I Went To School For Interior Design, Now What?

May is coming..so is graduation.  You are graduating with a degree in Interior Design and have no clue how to actually become an Interior Designer.  Finding an internship was difficult.  Finding a job has been MORE difficult.  Just what are you going to do with this degree?


group of graduates holding diploma


Now what?

I love all of the questions and interest from the What I learned in Interior Design School and the What They Don’t Teach You In Interior Design School posts.  A lot of you have an interest and love for Interior Design, which I love because new designers interject so much creativity and energy into the field!


One of the underlying themes that I see is that you are having a hard time actually finding a job in the Interior Design field once you graduate.  I get that.  It’s stressful trying to find your dream job.  So, I thought I would touch base on what has worked for me and one of my peers.


I have been hearing from you new designers that you want to work for an Interior Design firm and are unable to find a relevant job.  I can only imagine your frustration.  When I graduated it was a different time, building was booming and there was not this fear of the future that seems to crept into the building industry from the 2008 crash.  I think we are just starting to come out of this slowing down period and am finally starting to see a renewed interest in investing into the home.  Even though I graduated during a building boom, it was still a challenge to find a job at a firm.  So, in the meantime, here are some things you CAN do.


Get Experience

One of my good friends from college started out in a flooring store.  She gained invaluable experience working with homeowners.  (This experience will come in handy if you ever decide to go into business for yourself.)  On a side note, if you are unable to work with homeowners, you should consider a career in the commercial field, because the residential side is all about creating a relationship with your client.  Corporate clients are not as emotionally invested in the projects you work on and generally follow any advice you suggest without much selling.


Working with homeowners wasn’t the only experience she gained.  She had did some amazing work with tile work designs and had great collaboration with contractors, which I am sure could have translated into possible Interior Design job referrals if she had decided to open her own business.


I want to be an Interior Designer
Keep practicing design by using your friends and family as your clients.



My point is that we are taught in school that the ultimate job is to work in a studio with other interior designers.  Sometimes, we just need to get experience in the field, because the end result could be your dream job in a design studio.  While I was doing my internship, I worked with a millwork company.  It was not my dream job by any means, but I gained experience working with homeowners and contractors, which was hugely beneficial.  When I left that company, one of the contractors referred me to a client.  Talk about a gift for a new Interior Designer; a client I didn’t have to search out and find!


design studio
Is your ultimate job one at a design studio?




Relationships – Networking

After deciding I wanted to work under an Interior Designer to learn as much as I could, I also had a hard time getting into the Studios and Architectural firms after I left my internship.  Design is a business all about relationships and networking.  When I couldn’t find a a job at a firm, I approached one of my professors and offered to work for her for free.  Lucky for me she hired me with pay and I stayed with that architectural firm for three years.


Networking might be your key to an Interior Design job.



While I worked at that firm, we all knew who was hiring and who wasn’t, mostly by word of mouth.  You’ll never guess who had the most knowledge though…our vendor reps!  So, you might try contacting your local reps to see if they know who might be hiring.  You never know, their company might be looking for a new rep.


Make sure to contact anyone you know that has a connection with whoever is hiring and ask for a reference.  Try to think creatively.  When I worked for a different architectural firm, we volunteered on a committee to work on the Habitat for Humanity houses.  While we weren’t on the field building them, we did work with a group of other architects and interior designers to design and plan them.  I got to know other Architects and Designers from other companies that I might not have met otherwise.  Think of all of the networking possibilities!


My point is, that there are always ways to network outside of the ASID and AIA functions.  Think about where your potential employers spend their time and try to develop relationships.  It might not turn into a job, but it could be a great referral to someone that is hiring!



Finally, don’t give up!  There are many opportunities to practice your Interior Design muscles!  Keep planning and creating projects for friends, family and even pretend clients.  This will enable you to keep a current portfolio that looks fresh, and keeps you practiced.  Who knows, maybe you will get a referral from one of the jobs you did for your friends and family as practice.  I understand that it is difficult, just keep plugging away.  If design is your passion and you know it is the career for you, DON’T GIVE UP!


I would love to hear from you, what challenges do you find as a new designer and what worked for you?  Let’s keep the conversation going and help each other out!


2 thoughts on “I Went To School For Interior Design, Now What?

  1. Hi Wendy,

    Thank you so much for your lovely comment on my blog. This is such a great post! The offshoot of this topic is also something I want to address one day. Interior design schools do not prepare their students to work in the residential area— at all!

    I went to design school in the late 80’s through 1991. Maybe it’s changed, but a lot of my courses had absolutely nothing to do with what I do now. And sadly, a lot of them were nothing more than arts and crafts projects. Only a dozen or so of the courses I took were helpful in training me. The rest was working for someone for four years after I got out.

    About 3 years ago, I saw this woman on olioboard with the most beautiful “mood boards” (I hate that term so much). She said that she wasn’t a real interior designer. Well, she could’ve fooled me! I bet that she could’ve found work just based on those boards! Still, I feel very strongly that it’s wise to work for an experienced designer for a while, to learn what design school doesn’t teach us! xo, Laurel

    1. Laurel,

      You are so right…I wasn’t far behind you-graduated in 1996. I think the only thing that pertained to residential design was my textiles class. Even now, though, most clients don’t give a dang what type of fabric it is as long as it looks good and is functional. I look forward to seeing your post. I’m sure when you write it you will help out lots of new designers (& probably some seasoned ones too!)

      I’m a big believer on gaining work experience under someone else. Just the contracts alone, not to mention setting up vendor accounts, oh boy!

      Can’t wait to see your post Laurel. I love all the advice you give the new designers…you are so on target!

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