How to Land an Internship That You Love

By Des Magness

Part of the way through my first year in New York, I started to consider how I wanted to be spending my summer. With what felt like a constant pile of creative work that art school was throwing at me, and the snow and dark starting to drive me a little crazy, I knew I wanted to come home to Austin for a little break for the summer months. But, despite the amount I do enjoy visits home, I always find myself restless after too much time there - and I knew I wanted to gain some industry experience while I had the time to focus on it and wanted to do my first internship in Austin where I’m most comfortable before applying out in NYC. I was speaking to a friend about what I wanted to gain skill-wise over the summer (specifically some marketing, freelance business, and more technical skills) - and she started telling me about an amazing, adorable Austin freelance photographer she followed on Instagram. And that amazing, adorable freelance photographer was Chelsea Francis!

I started following Chelsea on Instagram to feel out the kind of work she did, and if I could possibly be a good fit to work with her. After a few weeks, I could sense (even just from the internet!) that she was an incredibly hard worker and committed to sharing that effort with the community around her. I also did some research (in the least creepy way possible) and noted that she had a background in marketing as well. And I was pretty sold! I thought it might be a little bit far fetched to ask her to take me on as an intern, as I knew she ran her own business solo, and I would basically be asking to follow her around and soak up what she does day-to-day. Managing an intern can be exhausting, and a lot to ask! And, despite the amount I loved Chelsea’s internet presence, I personally always am a little wary of the differences between how we interact and present ourselves on the internet vs. in real life. But, I decided to  reach out to Chelsea and tell her very honestly what I appreciated about her business. I did a little bit of straight-up pouring my heart out over email about what I felt the similarities in our goals were, and how I appreciated her business philosophy - and asked if she had any free time to grab a coffee together and chat in person while I was home for the winter holidays. And guess what! She said yes!
We did grab the coffee, and I made sure to ask her all the things I was wondering about her work. I loved how easily our conversation flowed, and how comfortable she made me feel in talking about jobs, money, and clients. Something I remember specifically is that she asked what I wanted to gain out of working with her. I admired that attitude a lot, because I believe every professional partnership should be two sided. Everyone should be learning and gaining something - and I could immediately feel that’s how Chelsea worked with others. When you’re young, and in a learning position, it can be easy to feel like you’re just there to serve - but that shouldn’t really be the case at work. I loved how easily I could feel a mutual respect building.
After that, I headed back to New York for my second semester, and I sent Chelsea a list she requested of all the things I wanted to learn from interning with her. That list included things like client management and the works of being a freelancer (How does health insurance work? What do you do during dry seasons? How do you price your time?).
Once she decided to take me on, I had an amazing summer interning for her - and I checked off all the things on my list. Chelsea led me through the ins-and-outs of lighting setups, some amazing industry freelance gigs, professional (but fun!) networking, and answered the many, many questions I had. And, that’s when I started running social media for Pass/Fail - which is a job I’ve now been hired to do remotely, and absolutely adore.
The last day of my internship, Chelsea and I definitely both cried a little (okay, more like a lot), and we talked about why our partnership had worked so well. She told me she’d had a few requests for interns before, but she’d turned them down - and the fact that I had reached out for coffee before committing was something she really appreciated. She also shared with me the ways my work for her had made her feel more able to expand her business, which was a really happy moment for me! I had spent the summer feeling so grateful she was taking the time to teach me all she knows, and a little guilty I couldn’t repay her for that - but it turns out I already had!
This made me think about some BIG takeaways for me - one being that any partnership needs to be full of mutual respect, and both partners need to be benefitting from the work relationship. Those are the beneficial jobs that will give you all the warm fuzzies and good tears at the end. Though interning has a reputation of being only coffee runs (and trust me, we had those! And, a few Taki runs too), it’s also a giant opportunity to learn. So my advice would be, before jumping into any internship (or job), make sure it’s the right fit for both you and your employer. And figure out why you want the job before you go for it! Make a list of what you want to learn, how you want to help, and what your ideal outcome will be.

And, to sum it all up: don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You really might just get it!

Des Magness is a photographer, and is currently pursuing her BFA in Photography at Parsons School of Design in New York City. She loves shooting portraits, traveling anywhere, and eating tacos every single day on her visits back home to Austin, Texas. 

Chelsea Francis