1. Join IIDA or other professional organizations at the student level and become an active member. It cannot be overstated how important this is because it can open up doors that you would otherwise have a difficult time opening yourself. You will have the opportunity to network with your peers and professionals at local events. While the interior design industry seems large and very diverse, joining a professional organization can help to make it feel more manageable. Professional organizations can help you to develop confidence in your networking skills over the course of your time in school.
2. Enter design competitions or charrettes
The best way to get noticed in the industry is to be an active participant. Who says your completed design projects are only to be seen by your peers and professors? Find competitions online and enter your especially amazing projects! Many professional organizations, large firms and manufacturers host design competitions or design charrettes that look great in any portfolio or on your resume. Charrettes are especially unique because you are working in a short window of time and oftentimes with a group of students that you have not previously worked with before. While this can be challenging, it is rewarding because you learn how to work collaboratively under pressure.
3. Learn how to speak intelligently about design. Interior design has a stereotype as being an “arts and crafts” based degree and on occasion, you may find yourself defending your chosen profession. Be confident and learn how to speak intelligently about design, the importance of innovation and the professional responsibilities that designers have. Being confident when speaking about design is equally important when networking with professionals, giving a presentation in class or talking about your portfolio in an interview.
4. Travel This is the most common advice from designers and creative professionals in the interior design industry. Seeing the world through lenses other than your own will show you that design is all about discovery. Through travel you will find that design, beauty and art can be found in so many places, in many different forms and is always evolving. This is the time in your life that you are the most flexible, so whether you have the means to travel around the world or take a roadtrip, do it.
5. Find a mentor. The IIDA Student Mentoring Week may be over, but that doesn’t mean that you should feel like you cannot ask a professional to be your mentor. Many professionals are happy to look at your resume and portfolio, stage a mock interview or even have you shadow them for a day. Never feel embarrassed to ask for help, because many designers remember what it was like to be a student looking for a foot in the door.
6. Intern. And if you can’t find an internship, request an “informational interview”. If you can afford to spend time working at a firm, paid or not, it is definitely worth it. While it may or may not lead to a job, you will gain valuable experience for your resume and a great recommendation. Even internships can be hard to come by right now, but many professionals are happy to spend 30 minutes of their day to give you an informational interview about their firm. Take the opportunity to get some face-time with a professional and you can also use the meeting to ask questions about the state of the industry. Who knows, if you make a good impression, maybe you’ll be at the top of their list of possible candidates when a job becomes available.
7. Build a portfolio/resume website. (and get feedback for it) With all of the easy-to-use and highly accessible technology resources online, building a website could not be any easier. This is a no-brainer and a hugely efficient alternative to carrying around a printed portfolio everywhere you go. Some of the easiest sites you should explore to build your online portfolio are WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger and Wix. You can add the link to your business cards to easily direct people to your most current body of work and also quickly update the online portfolio when you create a new design.
8. Learn how to market/brand yourself. Consider coming up with a logo, printing some business cards, creating a website all in a style that is uniquely you. The colors you choose and the design of your logo or website should represent your creative skills and visual expertise. There are a million ways to brand yourself, so when in doubt, keep it simple. Also, use your IIDA Student Member appellation like the pros do at the bottom of email signatures and other career-related documents that represent you. (Note: The correct use of the IIDA Student Appellation would read like this: Maggie Oldmixon, Student IIDA.)
9. Start a Campus Center or become a student officer. Become an active member in the student design community by starting an IIDA Campus Center if your university does not already have one! If there is already an established Campus Center, get involved and consider becoming an officer. Not only will you have the opportunity to better your school’s interior design program, having a leadership position on your resume could benefit you when applying for an internship or design position. Many of the companies you will be applying for jobs at are also affiliated with IIDA, and seeing that you are an active Student Member will speak volumes about your dedication to the Interior Design profession.
As always, IIDA is here as a resource for YOU and your future Interior Design career, but some of our best ideas come from the feedback we get from our Student Members! What other advice would you give your fellow students when it comes to maximizing your college experience?