15 do’s and don’t’s when trying to get (and keep) a design internship or assistant position.

Oh i’ve had some real DOOZIES.  I mean, we once had an intern who literally came to set, went to the  craft service table, made themselves a plate of funyons and bugles and just sat and watched us. It’s as if we were performing a live show just for them. Sometimes he/she would clap, sometimes laugh, sometimes criticize, it was genuinely HILARIOUS and TOTALLY BAFFLING.

You don’t want to be that person.  In fact i feel so genuinely guilty that i didn’t sit them down and tell them that they were never going to get a reference with a list of reasons why. I felt like i did them a disservice by not telling them that they were the worst worker i have ever in my life seen.  So, sorry bad intern, but i’m glad you enjoyed the show.

On the other hand…. A good intern or assistant is soooooo valuable and is to be treasured.

Let me tell you a story about one intern named Rebecca.

Rebecca wanted to intern for the show, but she lived in Las Vegas. So she was going to commute two weeks a month and stay in Los Angeles with a friend during those weeks. This seemed totally crazy to me, but i figured sure, lets see.  She came on set and slowly made herself totally indispensable. The weeks she was there were always more smooth. And then weeks we wasn’t weren’t as good.  She was fast, resourceful, easy to be around, had a good attitude and had lots of design skills.  Within a few months she was hired full time as an assistant because everybody on set knew that we needed her.  We actually found room in the budget to pay her – that’s what happens when someone can’t live without an employee – you just make it happen.

Orlando is obviously another great example – he was hired for the show and within weeks i NEEDED him. Now, post shooting, i’ve hired him as a designer in my company.  Indispensability, folks.

So here are 15 keys to getting hired as an intern OR an entry level assistant: Just my experience and just my pet peeves and needs, but i hope you find it helpful. 

1. There is a fine line between persistence and annoyance, and you want to stay on the side of persistence.   If you are stalking a potential employer and you get irritated that they don’t tweet you back or email you back immediately and you email them saying ‘why haven’t you emailed me back’, you may have just crossed the line into annoyance and you’ve just lost the job.  INSTEAD, send simple sweet reminders every other week that you would love the opportunity to help out in ANY capacity.  OR even better, send unsolicited design ideas.  For instance, i’ve had potential interns send me ‘i thought you’d like this stuff on ebay’ emails, or ‘I know you are busy but i thought you would love this artist i found’. And don’t get mad if they don’t reply.  This shows me that you a. love design and b. don’t mind giving of your time for free, and c. you have a good eye (hopefully).  It shows me that you are obsessed with design, not just desperate for a job so you can having drinking money, or something to put on your resume.  You don’t want to nag your future boss, but you do want to stay in their radar – so send them HELPFUL emails, not needy ones.  There is nothing worse than a high maintenance intern/assistant that makes you feel guilty.

2. Know that you won’t be doing the fun stuff at first. I can’t tell you how many interns we’ve had for ths show that only want to do the ‘fun stuff’.  But here’s the deal, I want to do the fun stuff.  Orlando wants to do the fun stuff, and we still don’t get to do enough of it.  Expect to do expense reports, returns, accounting, coffee running, more returns, running to get extra lampshades, driving to Santa Monica for a West Elm pickup, etc, for a while.  I still do all of those things and a good assistant would be someone who doesn’t make me feel guilty for asking them to do some of them either.  The fun stuff always comes, i promise but not if you are impatient – you won’t last that long.

3. Manage yourself and Volunteer for everything.  It’s widely known that i’m not a very good boss. I don’t like telling people what to do, i don’t like managing people. So it is extremely important to me that the people i work with can manage themselves so i don’t have to.  If tasks aren’t obvious then ask ‘what can i do this week for you?’ instead of waiting for them to give you a task.  It shows that you want to work.  I hate it when people wait for me to call them up, especially interns that aren’t getting paid – i always feel guilty.  But if you email or call me and say ‘how can i help you this week’ then the guilt is gone and your eagerness is extremely appreciated and you become indispensable.   Rebecca was constantly taking annoying tasks away from me and doing them.  Your motto should  be ‘i’ll do it’ as an intern.

4. Computer skills aren’t enough to get the job.  Auto-cad, Sketchup, etc are needed, indeed, but you need to show more than that to get a job at a creative company.  Create mood boards for your fantasy house.  Bring in those concept boards in ADDITION to technical floor plans. I can’t tell you how many interior design graduates show up to interviews with these portfolios full of commercial building projects they did in school and i get no sense of style or personality.  Again, you need the former, but if you can’t show me that you love shopping and style and design then its not going to happen for us. Start a blog.  Print out your pinterest page.  Show that you are obsessed with design and that if i send you vintage stores to shop for lamps that you have an eye and an IMAGINATION. Resumes are boring, so shake it up.  Also care about what you wear.  I’ve been baffled before by schlubby style-free outfits from interns – you want to be in a creative field? You better dress the part.  (this has nothing to do with money, thrift store outfits show me way more about you than your boring yellow tank top, too small jeans and flip flops.)  You represent your boss at all times, so you kinda need to dress like it.

5. GET YOURSELF A WORK ETHIC.  Seems obvious, but it isn’t.  Kids these days….. i mean, THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO DO!!! You can clean, you can organize the tool box, you can tape up receipts.  As someone new, as the lowest man on the totem pole, you should always be helping.  We’ve hired so many interns on the show that only do what they are told and again, have to be told, instead of simply seeing what needs to be done and doing it.  Stay late if you need.  Show up ON TIME.  Traffic is not an excuse.   Go above and beyond what you are expected to do.  We notice, i promise and you’ll get hired.

6. Be resourceful and figure stuff out on your own.  Obviously i don’t mean the composition of the room, but coming up with the solution instead of asking for it is invaluable.  If you say ‘Home depot doesn’t have shades, where should i go?’, thats fine, but if you say  ‘Home Depot doesn’t have shades, instead i’m heading to Lamps plus and Pottery Barn’, then thats using your head. If the hardware store is out of flux capacitors, ask them first what would be a good substitute, then google it, then call your boss.

7. BE HAPPY.  Naturally we are all allowed to complain now and again, but there is a difference between being frustrated with the client at times, and being moody and grumpy often. Walking around the office clearly in a bad mood, sucks the energy out of all of us and makes us not want to ask you to do something which is a sign that this relationship isn’t working.  Your boss should always feel able to ask you do to something, and you should always be happy to do it.  The interns/assistants that i’ve avoided asking are always the ones that were let go.  You simply can’t be moody or grumpy at work (often). And if you feel really tired, just keep it to yourself because I PROMISE, your boss is more tired than you are.

8. Don’t expect to be best friends with your boss. Unfortunately you are there to work, not hang out and make friendship bracelets.  Obviously friendships may form (hopefully), but they also may not, and that’s ok.  This has happened to me a few times where there is bitterness and it causes stress.  Rebecca never showed for one second that she was jealous of our friendship and eventually she was the one that became our friend.  Work first, and if friendships form, great, but that is not why you are there.

9. DON’T MAKE COMMENTS ABOUT HOW BROKE YOU ARE.  I think i might be extra sensitive to this, but your finances are not your bosses concern and you should never make your boss feel guilty about how much you make. You know going into any job or internship what you are going to get paid. You said ‘Yes’ to the job.  After a few months if you are struggling to pay the bills and may need to leave because of it then schedule a conversation with your boss about that, and hopefully it can be worked out.  BUT NEVER complain about the low or lack of wage, its totally unprofessional.  We all started out working for pennies, but you won’t forever, or for very long, i promise.   The assistants and interns that don’t complain are the ones that get turn into paid assistants or get raises.  I don’t think Orlando has EVER complained about money (even when i knew he was struggling) and that is why i always try to get him more money when possible and make sure he is satisfied.  He makes me WANT to make him more successful and more financially comfortable.

10. Write things down – listen and take notes.  Please.  I promise you, there is NO WAY you are going to remember everything.  Write EVERYTHING down. Repeating yourself is frustrating.   And don’t call to ask where Crate and Barrel is – find it on your own.  (don’t get me wrong if we are already on the phone don’t be scared to ask that, but don’t just call for that question).  

