Ask the Pros: What if I haven't been able to do any internships?

Ask the Pros: What if I haven't been able to do any internships? Our Ask the Pros series is here to answer your most pressing questions about interviewing, job-hunting and working in the world of publication art and photo departments. Got a question you want answered? Email it to us at and we'll put it to our experts. A varying panel of professionals will give you their take, and then it's up to you to put their advice to work. 

Our recent panel of art directors now tackles the topic of getting a job without any internships under your belt...

I'm getting ready to graduate and haven't been able to do any internships. How can I prepare myself to be a good job candidate, especially in competition with those who have interned? 

PRO: Emily Furlani - Art Director, Parents
That's a tough one, because internships have become so important these days in getting a leg up (or a way in). Employers are looking not only for a good design-sense, but also someone who has had a taste of the workflow, hierarchy, and hard deadlines in the business of publishing. 
    There are things you can do, however, to make yourself attractive: a clean one-page resume, an attractive portfolio, and some good references will go a long way. People like to hire people that are referred! Attend mixers at SPD or other design functions, start networking now. 
    You should still try, even post-graduation, to get an internship. The laws have changed for employers, and they work in your favor as a recent grad. There is nothing like real-world experience. 

PRO: Matthew Axe - Design Director, Martha Stewart Living
I'm not sure this is of particular concern if you have relevant projects in your portfolio. Ultimately it's the quality of the work that I look for.

PRO: Chai Lim - Studio Manager, Pacific+ (Australian based client publishing)
Two simple things - be organized and be active. The advantage interns have is that they learn the hard way to do the little things, and this means having to be organized, take notes quickly (even mental notes) and be proactive. I've always encouraged interns to be proactive in finding work, no matter how menial and non-designer-y, otherwise they aren't earning their stripes. The best creative can still be useless if they don't know how to organize themselves. Impress managers with your self-organization and ability to listen and take notes. Observation is one of the best ways of experiencing the different dynamics of professional life and student life. Is that a third simple thing?

PRO: Gail Bichler - Art Director, The New York Times Magazine
Enthusiasm and drive can go a long way towards making up for a resume short on experience. Do you have a school project in your portfolio that you're not completely happy with? Redoing and improving it on your own shows the type of initiative employers look for when they hire. I would also suggest including some self-initiated projects in your book. Beyond showing that you're motivated, it's a great opportunity to give potential employers more of a sense of who you are and what you're interested in. 

PRO: Justin Patrick Long - Assistant Art Director, Men's Health Magazine
The experience gained from an internship is incredibly valuable. However, if you're unable to intern at a magazine, I would suggest stuffing your portfolio with as much freelance work as possible. Employers are looking for talented designers with real world experience. So, do some branding work for friends and family, or see if any local non-profit organizations need design work done. This will show that you have worked outside of the classroom. Learning the ins and outs of a publication, and understanding the relationship between the art department and editorial staff is something you can learn as you go. But you need to show your prospective boss that you can solve problems visually, and most importantly that you can work well with others. 

Thanks to our terrific panel of pros for all their great advice! 
Check out our previous Ask the Pros questions below. And email us if you've got a question.
- How important is it to like the topic of the mag you work for?
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