Tips and tricks to get and stay hired at your internship
19/11/18
Preparing for an interview or your first day at your new internship can be stressful. We want to help, so we gathered some tips and tricks from Certified RGD firm owners, who have had quite a bit of experience interviewing and hiring interns.

 

Contributors: 

Stüssy Tschudin RGD, Co-founding Principal at Forge Media + Design
Timothy Jones RGD, President & Creative Director at Banfield Agency
Matthew Clark RGD, Founder & Creative Director at Subplot Design
Hans Thiessen RGD, Creative Director at Rethink
Melissa Deschenes RGD, Principal Designer at Design de Plume

 

Here is some advice to help you stand out in the crowd and impress your employer enough to keep you on board when your placement is over (or at least write you a great recommendation letter.)

 

1) How can candidates improve their portfolio before an interview?

• Focus on the type of design you would like to be doing and projects that are more likely to come out of that studio. If you want to get into UI design, don’t crowd your portfolio with a lot of packaging and posters. And if you apply to a firm that does lots of web work, including web concepts and mock-ups is recommended.

- Stüssy Tschudin & Melissa Deschenes

 

• Don’t sacrifice substance for style. Choose work that has a story you can talk about. The process is just as important as the final product, it can give a glimpse into how you think and rationalize your decisions, and what could be expected if you were put in front of a client.

- Timothy Jones

 

• Everyone has pretty pictures in their portfolios. Every mockup is impeccable these days, with slick renderings and tabletop shots. That will never help you stand out. Being a smart, creative problem-solver WILL help you stand out. So how do you that? By showing the brief, all the prep and research you did on a project, your strategy, your original concepts, the variety of your thinking. These will help you stand out from a sea of slick sameness.

- Matthew Clark

 

•  Check out Rethink's "Six tips for building a book that gets noticed"

- Hans Thiessen

 

2) What is one question you often ask during interviews?

• "What specialization of design do you want to be doing in the future?"

- Stüssy Tschudin

 

•  "What do you hope to achieve during your internship here?"

- Hans Thiessen

 

• "Glitter or confetti?" Asking an unexpected question not only shows how the candidate reacts on their feet but can be a good way to seeing beyond their rehearsed answers and get a glimpse of how they might fit into the team and the culture.

- Timothy Jones

 

• "What are your expectations are during your placement here?" They get to work with the team on small projects but they need to know they will likely not be managing clients and larger projects during the student intern position.

- Melissa Deschenes


• "Do you have Wordpress experience?" A more technical question that is asked when the company builds lots of websites using this platform and it isn't something being currently taught at some schools. It's a bonus if they have gone out of their way to learn it on the side.

- Melissa Deschenes

 

3) What sort of homework should an intern do before their interview and/or first day?

• Get to know the agency as much as you can – their clients, their work, the staff. But more importantly, do the work to get to know what you want – goals you want to achieve and things you want to learn. This will show you are interested, engaged and really want to be there.

- Timothy Jones

 

• Tailor your resume, cover letter and the email to who you are sending it. I unfortunately still get emails directly to my personal email with the intro "dear sir or madam..."

- Melissa Deschenes

 

4) How can candidates stand out or improve their chances of being hired?

• Research the company you apply at. Make some personal reference to their work, office environment or about the person you are contacting. ALWAYS ensure to spell the company name and hiring manager’s name correctly.

- Stüssy Tschudin

 

• We are all in the business of coming up with designs and communications that defy expectations, that stand out from the crowd, and that answer the objectives of the project. In this case, the brief is to find a job. So why are you sending us an email with an 8x11 resume and PDF portfolio? Just like every other potential designer.


If you can’t even create something outstanding to capture our attention in the first place, how can you serve our clients? Think about the task at hand. Think about the needs of design firm owners and creative directors. Think about our specific company you are taking to. Approach this as a real project (because it is).

- Matthew Clark

 

•  Aside from having a killer portfolio, be as succinct as possible when writing email applications. One to two sentences introducing who you are and what you're looking for is plenty when you back it up with a solid portfolio. Aka: focus on your work!

- Hans Theissen

 

•  Students need to individualize their portfolio at the end of their school year. Every year we see students using the same school projects from the same assignments. I often recommend that students edit their work to be something different when applying for positions so that their work stands out. For example changing their "Ginger Beer label design" designs to be a different type of beverage. We just see so much of the same thing that it's difficult for students to stand out from the rest.

- Melissa Deschenes

 

5) What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can give to a student looking for an internship?

• Be professional. Be on time. Be polite. Be helpful.

- Stüssy Tschudin


• Make sure you get involved in some “real” work. You are not doing an internship to do cheap labour. Learn, grow, impress.

- Stüssy Tschudin

 

• Finding out what tasks others don’t like doing and become an expert at it. The prospective of losing you becomes a lot less attractive when they think those unfavourable tasks will be back on their do-to list if you are gone.

- Timothy Jones

 

• Look for an internship at a firm that will support your career goals, not just any firm. Make sure they value your contribution and PAY you. Never work for free. (RGD Members are required to pay interns unless it is a course-credit internship, in which case your credits are payment). Mix it up and intern somewhere large and small if you can. And make sure the internship is at least 3 months long. Anything shorter is not long enough to learn from the firm, and for the firm to get enough out of you.

- Matthew Clark

 

• Apply by email, drop by in person, follow up with a call and make sure you stand out. Treating your internship like a job helps you experience what the real world is like. The better your placement experience the more chances of getting hired by that firm or of them recommending you to other businesses. The design community is not that big and word of mouth plays a big part. 

- Melissa Deschenes

 

• Check out these Three tips for junior creatives on the job hunt by Hans Thiessen RGD