11. Predict questions and have answers.  When sourcing anything get all of the following information:  price, lead time, size, availability.  Take proper pictures, get ample amount of swatches. Don’t just get what i’m asking for – if i say ‘go to Noho vintage and look for lamps’ and you see lamps but also some awesome coffee tables, take pictures of those, too.  Follow directions, but go beyond that – they’ll love that.  Think about what questions you would ask of the pieces and get the answer beforehand.  As a side note if you are sourcing stuff on the internet, don’t send links, send pictures in the body of the email with the price underneath (and then the link).  That way you don’t have to have to click on 20 links,  You can see the pictures and then if you want to get more info you can – it saves a lot of time.

12.  Be efficient.  Multi-tasking skills are crazy important.  Make phone calls in the car (**if you have hands free) while driving to the  fabric district.  Google your next errand while in line at Pottery Barn.  Don’t go home and walk your dog during work unless you ask.  Work fast.   It will prove you are worth every penny.

13.  Don’t give unsolicited negative feedback.  OH, this is a big one.  If i’m, lets say, styling a coffee table and i’m still deciding what to put on it, don’t say ‘mmm i don’t like that’ just to assert your opinion.  It doesn’t prove to me that you have opinions or are smart or have good taste. It just proves to me that you like the sound of your own voice.  Sure, you can give unsolicited positive feedback, but not negative, at first.  For me, once i start trusting people then OF COURSE i need/rely/am desperate for opinions and get annoyed when you hold back criticism, but new interns and assistants should watch and learn and prove yourself first.

14. Predict Needs.  This is where you totally become indispensable.  If you see your boss about to hang a bunch of art, grab a hammer and some nails and put them next to them.  If you see that their computer is running out of batteries, plug it into a charger. This stuff is assistant GOLD, people.  When i was assisting it was like a game to me – i LOVED figuring out what Cindy would need next and have it there for her.  The second i got to set i would throw the flowers in water (clip the ends first to give them fresh stems) and i would lay the clipper next to the bucket with some vase options.  She’s good to go.  I would set up the ironing board minutes before i could tell she would need it.  I was constantly organizing the prop table to make sure everything was visible, and if i could tell she was struggling styling the mantle i would quietly bring objects over and just put near her for options.  PREDICT NEEDS.

15.  Don’t be sensitive. If your boss doesn’t like any of the lamps you took pictures of, don’t get annoyed or sensitive.  If they don’t like the fabric you swatched, don’t cry, its ok.  It takes a long ass time to know the specific tastes and needs of your boss, so don’t worry about it.  I try and say ‘why’ i don’t like something so they can learn, but know that it takes a while to learn somebody else’s style – it took me a long time with Cindy, too.  Rebecca at first showed me lots of stuff i didn’t like, but she didn’t care, she just turned around and shopped for more.  And after a couple months she started getting it.  I want to feel comfortable enough to say, ‘nope, too Liberace-y’, ‘Nope, too ‘cheesy bachelor’, ‘nope, too old lady’.  But i’ve had people get sensitive and annoyed, and again it becomes my problem.   Ask ‘why’ so you understand, but then take the info and move on.

For all the bosses out there, comment away on your advice for interns and assistants.  Tell them the stuff that you wish you knew when you were starting out.  Or vent with your pet peeves.

I normally don’t encouraging venting on the blog, but i really feel like there is a influx of really poor workers out there that need to know this stuff, or they won’t be able to get or kep a job.  Its for their own good, i swear.

Newest update:

There has been some negative feedback, which i totally understand, defending interns.  Ultimately i think its a compromise – 50/50. The employee/intern has to be proactive and work hard and ask as many questions that they can think of to try to learn, and the employer has to teach them as often as possible and ultimately try to help them move on and get a job if its not there.  Neither party can just sit back, both need to work at the relationship.  I’m revising what i said earlier, it was harsh and hasty.  (i was on a roll…)

If you don’t believe in free internships then that is a whole other debate that i understand both sides to. Unfortunately in creative fields free internships are the norm because of lack of funds.  In general they are very flexible though and allow for other jobs. I think an unpaid internship at a really exciting, but small creative company is way more valuable than a paid internship at a big company.  Again, if you prove to be indispensable you will get hired.

But let me be clear:  interns or entry level assistants are supposed to be looking for valuable experiences and they should be getting it – thats kinda the trade off.  I’m sorry if it came across ungrateful, i’m actually the opposite i swear, its just the entitlement that kills me.

 

  1. akemi

    OMG, last week my PA actually told me to 'make it work' when she bought the wrong thing. And she couldn't solve a single problem. Pouted and threatened production when she couldn't get the title of HER choosing. I certainly wasn't so entitled when I got my start. Sheesh, considering forwarding this to her.

  2. great post — i think these tips could apply to almost any job where you're working under someone busy. i'm currently in the position as an underling and i keep telling myself, my job is to make my boss's easier, to make her look great to her boss, and make her feel comfortable about giving me moreresponsibility, etc.

  3. Meris

    This was very helpful!!!

  4. pattyb

    WORK ETHIC!!!!!! (and everything else you said).

  5. Emily Henderson

    OH, and one more. Don't just intern once a week. Try to do it at least 3 days a week to really be valued and to know what's happening. Once a week doesn't really do anything for you or your employer.

  6. Molly

    I'm a magazine editor who has both interns and freelance writers, so I see all kinds of crazy shiz come through the door.

    Be honest with your boss about deadlines. If you won't be able to get something done on time or up to the proper standards, don't tell me 20 minutes before it's due. Give me a couple of days' notice, and I might be able to help you out with the problem or give you another day or two to work on it. Or worse, don't turn it in late with a long list of excuses. Your dog got sick and you had to take him to doggie ER? You had to work the night shift at your other job three days in a row? A pipe burst in your rental? Cry wolf enough times and I'll stop believing you altogether. Just be up front and honest and I promise we can work it out together.

  7. Carina

    Thank you so much for this post! I'm starting my first internship in a few weeks and some of these things I hadn't thought about. This really helped!

  8. Thanks for the shout out. I'm am dying laughing about the "bad intern" at least it made for a good laugh…
    xoxo
    -Rebecca

  9. KellyD

    LOVE all of these! I love the idea of having interns around as additional help and exposing them to our company/industry. What I've found with interns over the past few years is that they feel I should spend the majority of my time teaching them, mentoring them individually and then finding a job for them. I wish they'd know coming in that they are definitely here to learn, but the learning part is on them. They need to be proactive in the process by absorbing as much information as possible, doing research on their own and then coming to me with questions/problems/solutions. I don't think many of them realize how busy we are and that our biggest priority can't be someone who will only be around for a few months.

  10. Great post. Everyone looking for a job should read this, not just design interns.

  11. This is such great advice for many industries. We have had some disastrous architectural interns, even in just an office setting. This is great advice. One important thing I'll add, that I feel crazy for even having to say, but it happened to us last summer: DON'T HAVE YOUR PARENTS CALL TO REQUEST THE INTERVIEW FOR YOU. If a parent calls on behalf of a twenty something intern candidate, they're pretty much automatiically off the list. Kids these days. . .

  12. Christine

    This post was hilarious! I think it translates to many business. It shows what is wrong with customer service in general. There is just a self-absorbed attitude in general of most employees whether they are interns or not. Thank you for your candor and humor!!

  13. sue

    awesome timing on this post… i literally just finished my first week of a four month internship! i will be taking away a lot of your advice! merci buckets!!!

  14. I loved these! They're very very true and good advise, especially in a creative business industry.

    I work in fashion and have a lot of interns and assistants in my day. They all come in so excited to work with clothes, but are so disappointed when their first year is a lot of business (charts, analysis, research). The ones that make it are the ones who have a great work ethic as you mentioned, see past today, and realize that they're building a foundation. Maybe five years up the road they'll get to sit in meetings and pick out pretty things :)

  15. Tiffany

    This post works in many fields. I really agree with being predictable. That could be #1. I think thats the one thing that makes others stand out from one another.

  16. All of this is so spot on. Honestly, unless it's an unethical or abusive request (and then you really have other issues), the word "No" should not really come out of an interns mouth. I once had an intern on a shoot refuse to go buy craft services because she didn't feel like it. Seriously. Cookies. Buy them.

  17. jeannette

    i'll admit i own a yellow tank top.
    in my defense it was purchased to wear under an orange big shirt, long de-accessioned.
    i won't even wear it to water the vegetables in my walled back yard.
    srsly, i don't understand where people get their idea of Work Attire. especially applying for work as a designer.
    and the funyuns toad. i'm absolutely stunned.

  18. Sally

    I work in software, and most of these are so true for interns/new hires here, too. the traffic one especially!! I would add that I think there is NO EXCUSE for asking me a question that could be answered with a simple google search when the intern is sitting in front of a computer. You know who knows the answer to that question, intern? My friend, the internet. If you haven't tried at least three different google searches yet, don't even bother talking to me.

