internship #college #resume #animation #art #summerjob #finance #job-application

3 answers

Sabrina’s Answer

Updated Newport Beach, California

Hi Carson – Great question! I had this exact concern before my senior year of college. Because internships have so much intangible value (helping you determine if that job is what you really want to do, gaining experience for your resume, etc.) I opted to take time off from a paying job and go the un-paid internship route for 1 semester. At the end of that semester, the company I was with asked me if I could stay another semester. I candidly told them I couldn’t because I had to find a paying job. They then offered to pay me to intern! After graduating college I continued working there for another 6 months. The experience I gained interning/working there far out-weighed the money I earned at the time, but over the years I know I have ended-up earning MORE money than I would have if I had worked at any-old job during that time. Taking that un-paid internship opportunity gave me the experience I needed for my resume to get my next job and get me moving in the direction of my career path. It also helped me clarify for myself in what direction I wanted to take my career.

I highly recommend applying for summer internships. It sounds like you may already have one picked-out. In the long-run it’s only a few weeks of not working for money, but you will make-up that financial deficit if you make the best of the internship and use the experience wisely. Also, some internships are only a few hours a week, so depending on the opportunity, you may also be able to work a part-time paying job so you have some income while interning.

Good luck, Carson!

Rachel’s Answer

Updated San Francisco, California

Both! There are paid internships! I was told as a young designer "Don't work for free" and I really believe it's good advice. As artists, we get asked to do a lot of free work. So starting out in your career, Don't do work for free unless:

  1. You love it and you're invested in the project. It's something you're passionate about and there is potential for great return (ie, you're working on a startup idea and there is potential for you to be a founding member of that company) or potential for great exposure (it's a project that will be seen by lots of people but maybe its for a nonprofit and may get you a great gig in the future)
  2. It's for a family member or friend and you are totally cool with putting in time and energy with no return on investment because that person is so important to you that it's worth it in love and appreciation.

If the person that is asking you to do free work (internship) has money, demand to get paid. If they want you to work for free, politely decline and explain that your time is worth money. Putting this in context, would you wait tables for free to maybe get a full time job as a waiter? I hope not. Your talent is worth money. Someone will pay you to learn.

Rachel recommends the following next steps:

  • Look for internships that pay real cash money. It doesn't have to be a lot. But we live in California and this place is EXPENSIVE.
  • Create awesome cover letters / fun ways to get noticed. You're an animator? When you reach out to a company, create a cool animated gif that you can put at the bottom of an email that shows you think about things, that you're interested in the company enough to make something "just for them." (doesn't have to be just for them. Make it customizable and easily changeable)
  • If you have the money and the ability to take the un-paid internship and not go into debt (aka parents are willing to float you or you have money saved up) and it's a great opportunity, take it! (but really try to get paid first)
Thank you so much for the advice!

Ellen’s Answer

Updated Woodbridge, Virginia

Hi Carson:

It is a tough question. Of course, if you need the money, you need the money. Perhaps you could do an internship and work part time somewhere on the weekends? Or maybe find an internship that is more part time, and you could still work full time?

When I was in art school many moons ago, internships were just coming into being. I don't think any of us students really understood how important they were going to be in terms of getting a future paying job. There was the option for me to apply for an internship with a graphic design studio, and I decided not to do it. I wanted to be compensated for what I did; like another reviewer, I felt I was worth some money, even as a student. Another student in my class got the internship, and guess who got a job right out of school? It wasn't me. Of course they hired that student, they knew her, trained her, and knew her skills and talent. You may not like the idea of working for free, but it is pretty much the "system" in place now a days.

So instead of focusing on the money part (IF you can do this) think of an internship, even an unpaid one, as an extension of your education. You pay for your education, you pay for getting some work experience. If it is any comfort, entry level graphic design jobs are usually pretty low-paying; there is the mindset of "paying your dues" in the field, which means starting at the bottom in terms of pay and status. Having an internship experience will be so valuable in terms of making contacts, having real experience working as a graphic designer, getting future references, and seeing what you really like about working in this field.

As it turned out, graphic design was really not my thing, but I still look back at this as a lost experience. If I could do it over again, I would have applied for the internship.

I hope this helps, and best wishes for your future career in this exciting and creative field.