While university education is extremely useful, there are significant differences between working in real-life business environment and studying in the world of academia. Therefore, all students are strongly advised to do an internship in the final years of their study. Although interns are rarely assigned to important tasks, they can observe more experienced colleagues at work and learn a lot from them. This was the case with my internship as well.
At the university, most courses I followed were theoretical. There were foundational courses like Principles of Design or Color Theory. We were taught more applied courses as well; they mostly had to do with software packages used in interior design, like AutoCAD or Photoshop. However, all the years spent at the university haven’t prepared me for the challenges of working in a high-profile interior design company. There are many things that cannot be learnt at the university. I can divide these things into two major categories, namely interpersonal and intrapersonal.
The interpersonal category concerns with challenges of dealing with superiors, clients, and business partners. During the internship, the company I was working for was bidding to design a new community center commissioned by the local government. My colleagues explained me all the peculiarity of working for private vs. public-sector clients. First of all, different regulations apply with regards to safety of buildings, and they are enforced differently. When working with private clients, interior designers and architects often have to explain the importance of adhering to safety regulations, which sometimes involves that a building cannot be made exactly like the client wants. The case is different when working with public-sector clients: there is a high degree of pressure put on them by the public, therefore they are keen on observing all the regulations in good faith.
Dealing with business partners is another aspect I have learnt a lot about. Interior design companies work together with construction companies, landscape architects, and so on. A project proposal is much stronger if such companies work together or present a unified bid at a public tender.
Finally, dealing with superiors is a challenge. There are marked differences in style between university professors and managers. The attitude to both should be reverent and respectful, yet a higher degree of informality exists among colleagues and managers. I have learnt that it is important to talk to your manager if you have a good idea and do it as soon as possible, before competitors see that window of opportunity.
The second category of skills that can only be learnt on the job is intrapersonal. An internship gives a possibility to discover a lot about oneself. There are techniques like stress management or self-motivation that have to be acquired quickly when students start to work; this is not something that can be taught at a university.
One more interested observation is that people use less sophisticated terminology in business life compared to what we learn at school. It is perhaps associated with the fact that both clients and partners have to understand company’s message. Moreover, due to real-life pressures and time and resource constraints, interior design companies rely more on estimations than precise calculations then I imagined while studying.
Overall, it is important to understand that university education and internship are two different modes of learning. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but they are most useful if used complementary.