  19. Shannon

    This is absolutely perfect. I just forwarded this to the intern recruiter for my company as well as the director of the career center at the school I earned my Interior Design degree from. I appreciate how brutally honest you are!

  20. Sarah

    These tips are SO great, no matter what industry you work in. I interviewed an intern last week. He lives in Philadelphia and wants to come out to LA for the summer. I was initially impressed because that alone shows some sort of dedication, right? WRONG. In the interview he had a list of things that he didn't want to do and refused to do busy work. Hellooooo, you're an intern….that's what you start out with. I was appalled. I'm only 27 years old (and the intern was maybe 4 years younger than me), but I'm amazed at how "kids these days" aren't willing to put in the work. Needless to say he didn't get the job.

  21. Lyn

    I agree with so many of the comments that these simple tips could be applied to EVERY industry. In fact, I think this should be published on the front page of every college newspaper. Basically, these things apply to any job you have in life, until you become the boss of everyone (which you won't for a long, long, long time). Work hard, put a smile on your face, don't make excuses, offer solutions, deliver great service (to your boss, your clients, everyone around you). It's not that hard, but LOTS of people don't seem to get it. THANK YOU for putting this out there.

  22. Kylie

    Huh. This is why I would never make it in a highly competitive field. I'm a damn hard worker and an excellent employee, but I have no interest in doing someone else's scut work for free.

  23. AliceH

    Great post. And I kept thinking that basically all of this advice could be applied just to life in general – like how to be a good friend even.

  24. Jenn

    I need to print these out and have them easily at hand, these ring true for so many different fields. The only thing that I can think of, and maybe this doesn't ring for everyone, but I would love to have someone that could actually finish something, and I mean completely – the big one is filing. If you start a new filing system, well that's great, but finish putting it all away. If you are organizing or re-organizing, for goodness sake, finish it. Starting a website…finish it. I hate having interns who start things and don't finish them – I hired for a project (maybe several projects)…completing them is a part of the contract.

  25. Lili

    These are so great, Emily. I'll add: Be on time! I have no bigger pet peeve than tardiness. I am the boss and I am almost never late, so don't be late as an intern. In fact, be early.Nothing shows dedication and responsibility to me like punctuality.

  26. aly

    While I 100% percent understand that interns are the bottom of the totem pole and that most of the learning happens by absorbing and building relationships by being a hard working support system – I must also say that if you are not paying an intern and you are also unwilling to teach them you are breaking labor laws. The intern relationship has to have some mutual benefits and if employers are unwilling to look at this as a learning opportunity that they play a direct role in facilitating then that is really problematic!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html?pagewanted=all

  27. Phoebe

    I'm in magazines, not design, but I think that all of these apply 100 percent! I've been the intern who got hired, and let me tell you, Emily is totally right. You make yourself indispensable, your boss will find a way to hire you. The only one I don't totally agree with (and it's because, again, I'm not in the design field) is the photos in the email thing. If your boss gets a load of emails every day, an email like that could bomb their inbox and take too long to load on an iPhone. I would prefer maybe that the intern had already culled it down to 3 good options and just send me 3 links.

    Great post, Emily!

  28. Emily

    While I think a lot of these are awesomely good tips on work (things I've had to learn to do as an intern and then an assistant) I do want to point out that there is a HUGE ethical debate about the use of unpaid interns in this country (see: http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2011/07/19/the-ethics-of-unpaid-internships).

    I think it's important to remember that although interns aren't being paid, you are in a transaction with them – their time and effort for your mentorship and guidance. Interns should do the grunt work and be responsible and take initiative, of course, but BOSSES need to respect their contributions and offer them an opportunity to LEARN as well. The legal standards of internships state that unpaid internships legally must be educational for an intern. That education should include your honest feedback on their performance, as well as insight into the field.

    I write a lot about the 20-something work experience at my blog, Voyage-on. blogspot.com.

    Cheers!

  29. wow. really good stuff here, emily. i'm loking for an intern as we sepak, so imma attach this to every email i respond too. srsly.

    ps- nice seeing you in high point!

  30. Grace

    Great advice…for a megalomaniac. So sorry to hear about your show.

  31. I can't stand it when people don't understand that they have to start at the bottom – just like everyone above them did. My college education didn't mean I was above getting coffee, using the copy machine, running errands, working weekends, and even taking the blame for my boss when things didn't go right. You do what you have to do. Period. You'll have wonderful bosses and absolutely horrible bosses, but you must have the mindset that everything that happens – the good, the bad, the mind numbing – is a learning experience. I also love the advice of going above and beyond the call of duty – if you want to do more than grunt work, do more than grunt work and get noticed. What is even more baffling to me is that people still don't get that they are so replaceable if they aren't giving their employers what they want in this economy.

  32. Shawna Taylor

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! These tips are so invaluable to me. I've never been too proud to do the small things because I have always felt that you're never too "small" to make a huge impact. I always watch shows where the interns say something under their breath and I think "how do you think the bosses got to where they are"? Believe it or not, my dream job is to be that invaluable to someone. I've never had any qualms about being that person behind the scenes doing what needed to be done; from answering phones, to getting coffee, I always think "whatever makes that person a more effective person. I've thought I "dont want to be the boss, I want to be the right hand woman. I am always striving to make myself a better person and your tips have helped me, more than you may know, so thank you so much.

  33. Libby A.

    So I have a biggie question that 'kinda' goes along with this awesomely enlightening post – for all you designers out there -

    I received my BFA in Studio Art this past spring, and now that I'm out of school, I know that I am OBSESSED with design. And GOOD design, at that. I know I have a lot to learn (Auto-cad, Sketchup, etc.), but I also have a natural talent for it. And it's 'what I gotta do.'

    My question -
    MUST I go back to school for Interior Design? Or should I find an internship in the field, along with taking classes to learn the computer programs? Honestly, if it came down to choice, I would hands down go back to school. But hey, money has a little bit of a say in this.

    What are your suggestions?
    And how important is it to go to a TOP school for their program?
    I'm currently applying to Florida State University.

    ANY info is awesome, you amazingly talented people!

  34. Katy

    I'm a grad student, which means I teach four undergrad classes each semester with very low pay. If you are seeing an influx of bad workers, I can safely say that it is probably only going to get worse. I came in to teaching with an idyllic view that everyone in my class would sit together sharing ideas and making the world (and the field of psychology) a better place. Instead, each class is basically an hour of me standing in front of my students begging them to answer questions, ask questions, make comments, or produce any thoughts about anything we are discussing while they stare back at me and play with their phones. Don't get me wrong, I have some amazing students that I immediately recruit to work in my lab so they can remind me that people aren't all bad, but the vast majority don't want to do anything that doesn't involve texting their friends or checking facebook.

    Even though I'm not a designer, nor anyone's assistant, I thoroughly enjoyed this post because I think it explicitly states what so many young 'uns need to hear. EXCEPT– people should not talk on their phones while driving. Ever. Even if it's hands free (I have research to back this up). That is my one caveat. :)

  35. riye

    One of the problems we had with our assistants was that if they were sick or didn't feel like working they just didn't show up for work! I should not have to call you to see if you're coming in or not. The worst one I've ever heard here (I work at a university) was the assistant who got hired, showed up for one day, and then didn't bother to show up again! They tried contacting her and she never returned their calls/e-mails. Several weeks later one of her co-workers ran into her and found out she had taken another job. She was honestly surprised that she had to tell them she was quitting. Hello?!

  36. Libby A,
    first tip… leave an email address when you comment so someone has a way to comment back… anyways Emily is super good with giving tips and such however she is also super busy… if you would like tips I'd be happy to make suggestions to you (how important school is vs work experience) Lets me honest in design it's your portfolio that gets you hired not where you got your degree from… a bad designer can go to a good school but in the end they are still a bad designer… a good designer can not go to school but have crazy amazing portfolio and work experience… feel free to contact me at rebecca@repurposedstudio.com if you want
    -Rebecca
    repurposedstudio.com

  37. SCK

    wow, just wow. it's truly stunning to see what an employer expects from an employee that isn't being paid one red penny. unpaid internships are permitted insofar as they are learning experiences for the intern. they are not a way for an employer to circumvent labor costs. you seriously suggest that you have no obligation to teach your interns anything without even a hint of shame. instead, i suppose, they should feel lucky to be in your mere presence absorbing your brilliance. i was a certified legal intern during my final semester in law school and i will tell you that the my supervising attorneys took the task of teaching me very seriously. taking time to work with me to develop my legal skills and working knowledge of the area of practice. and in return, i equally took my responsibilities and obligations to my clients seriously by working damned hard. i think you are truly appalling and are misusing internship positions to circumvent minimum wage requirements.

