What Type of Company Do I Want to Join as an Intern?

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It’s been a year since I published “How I Got into Roblox as a Design Intern”.

In it, I shared my industry-based search for internships. At the time, the three industries I wanted to intern in were

  • Music
  • Gaming
  • XR (VR/AR)

This list gave me a sense of direction and focus. Thus, I ended up discovering Roblox, and the rest was history.

Time has changed…

But, this year is different.

In short, the economy is bad, especially the tech industry.

So, even though I have goals, the reality sometimes just does not match up. Thus, I wanted to broaden things.

Instead of the industry, I want to focus on the qualities of a company. So, to answer the title of this article, here are the three things I’m looking for in my next intern opportunity:

1 - High design maturity

As a young designer, I want to learn industry-level design practices and craft. So that if in the future I join a startup, I’ll know what to do.

2 - Great mentor system

I’ve come to realize: What matters is who you learn from. It’s the people. No matter what industry or company you’re in, as long as you have an incredible mentor, you can grow.

3 - Growth opportunity

How I access growth opportunities is by asking these questions:

  • Is this space interesting?
  • Will what I learn be applicable in the future?
  • Will I be given meaningful projects?

Ideally, I want to answer “yes” for all three when choosing a specific company.

In the end, I fully agree with what Shannon Groom, a Sr. UX Strategist, said:

Work for a company about which you are genuinely passionate.

So, to me, what matters at the very core, is passion and the people. The three things I listed are extensions of the fundamentals.

Wait… But how can I know this?

Great question!

Coffee chats are a great way to learn more about the company you’re interested in. For internships, I’ll recommend talking to past design interns at the company. Another way is through interviews. Usually, at the end of interviews, HR will give you time to ask questions. This is a great way to access how the company values design.

And, of course, don’t forget online search! See if the company has a design page or any design-related content. One that I’ve been enjoying recently is Design at Coda.

How you can figure out too

Now, enough about me.

If you’re searching for internships, I want to help you.

Internal ask

I believe in intentional search. Even though the economy is not great, it’s still beneficial to have a direction.

So, to start, ask yourself the main questions:

What do I want to grow in?

Understanding your areas of improvement is crucial. It shows a great level of self-awareness. It also helps you target companies that will help you improve.

E.g. I want to become a more data-informed designer / I want to improve my visual design skills.

What’s my ideal end-state?

This question stemmed from separate chats with Nelson Chen and Catt Small. A common way to think about a career path is to decide your end-state. Then, you can think backward and decide the steps you need to take to reach that state.

E.g. I want to become an effective design leader / I want to become a principal product designer at XYZ Company.

Consideration factors/questions

Now, I’ll list out a series of things & questions you can consider when searching. You can use as many or as little as you want.

People

  • How are the people? (Based on coffee chats / online videos)
  • Do they seem supportive or toxic?
  • Are they challenged in their jobs? Are they growing?
  • Do they value work-life balance?

Product type

  • What’s the type of product? Is it B2C or B2B?

Industry

  • What industry is the company in?
  • Are you interested in the industry?

Level of impact

  • Do you know what your potential project’s impact will be?
  • Will it be shipped? Or just another forgotten project?

P.S. The consensus is the larger the company, the higher chance you’ll get a small, low-impact project. But this also depends on the team.

Design maturity

  • What or who drives the product roadmap?
  • How empowered is the UX design department relative to other functions?
  • What is the structure of the design team?
  • How does the team collaborate?
  • How do you interact with your users/customers?

These questions are from different useful sources below. I would highly recommend going through these yourself.

Design area

  • What type of design will you do? Design system? End-to-end product design? Design Ops?

Conclusion

This article was my attempt to share what I know about targeted internship searches. I moved away from industry-based search because I felt like it could be constraining.

Like, what if I end up not liking a particular industry? Will it be hard for me to transition?

By focusing on passion, people, and my preferences, I can maintain a level of flexibility and not limit myself to a particular field.

And once you do an internship, you’ll understand what you like/don’t like. Regardless, these are valuable learnings that will help you find your next opportunity.

And that’s a wrap!

Thank you for being awesome and reading this far! :)

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter, or by email. Will love to set up a casual call and chat!

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