This question has plagued college students for millenia.
Professors and instructors love to push the idea onto students that, “Yes you need an internship! In fact might I recommend these ones from a handy list I haven’t updated in ten years?”
But let’s be real here.
I graduated college three years ago. I landed my dream job two years ago. And I still work at said dream job, making comics.
People in the comics industry would look at that and say, “THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE.”
But oh, it is possible, ye non believers.
And I did it without an internship.
So… should you get an internship?
Well it depends on where you want to work and what your dream job actually IS.
But really, only go for it if it’s a) close to you, and b) pays you. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Here’s the thing.
The commercial arts are particularly hard to break into, especially if you want to work for a large publishing house.
Sometimes, it just makes more sense to ask yourself, “Why do I want to work here? Is it for the name of the company, or because I REALLY feel like I can make a difference there?”
A lot of animators want to animate for Disney. Why? Because it’s a big name that would look good on your resume?
You should go for what you WANT. Not what people say you should want.
Internships really only benefit the wealthy and the ones closest to the action. So if you want an internship at Marvel and you happen to be a rich New York white boy whose idea of Christmas vacation is a yearly visit to Italy, you’re golden.
For the rest of us, internships are a waste of time to try and achieve.
Focus your energy instead on finding a job CLOSE to your industry that will actually pay you.
I’ll share a little of my work history to illustrate.
I majored in 2D Arts, and at the time I wanted to make comics like my fat cat Scarlet wants that bacon. IT WAS A BURNING DESIRE.
So I went to the campus job fair, not really expecting to find any work in my area. I mean, a paid job in comics for undergrads? Pffft.
However, I DID find a company called Kaman’s Art Shoppes. And their shtick was providing artistic amusements at amusement parks. Things like face painting, photography, and (this last one got me) caricatures.
I got a job drawing caricatures everyday, every summer, for three years.
And it was HARD.
I mean, the drawing part was relatively easy.
But you had to sell. A LOT. And learn on the spot how to handle drunkards and (I’m not joking on this one) people who literally ask you if you believe in hellfire.
Anyway, working at that job taught me how to be a proper salesman, but that wasn’t all.
At that job, I was drawing, on average, 40 faces A DAY. Working five days a week that amounts to 200 faces a week. And that’s just the work you’re PAID to do. At the job we were also encouraged to draw caricatures of customers for free to use as promotional work for our stands. Which would round this up to 300 faces a week!
I already talked about the importance of your first 10,000 pieces of art in another blog post.
But drawing all those faces, making mistakes, and drawing all over again, taught me how to draw faster, better, and with stronger uses of color.
I learned how to be a better artist at that job.
So when I quit in my last year and went out on my own, I built up my comics portfolio (which didn’t take very long since I was drawing comics in my off time), and pitched to people looking for artists.
And then I landed my current gig, drawing freelance work, comics, and illustrations.
Can you get all of that at an internship?
Maybe. But the reputation of the internship being a viable option is being called into question by a lot of people.
And here’s a kicker – Oregon recently passed a law saying unpaid interns in their state now have specific legal protection in the workplace.
This law doesn’t exist anywhere else in the U.S. But if unpaid intern abuse is pervasive enough in Oregon that they needed to pass a law for it, then it must be just as bad, if not maybe worse, in the other states.
When you’re an intern, especially an unpaid one, there are a lot of legal proections that can be denied to you because you’re technically not an employee. And because employers don’t often need to pay you, they can easily break their promise and make you do work that wasn’t detailed in the job application. Work that won’t help you move forward and learn and grow in your career field.
There are more horror stories about internships than good ones.
So, my advice?
Skip the internship. Land a job in a field similar to your dream job, if you can. Try to get a job in something close to what you want to do.
Want to run a record label? Start working in a music store. Or sell instruments. Or make your own music and sell it online.
Want to make comics? Draw caricatures, or portraits, at an amusement park. Or work in a comic book shop. Or just make them and publish them online.
Posting online may not be a bad way to develop a portfolio of what you want to do.
See? There are several avenues you can take, without getting an internship, to get the job of your dreams.
Thank you for reading!
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You. Are. Awesome.