  38. This post comes is a bittersweet one for me. I interened as an architect for several years before realizing that I needed to make a career change to interiors. Once I did, there was no work and I was laid off. I was never a bad intern. i always worked hard and and never felt like I was above any task. But the truth is, my heart was not in architecture, and I didn't go above and beyond. The lay-off I know is a blessing because I live and breathe interior design. i am so in love with it. I know given the chance to work in interiors, I would thrive because I love it so. So hopefully i will get to to use the advice soon.

  39. Dana

    This definitely applies to any job. Good tips for anyone just starting out in their career!

  40. Mary

    Hmm, I disagree with your update. I do feel strongly that it is an employee' s job to learn. On the other hand, it IS the bosses' job to teach. And a good boss will do just that. People in leadership positions DO owe it to those who work beneath them help guide them along. I've been in both positions, and that's just my personal belief.

  41. Emily Henderson

    @mary You are right. I guess its a good combo of asking questions and being proactive about learning, and the employer making sure that they are teaching, too. You are totally right.

  42. Emily Henderson

    @SCK
    I get your point, for sure. I think that unpaid internships are tricky for that reason and i have since revised my statement about learning versus teaching – it should be 50×50 experience between the employer and employee. Hiring a full time staff is hard when you are a startup or a small business, and firing someone is even harder so internships are great so you can feel things out and see if they are right for you and vice versa. They get a great reference, a great letter of recommendation and it is always usually flexible for their schedules so they can still have a job to pay their bills. I interned for free and learned a ton. But all of this applies to paid assistants, too. I don't believe in taking advantage, just in not being entitled.

  43. Emily Henderson

    @lily
    I don't think you need to go back to get another degree, just take classes on those programs (or teach yourself). I've heard they are not that hard, just takes some time to learn. Be creative with your portfolio and you can get a job past the person who has all those skills – that stuff is teachable, whereas style and good work ethic and a good personality isn't. I've heard that you can learn sketch up in a weekend, and then practice it a ton. Good Luck!
    Emily

  44. sue

    got to say, having re-read the post in full, i do think some of the elaborations on the 15 points were a bit harsh (as were some of the follow-up comments)… at the end of the day, interns are people too (not just cheap/free labour) and there has to be a bit of give and take… they can also bring with them a wealth of their own experience which, if utilised, benefits the employer in ways far beyond the addition of an extra pair of hands (& definitely far, far, far beyond doing coffee runs!)… ;)

  45. ann

    I used to have interns (in another field) and would add to your excellent list:
    1. This is your opportunity to ask wide-eyed, naive questions: Why do you do it that way instead of this way? How does this fit into what we do in that other part of our work, or other department?
    2. No surprises. If you can't make a deadline, ask for help well ahead of time. Which means that you have to START the project well ahead of time so you can see how it's going and get a mid-course correction if you need it.
    3. You've had a life up until this point. Bring all your experiences and skills to this job.
    4. Accept that there is a steep learning curve in any job and that for the first 4 (6, 8, 12) weeks you'll feel like you've fallen off the dock into deep water and can't swim. This will pass and one day you'll discover that you know what you're doing. That feeling of competence is hard to get and feels awfully good once you've got it.

  46. Gail

    I have a problem with the whole intern thing. If you work you should get paid.

  47. seriously

    am i the only one offended by this? what makes you the queen of how things should be done. you seem incredibly ungrateful for someone getting free work

  48. Emily Henderson

    @seriously and @gail I just edited it because yes, i did seem really ungrateful. Probably because i was grumpy. :( Reread and let me know what you think.

  49. hey, if you are good at a free internship, it *always" leads to paid employment, whether at the interning firm, or elsewhere because of a fabulous recommendation, so at teh most you'll be unpaid for 90 days.. if you suck at an unpaid internship, well, you aren't going anywhere, and should just take a paid position in another field.

    just the facts as i see 'em, and yes, i did an unpaid internship when i was starting out, and the firm almost immediately offered me a paid position so someone else wouldn't poach me.

  50. amy

    These seem like helpful insights to me. One thing I'd add as advice both to potential interns and bloggers giving advice to potential interns is the following: proofread.

    There's no excuse for writing "bosses" when you mean the possessive of boss. The same is true for using the correct form of its/ it's/ its'. Just proofread. If you must, have an intern do it for you, preferably the perpetually unemployed English major who doesn't use "text speak" as part of his/ her written communication outside text messages.

    If how you dress is an important expression of how seriously you want to be taken, so too is how you express yourself in words.

  51. Jen

    One thought about unpaid internships…

    -While the entry level salary of many great creative industries might be non-existant (i.e. unpaid internship), the ceiling if you persevere and work your way up is usually quite expansive! In wardrobe styling, for example, you might start out shlepping garment bags for free for the first year, but if you stick with it and are successful, advertising rates for stylists are in the thousands per day! Which actually makes working for free in the beginning much more lucrative than just about any office job where you get a 2% raise every year.

    If you don't want to work for free that's okay, no one is forcing you to! But if you want to take advantage of a great opportunity, I think Emily's advice is spot-on. I would use the word honest over harsh…

  52. If I didn't have little kids at home I would luurve to have a chance to intern for you. And I'm sure there are many who feel the same. I think maybe that's the point here–it's sort of supply and demand.There is a very small supply of opportunity to intern for this exciting show, and many people wanting that slot. The result is that the burden of proving yourself falls squarley and fairly on the shoulders of the intern. Of course there is a basic human duty for the boss to treat the intern with dignity, but ultimately I think what the intern would gain in such an experience is far more valuable than what he/ she would be "paying" (even if she worked her @$$ off)

  53. I definitely agree that people should be paid if at all possible, but I also strongly agree that interns (and people in any job) need to be ready to actively help and to learn on their own initiative. If you REALLY want the job, you have to work your ass off to get it! Don't just work hard, work SMART — use your brain; no one is going to hand you a job on a plate, especially in this economy. You gotta blow away the competition. Same is true if you want to get any kind of raise — doing the same old "good enough" isn't going to get you praise or raise. Like others have commented, I find it absolutely baffling what people don't do, and then they complain that they can't get a job. I got an email application once with no cover letter, just a sentence in the email saying their resume was attached. And then they forgot to attach the resume. SERIOUSLY???? Every resume and cover letter you send out should be different, tailored to that specific job posting — this is one of the first tips you'll read on a job search site! Don't know how to write your resume? TONS of resources online! Use them! If you can't be bothered to write a special cover letter just for me, you clearly don't care enough about the job and you probably wouldn't be bothered to put in any extra effort if you got the job, either. Not gonna get a job that way.

    Gah. Sorry. So frustrating. I hope people are able to take your post to heart and that it helps them score an awesome gig, because that's what'll happen if they actually follow through on it!

  54. In regards to the negative feedback…I interned for several years at a large corporate (healthcare) architecture firm and it was a paid internship. It's actually law in the state of texas to pay an intern because some time ago architects lobbied due to 'abuse.' The decent pay kept me there for all those years, but you know what? if it had been an unpaid intership, I would have quickly known that the job was not for me because I was not passionate.
    Now, knowing what I know, and coming to realize that interior design is what I was meant to do, I will gladly take an unpaid intership because I cannot imagine doing anything else. I would die to work under Emily or anyone else whose work I greatly admire. So I think this is great advice for people wanting to be in this field.
    It is just reality. If you want to make it in interior design, this is the way it is. if you feel otherwise, this is not your industry.

  55. suzan

    I say a HUGE AMEN AMEN AMEN to this post of yours! My job is to help people get jobs and you've confirmed what I've been teaching. They just don't get it. And its insane how people think they don't have to actually WORK at their job?! I could go on and on. And…it's your blog. You can be harsh if you want. I think this is a subject worth some major league harsh. Harshishness. Harshiosity. Seriously.

  56. DesignSnaab

    I don't understand why people are getting upset about these guidelines. Admittedly, I didn't read the original, unedited post, but from what Im reading now it seems completely accurate.

