Now that we're in a pandemic, I’ve noticed how a lot of students are either applying to or working on their design internships. I'm a big fan of internships because they give you real work experience.
I've done five internships myself, and it profoundly shaped how I am as a designer now. If you're planning on taking internships soon, or are already taking one, here are some ideas on how to maximize them when you land one.
If you're not a student, I think the advice can still apply to full-time work!
1. Build context as much as possible
Ask questions. As many as you can. Learn about the company's business model, how your work contributes to the bigger picture, what the work streams look like, who the key people are, and the biggest impact things you should be focusing on. When tasks are given to you, don't just take them at face value. Ask what the rationale is. Ask what a a "good job" looks like, i.e. what the expectations are. Don't be afraid to ask, it shows that you are competent and that you care.
2. Get close with your mentor
Whoever your boss is, be genuinely interested in who they are! They will be instrumental in who you will become in the future. Build rapport, and always look for ways on how you can lighten their load. Your goal is essentially to make their life easier.
3. Find ways to contribute beyond your task list
Full-time people don't have time to make things "as nice as possible" because they're focusing on the core of their work. This is a big opportunity for interns, because essentially you can work on things that are important but people don't have bandwidth for. Look for opportunities to improve processes, tools, ideas, spreadsheets, and other things people overlook yet are important.
4. Get to know the people in the company
Try to set 1-on-1's with people you find interesting in the company. This is your chance to expand your network as a student. Build relationships with people from different departments. Don't be afraid to set time with key executives. Show that you're proactive, interested in their work, and curious for their advice.
5. Publish your learnings and reflections in a blog
Writing will help you remember everything you've learned while interning. It's incredibly important to write so you can build strong signals employers are looking for when you graduate and start looking for full-time work. Don't be too concerned with what other people think. Think of it this way: you're writing because you want to share what you've learned and you want to take other people along the journey.
6. Document your designs to ready it for a case study
Track the progress of your work. Document the whole process, write notes, and reflect on the tasks given to you. This will help you craft a better case study later on when you start working on your portfolio. Take note of your design decisions and why you've made them. Take note of the context, who you worked with, how you ended up with the solution, and what the impact is — even if your work doesn't ship, what did your work enable the team to do?
What do you think are ways to maximize an internship?