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Communications Design Industry Discussion, Inspiration, & Tutorials

Apr 27, 2015

It’s Time Again: Summer Intern Search

Last year I was relatively tight-lipped about the intern search process when writing for this blog. There are a few reasons why I chose to keep my lip zipped and pen still. In spite of the thorough search that I usually employ when seeking out interns, I was given some unsolicited help from one of the veeps in my organization. This thoughtful individual found two students who had enough creative experience to be called novices, no design portfolios—and not enough pieces to club together a single portfolio between them, and they hadn’t even seen the position description posted online or in print. However, these two students were her choice.

In the question of their employment, I had no choice.

For my part, I had a few quite good design students in my Digital Publishing class last spring, and one who was exceptional. This young woman was creative, a decent writer, paid meticulous attention to detail, and was a fearless self-starter; taking the initiative to learn tools and concepts that went far beyond my course curriculum. When I approached this student, I gave her the option to apply as my summer intern—without a guaranteed post. That was completely false on my part—there was no way that this much talent would slip through my fingers.

So my dilemma last June was, what to do with so many interns.

The student that I vetted was sleighed to learn Adobe DPS, and build an entire section of our organization’s newest mobile app, while also learning to storyboard, record convincing voiceover, and edit video, and design digital signage for upcoming campus-wide events. I was informed that the others would also assist with video and graphic design projects. Early on I was mostly mad and seriously skeptical, but as the summer unfolded I became slightly less skeptical.

After all, we had unlimited access to Lynda.com, and neophytes should have been able to learn the principles of graphic design, plus complex software in a semester, right? Right. Lynda was actually one tool that I employed to help my surplus assistants get up to speed.

As each intern started their tenure with me I gave them a list of projects for the semester, this also included links to the corresponding video tutorial(s) to help them get up and running with each project. I felt like a genius. Instead of using valuable time to give hand-holding instruction, I let each individual work at their own pace. Of course, there were daily check-ins, and I treated my students to at least one lunch date where we talked about progress, challenges, and opportunities in their projects. My goal was to treat my summer interns as colleagues, rather than students. It was a mostly successful tactic.



Where did I fail, you wonder?


One of the interns that I was given—it turns out—had problems working autonomously. While he was a good student and eager to learn about video production and editing, he lacked the self-motivation to learn and effectively solve problems on his own. This information I learned after an encounter with his video production professor. In addition to his chuckle of surprise that I chose that particular student to assist with such an advanced series of projects, he gave me some insight. The phrase used was “you gotta keep on top of him.”

My reply to that bit of news was that I’m not a mountain goat (mine is a quick wit).

At the end of the summer season, I’d gotten a chance to work with three interesting young people who knew more than they did at the start of the summer. And I had a diplomatically worded conversation with my boss’ boss’ boss about my internship interview process and its importance to the quality—and quantity—of completed design collaterals.

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