    The truth is an internship is a two-way street; by agreeing to work for little or no pay (or college credit), you have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from a leader in your chosen field. It's such a valuable experience if you use your time wisely. And yes, it's grunt work, and yes, it sucks, but during and directly after college you have no real-world, job-related skills. Even doctors have to intern! And they learn mainly from actively observing what's going on around them on a daily basis.

    I can also speak from experience when I say there's nothing worse than a bad intern. If you have to go back and review everything they do, it actually creates more work for you. I was in charge of an intern once who I'd tell to go on Facebook because it was less work without her. It's your responsibility to teach an intern about your field and day-to-day activities, not basic life skills they should already know.

  57. While I do think your initial comments were a bit harsh, I can see both sides of this. I am a former executive turned interior design intern. After being a marketing executive with all the great perks in my past life I decided to start over as an intern in the quest to find my true career passion.

    My friends and former colleagues thought I was crazy for doing it but I knew from my "past life" that if I was smart about it and went into the experience with the right attitude that I had a chance of gaining a lot from the interning experience. And I can honestly say I have. It helps that I work for someone I think is a rock star in design. I am not above any task given to me because this is what I signed up for. Anticipating someone's needs is easy especially when I counted on my former employees to do the same for me. For every bit of grunt work (getting someone a special juice, making copies) there is a cool project that comes with it (designing a cool wall paper pattern).

    I never interned when I was in school the first time around because I couldn't afford it (I had tuition to pay for!) but am very lucky that I have a savings that allows me to do it now. When I signed up for this experience I wasn't 100% sure that design was for me, I hadn't taken any classes, but I knew this would allow me to figure it out. I checked my ego at the door when I started and haven't looked back since. It has made me more confident in my decision to pursue design and I have learned more in this internship than I ever could in school (although I do take technical design classes now). I have experienced a sense of entitlement with some people that were just out of college that used to work for me (and with fellow interns that are almost half my age) and it is an unfortunate characteristic that really inhibits folks from so much. I think interning can be a valuable experience for anyone that wants to learn a new skill.

    While everyone is busy caught up in their own work, I do think it is also important for those intern bosses out there to understand that their intern is also there to learn (which is why they have signed up to work for free) and takes a second to explain something new and say thank you occasionally or "great job." I'm not talking about hand holding but positive reinforcement goes a long way and so does praise when it is deserved.

  58. Natalie M

    Very insightful!

    I'm shocked by previous assistants I've interviewed. I am yet to find a 'Rebecca' whom to me, would be indispensable. I have often wondered if I'm setting my sights too high?!

    Advise to interns- If you are serious about wanting to be in this industry, do not be afraid of getting your hands dirty, making tea and doing other tedious sometimes laborious tasks. If you show the right 'attitude' your determination will pay off in the end.

    I started out as an intern in 2008, for an Art Dept. This was suppose to be a four week placement but they were so happy with me that they kept me on for 10 months in total, I was paid just £5 a day towards my travel expenses.

    Although the days were long and sometimes quite dull, I stayed enthusiatic at all times by reminding myself of the bigger picture (my future), this got me through. It was extremely hard, I worked in the evenings and on weekends in a supermarket to cover my outgoings but my Passion, enthusiasm, hard work and determination paid off.

    The placement gave me first hand experience of what to expect and how hard I needed to work to get there. I now work for myself as a freelance Stylist/Art Director, I feel very lucky to be able to say I LOVE my job!

  59. Alli

    Do not revise your post! It was spot on and fantastic. So good I have copied and will use it for the next person I have! Rock on! (and it applies to any field, not just design)

  60. kim

    Great great post Emily! This applies to many fields. I would second the notion that those that take initiative and can keep themselves busy and helpful are employees everyone wants. The entitlement KILLLS me too. I don't even think it's an "age" thing. I didn't act entitled in my early career, I was the opposite and have always been gainfully employed. Always.

  61. Stephanie

    This was one of my favorite Emily posts. I also learned about a great new design blog to follow (Rebecca)!!

  62. Christa

    Oh My God you are so right on with this. The main problem is that so many people who are new to the work force have no interest/awareness in how hard all of us who are already employed there have worked to get where we are. It's called paying your dues, and getting your degree is just step one of about 25 steps. So many in the creative field seem to think they are so brilliant that they can step over everyone else at the firm. It's incredibly rude.

    Then there is archiving. The main reason I have interns it for them to keep up the archiving (not to fulfill their personal dreams and goals). What they get in return is access to my years of experience, my network, and my TIME, and the opportunity to show work based on the creative briefs that our agency takes in. But if they don't follow the archiving system because their own way of doing it made more sense to them… well, they are just going to get fired.

  63. LA Interior Design Instructor

    Although I find internships necessary because I am an instructor in an Interior Design program I do want to make one thing clear. It is the LAW in California that internships must be paid minimum wage UNLESS the intern is receiving educational credit for their work. Yes that means unless you are filling out the forms that colleges provide you must be paying your intern min wage. There are ways to many employers that take advantage of "free labor." The other thing is in the Interior Design field if you have not passed the NCIDQ and are not a certified Interior Designer, you are not qualified to sign off for internship educational credits. So this means if you have an intern you HAVE to be paying them minimum wage. When the intern is being paid min wage you can tell them to do whatever you please, coffee, returns, all those annoying jobs because you have hired them to do so. If you have an UNPAID educational credit intern it is 100% YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to teach them about the field. They are getting college credit for their free labor therefore must be in a learning environment. So although your post does make good points about intern etiquette, it is pretty clear to me that you are not hiring interns for educational credit but to simply do entry level work. So you as a "boss" must pay them and if they don't do a good job you fire them and move on. IT IS AGAINST CALIFORNIA LAW TO GET FREE LABOR AND COVER IT UP BY CALL IT AN INTERNSHIP. You either teach them or pay them.

  64. Kit

    I'm late to the party and want to say that I'm a legal assistant and so much of what you say rings true for me, even though we're in totally different fields. I'm sought after, in the highest pay bracket in our city and I love my job. It's as you say, about predicting needs, using initiative, not being sensitive and in my case, knowing that it's not MY document, it's my boss's document – so it doesn't have to look the way I think if should, but how THEY think it should.

    I don't understand why you're getting negative feedback 'cuz every word you said is true, and it's valuable advice.

  65. Gail

    Old saying: You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

  66. Donald

    WORK ETHIC!!!! Thank you thank you thank you.

  67. Anne

    Personally I would like to know what concerns you felt as an intern. You obviously have a ton of ideas of what a perfect intern is in regards to being their boss. What are the do’s and don’ts of the ideal boss? Are there things that you sought as an intern that you didn’t receive, like guidance or specific information. How did you cope without that certain information?

    You preach about what to do like it is cutthroat do or die, would you offer up specific tips to be a better intern? Did your boss show you the ropes before you "read her mind" or did you just absorb that knowledge by proxy. You are obviously not a stylist anymore, what do you do as far as an Interior Designer to inspire your interns?

  68. Donald

    I hired this young, just out of college, guy at my publishing company. We were in the middle of moving from DC to Baltimore and his first week would be in DC then in Bmore permanently (where both he and I lived). My first big red flag….he wanted to know if I would put him up in a hotel in DC for that week because he didn't think he could get up early enough to catch the train to DC (40 miles between the two cities and the train takes an hour, I gave him the most monumental eye roll in the history of eye rolls). The day before he was to start work I emailed him with the train schedule and just to touch base to answer any questions he might have and he told me that he had taken another job a week earlier and wasn't going to take my job offer (that he had already accepted). Another week passes and his new job (sports marketing, Craigslist ad, rock and roll office, daily commissions) surprisingly (to him, not me) wasn't working out and he wanted to know if my job offer was still available. Instead of mocking him for his immaturity and stupidity, I met him for lunch and tried to give him some life lessons and explain why I would never ever ever in a million years hire him, why he should stick it out at his current job, how being a grown up and responsibility go hand in hand, etc. He was the first of many new grads that asked about me buying them laptops to take home, iPhones, extra vacation time the first year (beyond the 2 weeks), could they work from home some days, expense accounts, etc. It's mind boggling the expectations so many new grads have about their first jobs.

  69. Peevish Diva

    Good first draft. Worthy of a rewrite, C-.

    In your rewrite you may impress to prospective the following: Countless hour work without remuneration, being at beck and call, requirements of prescience to your whimsy, maintaining constant contact with expensive telephony and high speed internet, expensive Los Angeles housing and cost of living, maintenance of car, insurance(auto, home, life and health), school loan payments, seriously horrible traffic(which is never to be a hindrance or an excuse) and an ungrateful employer who will discuss quite publicly in her blog pithy hyperbolic anecdotes laced with revealing personal tidbits concerning personal dress and habits while in situ(shame on you). I feel you don't have your co-worker's best interest in mind. To excuse your tone as “i was grumpy. “ is mendacious.

