Students who participate in internships reap many benefits that deepen their knowledge, further their career, and strengthen personal development. As I reach the conclusion of my summer internship at Communication via Design, I’m walking away with renewed confidence and cultivated experiences that will only propel me forward as I begin my journey into the professional environment.

Although there are many ways for employers to operate internship programs, there are some key fundamentals I’ve learned during my time at CviaD that will lead to a win-win for your intern and your organization.

Find a mentor for your intern.

Having a mentor/mentee relationship can be crucial to an intern’s success. Depending on the size of your company, this person could be filling any number of roles: a junior designer who has been in an intern’s shoes or even a Creative Director who has the depth of experience (and time) to take an intern under their wing.

The mentor wouldn’t be responsible for monitoring the intern at every working moment – rather, the mentor would be available if the intern had any questions regarding common practices or standard processes within the company, how to communicate with a client, or any other questions they may feel uncomfortable addressing to other coworkers or supervisors. Mentors also provide a stepping-stone to the social environment of the company; after establishing a working relationship with their mentors, interns will feel much more comfortable getting to know who they’ll work with in the months to come.

Have projects at the ready.

An intern may find themselves without any projects to work on during the day for a slew of reasons. Through no fault of their own, employers may not have client work to provide in these slow times. It’s important to establish internal projects for the intern to work on when external projects aren’t available. These projects can be anything from developing new materials for HR to liven up the office or establishing a new system of internal business cards and other branding components.

Include interns in internal/external meetings whenever possible.

Even if an employer feels that an intern isn’t required or ready to participate in meetings with senior team members or clients, it is still important to include the intern in the process whenever possible. Just being able to observe how designers and clients operate in meetings can be beneficial to the intern, developing the skills to navigate those situations when they are full-time employees. Especially when the intern’s mentor is involved in these discussions, the intern is able to learn from their actions or inactions. Also, sometimes interns lack the confidence to speak up in meetings, so including them when there’s not so much pressure to contribute can lead to their confidence in speaking up in the future. In my first corporate, department-wide meeting, I didn’t say a word and made myself as small as possible. By the end of my first year at the same company, I was leading a 50+ person meeting without faltering one step.

Vary projects and clients to develop an intern’s skills and interests.

For a design intern just beginning to understand their likes, dislikes, and capabilities, a narrow, siloed approach will put them at a disadvantage. An intern only involved in UI/UX design might not discover their passion and talent for environmental design. An intern who only works with universities as clients may not realize the joy that comes from working with non-profits.

I started my design career as a UI/UX intern (who had previously been studying illustration) in the Engineering department of a tech-support company. After switching into Marketing, I fell in love with large-format print media. Now, I’ll happily work on anything from branding to environmental design, as well. Finding these passions was only through the projects assigned to me during internships.

The amount of flexibility that an employer can provide varies from company to company, but if you can involve your intern with many different types of projects and clients – do so.

Provide feedback regularly.

For interns who haven’t had much work experience previously, they often rely on external validation, ie. praise from their employer or client. Eventually, they’ll learn to take pride in their work on their own, but it can be helpful to interns starting off to have regular performance reviews with their mentor and/or supervisor to discuss what they are doing well and what they can improve upon. The sandwich model (approval, critique, approval) proves to work especially well. This way interns can receive validation that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated, and they can work towards improving the areas where they might be lacking.

All the aforementioned advice stems from my own internship experiences, especially at Communication via Design. I know my internship would not have yielded the same positive results if not for the deliberate initiative of my employer to address each of these items. I have grown immensely as a person and designer over the course of the summer, and I feel ready to enter the workforce in the coming year with gusto and determination.

Raine Ferrin
Lesley Art + Design | 2019