Getting experience as a new UX designer entering the field of product design can be challenging. Oftentimes, even entry-level UX design jobs want someone who has at least a year or two of professional experience.
That’s where internships come in. Internships are often available for people who are brand new to design, who may or may not have completed a UI UX design course, design degree program, or bootcamp.
That’s right: A UX design internship can be a possibility even if you aren’t actively enrolled in a college-level design program.
Ready to launch your UX career? Read on for details on how to find and land your first UX design internship.
“The demand for UX designers is indeed increasing daily, and while this means more opportunities, it also means more competition. Having an internship under your belt is one of the best ways to stay on top of the hiring pool.” — Carl Wheatley, Design Recruiter
Art by Ally Jaye Reeves
Paid or unpaid?
If you can afford to take an unpaid internship, you’ll have a lot more options available to you. That said, obviously not everyone can afford to do that.
Realize that even many paid internships don’t pay particularly well, and those that do have high competition.
You may be able to find an unpaid part-time internship and supplement your income with a part-time job elsewhere. This can be a great way to build your user experience design skills while making ends meet.
Just be sure to weigh your options carefully. You don’t want to experience burnout because you’re working more than full-time hours between the two jobs.
What kind of company do you want to work for?
Knowing what industry you want to work in can help you narrow down your internship search.
But beyond that, there are two basic types of companies you’ll want to explore: design agencies where you’ll work on projects for a lot of different companies, or companies that have an internal design team where you’ll only work on their products or services.
Each job type comes with perks: With design agencies, you’ll potentially get a wider breadth of experience. That can come in handy when you start looking for a full-time UX design job.
With internal design teams, you’ll likely get more in-depth experience working on a variety of projects for a single brand.
Art by Anton Fritsler (kit8)
What skills do you already have?
When it comes down to looking for an actual UX design internship, it’s important to look at the skills you’ve already learned through your own personal projects or education.
Make a list and compare them to internship job postings to get an idea of what kinds of internships you’re most qualified for.
Your existing skill set should include both hard design skills as well as soft skills like communication and collaboration. Also, consider which design tools and software you’re already familiar with.
What are you looking to get from an internship?
What do you want to get from your user experience internship? Do you want to learn specific UX design skills? Just get some professional experience? Or maybe you want to gain a better understanding of the product design process? It’s important to go into your internship search with a goal in mind.
If you want to learn specialized skills like UX research or interaction design, for example, you’ll want to take that into account. If you want to learn more general design skills or get a wide breadth of experience, definitely consider finding a UX internship with a design agency where you’ll be able to work on diverse projects.
Related reading — How to become a UX Researcher
An internship is an excellent opportunity to build your professional network.
There are other benefits to an internship as well. One of the most important is that it’s an excellent opportunity to build your professional network. You’ll meet people in the industry through internships, which can lead to job opportunities later on, either directly at the company where you’re interning or through contacts you’ve made there.
“One of the fastest ways to land your first UX design job is through a referral from an expert in the industry. By putting your best foot forward at an internship, you’ll be setting yourself up for a great recommendation to some of the most coveted gigs out there. Or better yet, there’s a big chance you’ll get offered a position at the company you interned for—if that’s what you want!” — Carl Wheatley, Design Recruiter
Art by Darya Semenova
Develop your UX portfolio & brand
Before you start your internship search, you’ll want to create or refine your UX portfolio and figure out your personal brand. Your portfolio can include personal projects, projects you’ve done for classes, or any other user experience designs you’ve worked on.
Create a branded portfolio that expresses your personal design style and showcases your design process. You don’t have to include every project you’ve ever worked on. Just include your best work, even if it’s only a handful of projects. Remember that a UX design intern isn’t expected to have dozens of projects and years of work experience.
You’ll also want to create a UX resume that discusses your skills, education, and any experience you already have. Make sure this is also designed and branded, but keep it simple. Readability is more important than style.
Where to find UX design internships
You may be able to find UX design internships directly through your school. This can be an excellent way to find local businesses looking for a UX design intern. But you can also check job boards where UX design jobs are posted. That includes places like Dribbble, LinkedIn, or more specialized design job boards.
Look for user experience internships that fit the criteria you’re looking for and where your existing skillset matches up. Internships at prominent companies can be highly competitive, so if you’re applying for them be sure you apply for backup positions as well.
You may find you actually get more useful experience at a smaller company, and will have an easier time landing those internships.
Find the right UX design internship for you
Becoming a user experience design intern is an excellent way to get experience in the UX design field before you land your first permanent position. They can also be a requirement for graduation from some design programs. In either case, you’ll gain valuable skills and experience, not to mention professional contacts, by interning.
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