    Nowhere do you indicate you inform your new potential interns of your expectations revealed in “The 15”. Do you give them a copy of your list or do you expect them to experience the minefield blindfolded like a Herculean task? Not informing them of these items is a waste of both your time.
    At any time do you offer a private critique of their work? This type of thing is known as “direct” or “intensive” supervision. A short business course in supervision may acquaint you with modern management techniques. I do appreciate that a Design Artiste such as yourself may not be expected to do this.

    I have the impression from other comments there is the idea that Design is an innate predilection graced upon one by nature or god. It is not, It is learned. Recording one's walks through used furniture stores or posting interns pictures in a blog does not make someone a designer or talented. It takes enormous hours of formal study, toil and practice to become proficient at any trade and if one gives their life to it it may one day be considered art. But, probably not within a lifetime.

    Not having a grasp of the market and an unprofitable firm is no reason for not paying interns. Blaming interns for outside distractions such as other employment is unconscionable. Remember you get what you pay for. You are promising your interns a nice reference and at best employment with a struggling firm with an employer who rents. To gentrify the practice of unpaid internship with the wonder of the profession, past practices or hard economic times is unscrupulous and predatory. Indentured servitude would be a rise in station to this. Wage-less Internship is a holdover of a bygone era practiced by greedy opportunists. To promise rich rewards to the supplicant is a ruse. I suggest this practice be at best hidden behind the curtain. And then abolished. Slavery was once acceptable. Where is Dickens when you need him?

  70. Katie Hodges

    Emily,

    I appreciate this post SO SO MUCH. I am an aspiring interior designer and was hired as a design assistant after being an intern for months. I worked SO hard and felt ready to conquer all. I am 26 and always dreamt of being a designer… the hustle is far from over and I don't ever expect to top schlepping rugs and pillows all over LA!

    Everything you wrote can be useful across all trades/occupations! I will forward this to my little sis' at SMC.

    I have a few things to add :)

    Numero Uno: You are right, feedback is SUPER important. Often times without life experience it's hard for interns/entry-level assistants to be in a client-facing, customer-service oriented roles. For some, being conscientious and anticipating needs is intuition, but for those lacking the natural aptitude, constructive/honest feedback is detrimental to their future.

    Numero Dos: My best advice is for interns/assistants to be forward-thinking and don't let the entry-level salary or grunt work get in the way of your future aspirations. Stick it out and be patient. It's important to invest in someone so they can INVEST in you (yes– the designer invests in you because they pay you from their pocket). Be forward-thinking and stay focused on your goals.

    Thanks so much Emily.

    Katie

  71. Katie Hodges

    PS – I can't believe the negative comments! Every industry has their standards – and in the design/creative world, interning for no monetary gain is normal. The intern's gain is having the OPPORTUNITY to practice and learn! The intern gets EXPERIENCE and hopefully a good reference, which is detrimental to future jobs.

    The saying "You pay peanuts, you get monkeys" can be true — sometimes… Each and every designer has made "peanuts" at some point, which is a normal part of the industry. Actors, musicians, and artists have taken FREE gigs and have paid big money (equipment, travel costs) to have the opportunity to play at a good venue or in front of influential people. THIS IS CALLED INVESTMENT!!! It would be silly to call them slaves, "Peevish Diva"

  72. decorbuddy

    Nothing inappropriate in your posting. Your are correct. It does your interns a disservice if they don't know what is expected of them. They don't have ESP and are the "rookies" so as their boss, you have provided valuable information. A lot of new employees/volunteers don't have lifes' experiences under their belts and it behooves them to "listen and take note". There is nothing worse than a micro-manager boss, so now they know and should exercise their independence to do a good job for you. So glad you posted your pet peeves.

  73. AJ

    I understand the praise and support of the post. There are idiots out there. But is it safe to assume that Orlando and Rebecca are the only two interns you have had that are worthy of your praise? Are all of the rest lepers, exiled to the island of yesterday’s annoyances doomed to hang out with that person who took your parking spot or the guy who neglected to hold the door open for you when your hands were full?

    Have you sat these failed interns down and discussed why they didn’t make the cut? Or did you release them out in to the world letting them think everything they did was completely fine and a job-well done? Was there a trial period where they were asked to complete tasks and evaluated on their performance before entrusted to complete larger more urgent requests?

    As employers we have the obligation to employ and facilitate the means for our employees to complete the tasks that we dictate to them. A brainstorming session without a narrowed scope results in a ton of failed attempts and time wasted – a little guidance goes a long way. Being too busy to give that guidance is neglectful and also results in time wasted/revenue lost. You don’t need to hold their hand, just provide the means to succeed. If they don’t succeed when given the proper tools, then there is a reason to release them.

    There are people out there – like children – that pride themselves on being high and mighty know it alls and if you don’t make the cut you can’t hangout in their tree house after school. Then there is the type of people that are charismatic, caring and resourceful and would love everyone to come to a tea party and enjoy crumpets. It is unfortunate that you have had this string of interns that are “lacking” and “entitled” in your eyes, but I thought that you boasted to be a kind, loving person who everyone could relate to. By posting this angry-faced rant on your blog it is automatically associated with your brand, which is a real shame.

    This post has a great premise but once you added specific innuendoes to past interns, you implicated all of your interns that probably respect you to this day and don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud. 15 bullet points with short, positive examples whilst saving your sad and boisterous intern stories for happy-hour with your girlfriends would have been a more poignant, professional and tactful way to handle the entire situation.

  74. J

    While I do appreciate some of the points you made regarding lack of work ethic, people who are not proactive, etc… I also agree with AJ that it is very unprofessional of you to publish personal incidents of 'bad' interns (even with names withheld) on your blog, be it a personal blog or business blog. As a practicing & educated interior designer, it is 'not' standard practice in my region to provide unpaid internships unless they are student placements in design firms (be it residential, hospitality, commercial or healthcare). Then it is the responsibility of the employer to expose the student with as many opportunities of the design process & ongoings of a practicing design studio. Yes, the student will most likely organize the materials library, call for samples and do other more 'mundane' tasks, etc…but by accepting the 'intern' you also accept the responsibility of a teaching role. I believe it is the responsibility of a practicing professional in any area to teach the newest members of your field, be it interior design, nursing, etc… Your 'interns' of today will be your working colleagues of tomorrow.

    Maybe take a deep breath & step away from the computer if you ever write another blog post about your professional practice/business while emotional. You just might have a different perspective on what you wrote a few hours later and be glad you didn't publish it.

  75. Selina

    Its a great post and obviously very helpful to future interns – but i think there's something deeply wrong with the whole arts work environment that we expect anyone to work for free. I've had to do my share of working for very little or nothing over crazy hours. Not all of us have family who can subsidise our bills and i find your suggestion (immediately after discussing free internships) that 'its just the entitlement that kills me' pretty shocking. If people can (quite rightly) expect to get paid in the most basic minimum wage job, i don't think its too crazy to suggest that someone working in an arts job should also expect to get paid at least the minimum wage also. In my experience, they usually have to work far longer hours under far more stress and are also expected to care deeply whilst maintaining an air of extreme gratefulness. Surely the bosses who expect this as a matter of course are the ones with a sense of entitlement?

  76. MF

    I am a French teacher and I do not know much about the design working world. However, I find this post very unprofesionnal. It makes you come through as a diva who hires interns so they serve you coffee in the morning and be oh SO grateful to do so. I have to agree with AJ, "by posting this angry-faced rant on your blog it is automatically associated with your brand, which is a real shame". All of a sudden, I don't feel like reading this blog or watching your show anymore. Everyone needs to be treated with respect. If your interns are doing something wrong, it is your responsibility to sit wiyth them and discuss the issue. In a way, you are there to TEACH them what they need to do to succeed in this business…However, not in the harsh way you do it in this post.

  77. ami

    Emily, I adore your shows and your blog and most of all your style! But I found this post quite hard to read. I know that internships are a normal part of our world, but they shouldn't be — they give a leg up to those people who can afford to work for free and disadvantage anyone who has debt, a medical condition, a kid, etc. etc. I don't blame you for having an intern, but to complain when they complain about money — it was painful to read. It's perfectly understandable — and healthy! — for someone to have a hard time with working for free. That doesn't mean they should kvetch about it, but it's just bad form for the supervisor to say so.

