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Maria Tomas went from unpaid intern to paid employee.

Tell me about your schooling and other background information.

I studied fine art at two community colleges before changing my major to interior design. I graduated from Design Institute of San Diego in 2010 with a bachelor’s in interior design. I am also a partner in a small clothing boutique called Now & Then that sells resale and new women’s fashions.

So why did you decide to do an internship after you graduated?

In my case the internship was completed my senior year of college as a requirement for graduation.

And how did you choose the place you wanted to intern?

I wanted to intern with an established business that employed multiple designers, because I figured interning with a small firm or single, practicing designer would be less likely to turn into future opportunities. I also wanted to work somewhere with a show room so that I could get experience with more lines of furniture and accessories.

What did the internship entail?

On the showroom floor, I provided customer service and worked on displays/visual merchandising. For the resident designers, I was an assistant, helping with small tasks related to interior design projects and upkeep of the samples and product catalogues. Like most internships, the position did not pay.

What kind of sacrifices did you have to make for it to work?

Being in my final year of design school, I was busy putting together final projects, my portfolio, etc. I also worked as a barista at a coffee shop, and my approaching graduation was a general distraction, so time was always an issue. And sleep. If I had to do it again I would choose to get it out of the way sooner.

Were there days when you questioned whether it would pay off in the end?

I think it is common to think that the experience gained from an internship will always be valuable, but I don’t think I or any of my peers held out hope that we would be offered paid positions afterward. I feel I was lucky to be contacted over a year after the fact and offered a job. I think it goes to show that you should always do your best to show your worth and leave a lasting impression in any endeavor related to your field of study, even if the job is unpaid.

So how and when did you land the job?

They contacted me and said they had a position open. I interviewed and was offered an entry-level, full-time position.

I never thought I would be offered a position, but was confident that they would give me a good work reference, which is really important to have. If it hadn’t been a requirement of graduation, I would have definitely waited until after graduation to start.

Any advice for those considering internships to get a leg up in their industry?

You can never have too much experience. If you have the extra time, pursue opportunities whenever possible. Even if they don’t pay money now, they could pay off with job opportunities or great professional references later.

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cr4021 June 23, 2011 @ 7:46 p.m.

As an unpaid intern seeking a new job opportunity, I am very appreciative of this story. I am currently working with Internprofits.com on an unpaid, social media internship. There is much negativity floating around the globe about the ethics with internships. It is nice to see Maria's positive and uplifting story.

It would be great to do a mini-interview series following up with this to hear MORE positive internship experiences.


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