Without question, the most exciting part about a student’s design education is the opportunity to prove their skills in real-world situations. Internships are exciting opportunities for students, allowing them to get an edge on their peers in an industry of increasingly stiff, experienced competition. However, despite the good intentions of the employer and intern, not all internships are created equal. Having spent the better part of the last 6 months interning here at WDG, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a team that not only encouraged growing my skills and portfolio in information architecture and web design, but also gave me insight as to what makes an internship successful for both parties.
Have Clear Benchmarks
Make obvious the standard of quality expected from your interns, regardless of their experience. Help them achieve these goals. Employers do a great disservice to both themselves and the interns they employ if they assign a task that is not followed up with feedback or critique afterwards. Wherever possible, ensure your intern’s work builds into a conversation between the intern and their supervisor. In my case, after providing a design deliverable, I would sit down with my Senior Designer and discuss my final product for which I would then receive feedback, both positive and constructive. Letting your design intern share their experience and process while sharing your own feedback and tips will only better them and their talents. For companies who aim to foster growth in their team, benchmarks are incredibly important. Set them!
Be Clear on Why You Have a Design Intern
Surprisingly, quite a few companies will collect interns en masse only to be bewildered about how to ensure this population should occupy their time. Great internships are marked by clear goals and responsibilities. When you accept to bringing on a web design intern, have a structure in place and do everything you can to avoid leaving them on their own. This will not be beneficial for the company. Set a structure, build a task list of items that can be knocked out quickly or includes loose timeframes, or even better, allow them to assist you on client work if they’re capable of this level of design. Interns are there to grow and prove themselves – They won’t gain any experience if you have nothing for them to work on, wasting both of your times.
Encourage Ownership of Design Projects
If the situation allows for it, give your interns the ability to hone their talents by taking on a project from conception to delivery. This can be a small design project or something that lasts the entire duration of the internship. Interns, and people in general, focus and are more motivated when they own the responsibility and success to a project, no matter how small.
Pay Your Interns
It should go without saying that any work requiring an interview and a successful demonstration of college-earned or experience-based skills should offer some sort of salary, but this isn’t how it always works. Not paying your interns offers little benefit to either party – companies will not rely on the intern to do any work of true consequence if their time is worth $0 per hour. Interns can feel taken advantage of, in addition to not gaining the desired experience that would help them better market themselves for future positions. Studies have shown that unpaid internships in general (not just our industry) are about as good as no internship when it comes to job placement after college (http://www.theatlantic.com/
Be a Proud Mentor To Your Design Interns
Even more worthy than a chance to do meaningful work is the opportunity for an intern to work alongside an experienced guide who will have an effect on the process of the intern long after the internship is over. Throughout my intern experience with WDG, I was consistently given increasingly challenging projects from our designers. During these challenges, I would have access to our team to help guide my process – this has shaped my process and strengthened my standards in delivery. This, in turn, has provided WDG with successful products and happy clients while teaching an intern the successful way through design processes.
Collaboration Over Competition
While a little competition can occasionally add some drive for employees, continuously pitting a team member against one another will create a rather awkward work environment of group tunnel vision. I have had experience in the past at jobs that encouraged employees to combat one another as opposed to making a better solution from both brains. WDG prides itself on how seamlessly it has integrated partnership and group-thinking into all of its processes. While project ownership is a key to successful projects, we also believe in the power of team mentality.
In short, have a purpose to the internships you offer and don’t waste what could be a valuable and talented asset to your company. Want to learn about WDG’s web design internships? Get in touch with my team and show off your skills!