  78. Jenni Rey

    This post was so snobby and mean. It makes me sad that I now see you in a totally new light.

  79. @ Peevish Diva

    this is my third comment on this post, But I could not help in once again responding after I read this:

    "…I have the impression from other comments there is the idea that Design is an innate predilection graced upon one by nature or god. It is not, It is learned. …"

    First of all, this statement is highly subjective. This is only your opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs. So I'll give you mine. I have found that while there is a place for very rigid thinkers such as yourself, in design, they are best at being project managers and not designers. Creativity and passion, in my humble opinion is something that you are born with/out. Practice and experience develops this natural talent, but all the schooling in the world does not guarantee success.

    "…It takes enormous amounts of formal study…"

    This is perhaps the biggest hole in your argument. There are many highly successful designers who are not school trained. Take Martin Lawrence Bullard for example. ( which I blogged about here: http://lavitapetite.com/2012/03/29/a-recap-with-a-small-rant/ ) He admittedly claims that he has not had 1 day of formal training. Or take Antonio, or most relevant, Mrs. Emily Henderson…they practice interior design and prove that passion, determination, and hard work pays off.

    Again, just my 2 cents :)

  80. Gail

    A young man I know had an internship for a large publishing house in NYC. It lasted 6 months so it would seem to me that he was good enough for them to keep him on for that period of time. He was let go after the 6 months because it was cheaper (read that free) to take on another eager college grad. Internships abound in every profession, (do you watch 30 Rock?) not just the creative ones. If the profession doesn't generate enough money – as Emily says about designing – you should do it yourself or charge your clients more so that you can afford to pay your assistants.

    Actually I would like an intern to weed my garden, take care of my children, cook my meals, grocery shop and clean my house. They could get valuable insights on housewifery. Lord knows I don't have enough money to pay them so that would justify my lack of renumeration.

    Have you encountered the scam (and yes, I'm calling it that) where students travel – paying their own way plus room and board – for the privilege of picking fruits and vegetables at an organic farm? Perhaps, instead of free labor internships, companies could charge people to work for them.

    I have seen at least one member of congress discussing internships on TV because it discriminates against lower income people who can't afford to work for free.

  81. When I wrote my post waaaaay back on page 2 about work ethic, going above and beyond the call of duty etc… in this terrible economy it was meant as advice I wish I had received when I had my first paying job – but it applies to internships also. I have worked in the service industries, as a paralegal, as an accessories designer, and now a small business owner – so a little of everything – and I think my advice stands across the board – no matter what profession. No one is forcing (italics please!) the young or the old to intern, but if you have a family or spouse to support you and you cannot find a job, it is a viable option to get real experience and add to your resume in this economy. To the person who slammed grammar mistakes when I wrote bosses (I think it was directed at me) – really? Very sad and petty. If this was a resume, appropriate comment, but you came off sounding like an old troll.

    To all of you who think Emily's advice is harsh – please live in the real world where I have to decide where to allocate my funds and the employee (not talking intern here but Emily's points are relevant on how paid employees should act) who is the most valuable to me, who makes my life the easiest and happiest is the one I will pay well to keep around.

  82. Jeff

    As someone who worked (successfully) as an assistant I can say that everything Emily is saying is true, its just hard to find people with the drive to truly work hard these days.

    Not sure where the entitlement or laziness stems from but hard work is fun… results are rewarding people! That is why people tell war stories… they are good memories!

  83. Emily Henderson

    THIS IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!!! This post has NOTHING to do with FREE labor or paid labor. Its about ENTRY LEVEL JOBS and working hard do get something useful out of it. EVERYBODY that interned on the show got college credit if they wanted it and ALL of them (even the ones who worked for like 2 days) got decent if not good references out of me when asked, and three of those led to actual paying jobs for them.

    Even if someone worked for a couple weeks on the show and asked for a letter of recommendation i would write it immediately and say honest and nice things. Its so not about taking advantage of kids, its about having them take advantage of a learning experience and getting the most out of it.

    The irony is that for my design business i've only had one intern so far and she has been great and works when she wants to, and at every opportunity i've paid her.

    Don't attack me, i'm not this company that has 15 unpaid interns slaves doing my laundry. Quite the opposite. Don't use this post to avenge all the photocopies you made for whatever HUGE corporate company you interned for that you got nothing out of. We are talking about small creative very hands on companies with like 5 employees where the amount of experience you can get out of it is unquantifiable and invaluable.
    E

  84. I was an unpaid intern & was able to work part time and create my own schedule. Everything Emily has said is very valuable information. I worked hard at my internship (a creative environment, i'm a graphic designer) and it paid off! I did what was asked of me, volunteered to do more, and in the end I was offered a position. Two years later i'm considered a very valuable person on my team. I learned a lot from my internship, and knew if I wasnt hired at the end it would still give me a lot of opportunities elsewhere because I gave my all.

    I'm so sorry that people are attacking Emily over this post. This is her blog, not yours. GO EMILY! You rock and deserve a good, hard working intern! Again, I agree with your tips.

    Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.

  85. I am finally getting to my catch up on emily's blog and just wanted to take a moment to "open reply", though normally not my style. I got to NYC at 19 because of an internship. I was one of a dozen down in FLA, and the only one offered a job in NYC. I humped boxes in a shipping room for 13 months and was sure no one even knew my name. Behold, I was the only one offered a job in the very-hard-to-get-into music industry. I got school credit but learned nothing, however I showed my work ethic and that's all they needed to know. Fast forward 12 years, Emily Henderson was seeking an intern and I was burning to get into the design industry. I lived across the country and knew my shot was low.

    After 6 months of back and forth emails with Emily, she called one day and hired me. She was honest "I don't feel comfortable asking for free work, so if you can figure out a way to make money, then everyone could be happy".

    So I did. Every red cent I have made has been because of an idea I brought to her. I think the point of this exercise is that you have to put in if you want to get something out. I wanted the opportunity to stand along side someone I respect and learn from her. I brought my own usefulness (which I practice 90% of the time) but that 10% when I am learning things I never knew….those are priceless. I have my own business and am dealing with a 4 billion dolar transaction this very moment, however – I still have to do returns for Emily's clients, write checks, pick up paint, plaster, glue, and unfun stuff. I still have to crunch numbers, reply to emails and coordinate and re-coordinate deliveries. I CAN NOT COMPLAIN. I CHOSE THIS. And even as mundane as those tasks seem, they are a reality check for the industry I chose to be part of. It's been difficult some days to not let my past/present experience get in the way (hello, ego) of learning something new – but that's what this is and what I signed up for. If you are going to take on a job (paid or not) you should give it your all or let someone else do it.

    If you told me last year that I would be doing a full renovation (for a really amazing couple) with Emily and Orlando upstate New York – I would have laughed at you. But here we are. It took me almost a year of working with her to finally be able to do this – but at the end of the day I finally get a soup-to-nuts reno to be proud of. I think if you are going to intern you need to have the intent of follow through with your all or nobody wins.

  86. Gail

    My comments weren't personal. This blog post obviously hit nerves; work ethics and internships. The comments are interesting and insightful and I've enjoyed the discussions Thank you for opening the door.

  87. Denise

    I just sent this post to my daughter who's finishing her first year in Interior Architecture at UTA. Great advice! It's a tough field, you do have to work hard to gain experience.

  88. Kate

    There is such a thing as paying your dues! You have to earn respect and trust, and you have to be willing to do the dirty work that comes with being an intern or assistant. I'm 31, just starting over in the design field, and I'm working a retail job with two designers just so I can learn and absorb every ounce of information they have to share. Is it glamorous? Not really! But it IS fun because I love the field and my bosses are awesome. You hit the nail on the head with all 15 of these points. I want to print this and hand it out to strangers on the subway!!

  89. Elizabeth

    Emily,

    I am an unpaid intern turned paid worker, and I agree with a lot of the things you wrote re: work ethic, showing up on time, doing work with a smile, and especially doing stuff without having to ask a million questions (my top gripe) but then you lost me — Some employers want you to have a voice and feedback. I worry that if you are this picky about how people can drive you nuts, you just seem high maintenance.

  90. Pam

    YIKES, Emily, yikes! Halfway through this I started to wonder if it was a joke. I'm so disappointed.

  91. Jenny

    Your opinion starts to matter when I subjectively decide that it does – HA! Check yourself.

  92. Jen

    I'm perplexed as to how you wound up with so many "doozies" that would cause you to write such a harsh entry. It's hard for me to imagine interns that are THAT clueless and THAT disappointing. Seriously, where are you finding these people? I work in set decorating for TV and I know that this industry is not for everyone. When I interview potential workers, I have an inclination as to who would be good at/enthusiastic about this kind of work. Your judge of character has everything to do with what kind of people you surround yourself with.

  93. Mitch Buchannon

    Emily can I come work for you for free? For every story of a "bad intern" you have there is probably an equally "bad internship" these people remember. Remember that you are an employer hiring people under the guise of an internship. Maybe instead of counting the number of things these inexperienced unpaid workers are bad at you could take an internal look at your business and find ways to nurture their talents. I work in management and often have people that don't quite get things right and instead of labeling them as "bad" or "poor" I try to figure out how to help them and make sure I clearly convey my expectations. And by the way pay people for working for you it's just good business.

  94. Kate

    Mitch, I think you just proved Emily's point. Someone who is interning should expect to get real-life experience and learn what it takes to make it in the field. It is an opportunity for an employer to teach and provide guidance; however, it's not about coddling the interns. Obviously, good and clear communication is key, but I think Emily's point (or one of her points) is that interns shouldn't expect to have the job tailored to fit their needs. The job is about the intern figuring out what his or her strengths are (and working to improve the weak areas instead of not trying). And as for payment, why should an inexperienced novice expect to get paid? People pay tuition to go to school and learn and do homework, so why should a free internship be a problem when you are gaining experience and making connections that you wouldn't get in a classroom setting? It's not bad business at all to pay someone at the intern level in experience or credit or a kick-ass recommendation. Again, though, those things have to be earned. Interns are not owed anything; no one is owed anything. You earn it, you're not entitled to it.

  95. Mitch Buchannon

    I disagree an intern should be able to expect as much out of the company that is being expected of them. If you sign on to work for free from somebody you should gain experience and tools to further your career not an snooty blog post from your boss on the Internet about how much it sucks to have people work for you for free.

  96. Oh, my, sounds like you've had some doozies! Sigh, I wish I could come work for you!

  97. Gail

    Can you stand one more comment esp. from me? The front page of the NYTimes today did an article on the subject of unpaid interns. Google it!

    "Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern."

  98. Katherynn

    THANK YOU for posting this!!

    I'm an Interior Design student who will hopefully (crossing fingers, praying hands, wishing on a star) be looking for intern work soon, so this is great info! Really great tips for keeping in the designer's radar, and to always 'be present' and anticipate needs. Thank you!!

  99. Lauren

    Thank you for this post! I work with interns all the time at my magazine job. The one thing that I find is that most leave school thinking they know everything. I feel that sometimes they think they could do a better job than me….and I have more experience! There is never a time in which a person will stop learning. I even find myself learning new ways to approach situations and find better solutions to problems. I appreciate all the advice and can't wait to pass it along to the next group of interns that start.

  100. Sara

    It's really important to remember that nobody is entitled or acts like a gigantic grump without a solid reason. Here in New York City, many interns (still living at home) commute two hours each way every morning and it's almost impossible to be happy at work knowing you'll be on an 8:30pm train and won't get home until midnight. Post college interns are making huge sacrifices. You are not more tired then your intern when you take your BMW a few blocks north.

    As someone who interned for an event planner having a newbie run your errands is so dumb and a circus. Often interns get zero explanation about what they're picking up and when it isn't the right doodad the designer flips. If it is so important you have red curtains you need to check the order yourself. Just like you don't want to the cafeteria worker at the hospital delivering your baby …you need to look at the purchases/pick-ups. Shopping for somebody else when you haven't seen the whole client file is a no win situation. Why do designers persist in making others run their errands when it never leads to happiness? Also, why do people keep thinking shleping curtains has anything to do with the design process. Open your own studio in your bedrooom and let somebody else worry about their coffee. You can even wear flip-flops while working.

  101. Kyah

    Preach sister! I find the entitlement from interns, especially fresh out of school, appalling! Too many young people that are enthusiastic about a career in fashion or styling but simply don't want to do the WORK. I am lucky to have found one great intern, who eventually was hired as my Production manager but that was after many other interns had darkened our doors.

  102. Wizard Feathers

    Ha ha. Loved the post, hated the comments. What is this, Crossfire?

  103. Luvleynic

    I happen to currently be an Interior Design intern in NYC and while I can see both sides of this I must say where you really made me raise an eyebrow (and pissed me off frankly) is when you stated we as interns should not complain about being broke and we should just be happy…. in a nutshell. I'm sorry, but there are far too many employers out there who will take full advantage of free interns! And you basically just told possible newbies entering the work force (perhaps for their first time) to keep their trap shut about their pay! I find that very offensive and just plain sad. No one should be scared to talk to their employer about getting paid. Are there exceptions to this, absolutely! If you hired an intern to work for free for 3 months and 2 weeks in they're complaining about not getting paid then obviously that is a problem on the interns part. But, if I have been doing a great job as an unpaid intern for you for those 3 months then you best believe come the first day of month 4 I'm coming to talk to you about my pay and or my letter of recommendation as I exit assuming you can't/won't/don't want to pay me. And I shouldn't have to fear "looking bad or ungrateful" for doing so.

    I agree, there tends to be a lack of work ethic with some newbies, especially when they expect to skip over any and all grunt work and shoot straight to the good stuff! But there is also something to be said, hell something to be shouted, about knowing your worth and an unpaid and/or barely paid internship should not go on forever. If you as an employer cannot afford to pay a fair (and I mean FAIR) wage for the work you expect an employee to do than perhaps it's not the right time for you to hire an employee.

    Furthermore, I think it only fair to address issues I personally see as a current intern in the field. The main one being that I seem to be expected to be available 24/7. I am not a bratty early twenty-something with no work ethic who expects things to be easy, fun nor do I feel entitled to think I should get to skip over grunt work. I am someone who has worked since 13 and have never been let go from any job to this day and still have relationships with most of my former employers (I'm 30 now). But employers need to understand there has to be a reasonable expectation on your end with unpaid interns. Am I going to drop everything and rush out the door on a Sunday afternoon to look for a new carpet option because you just realized you need a new one by tomorrow… no, I'm not. And that doesn't make me an ungrateful diva who doesn't really want the job! It makes me a human being who deserves my day off just as much as you do, and yes especially because you aren't paying me. There are people who will drop everything on a Sunday and get it done immediately, and those are the people who are getting paid to do so! You, as an employer, should call that person instead. Basically, at the end of the day no one is working for free because they hope to work for free forever! I am there because I am hoping to get paid for my work after an amount of time or at least for the experience and knowledge.

    But no one wants to feel as if they are being taken advantage of. And that is what I am meaning to express and that calling your free employee on an off day is taking advantage. Expecting us to always be available and constantly be checking our emails and texts and have computer access is taking advantage. I am expected to use my own devices (cell, laptop, transportation) with zero money contributed towards those expenses. Expecting us to run errands all day long with no funds contributed is taking advantage (buy us lunch or at least pay for transportation, and especially if you're not paying our cell bill but you expect us to be on it and in communication with you all day long while running your errands)! Having us pay for things out of our pocket to later be reimbursed is not taking advantage but please don't assume your unpaid intern always has the funds available to front for you. Working for no pay to learn and gain experience is what we sign up for, but incurring expenses and out of pocket costs to do so is not.

    This is not meant to sound like a rant to express how unhappy I am working for free, I have another job that pays my bills and I accepted the position knowing full well I would not be getting paid. I am happy to be in a position that allows me to intern for free as it wasn't always feasible for me to do so. But I do see how some employers, I think, need to adjust their expectations when addressing employees they are not paying.

  104. I'm just now finding this post and I think it's great. I didn't read the initial version so I'm not sure how it sounded, but I don't think it sounds crazy selfish at all. Basically what you're saying is that bosses value people who are willing to work their butts off. The whole point of this post is to inform interns and assistants of how they should act in order to move up in the field, which implies that they are indeed getting something out of it. A good boss will know and value a hard worker and look for opportunities for them, but you have to show your boss it's worth their time and effort first. Someone said something about "absorbing your brilliance" or something along those lines. It was a sarcastic comment, but I actually think you really do learn a lot just watching your boss do her job well. Even if all you do is get coffee and return items, you'll still get an opportunity to be in and around what's really happening, which means you do absorb a lot of the brilliance around you.

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