Internships, Part 1

Herding Cats

Here’s a rough analogy to kick off this post. Being a college professor and managing relevant information is like herding cats. Not only is it like herding cats, it’s like herding really, really fast cats, then sorting them into stalls by breed as they come hurtling past. Maine Coons, Calicos, Shorthairs, Siamese, Persians, all come zooming by at breathtaking speed, meows-a-meowing and furry tails-a-flying, as I attempt to get the proper cat in the proper stall. I love the job for many, many reasons. Students are fun and fantastic. There’s never a dull day. My job involves learning something new everyday. However, there is a lot of information to handle, and a lot to disseminate. This resurrection of my cute lil’ ol’ blog is one way to herd some of those cats.

Internships Matter

Two of the cool cats (er…I mean requests) I get to “herd” are related to interships. Specifically these requests fall into two areas: the fantastic emails and phone calls I get for interns and the related requests I get from students on how to find and secure an internship. It cannot be overstated: internships are singularly important for the job hunt after graduation. Most of the students I have that snag jobs less than six months after graduation have completed at least two internships. Internships (and freelance design work) teach interpersonal skills, quick problem solving and proper graphic design workflow in a business setting. Most of what happens in an internship is difficult to replicate in the average college classroom.

There are a few questions students should ask before applying for a graphic design internship, and, conversely, a few questions an employer should be able to answer when looking to hire an intern. I’m dividing this information into two posts. This post will handle the student questions I regularly field.

Questions for Students to Consider

Do I need to take this internship for credit?
At my current university, the Career Development office manages internship credit. Students must register for an orientation in the office in advance of starting the internships. All documentation for credit goes through this office, as well as all of the work diaries required for submission for credit. I usually recommend that a student register for the orientation in advance of shopping for an internship. Lipscomb students, you need to register in the first two weeks of the semester so you can receive your CRN.

Click here for more info about internships for credit at Lipscomb University.

If you do not need credit for your internships, you can do one on your own time and list it on your resume. The connections and networking related to successfully completing an internship help you down the road. Former internship supervisors become wonderful resources for letters of recommendation in future job applications.

How do I handle a portfolio and a resume with a cover letter?
With a portfolio and a resume, you are setting the stage for the potential employer to experience you as a fledgling designer. Here’s a short list of the type of work I would expect to see in an internship portfolio:

Freshman: Sketchbook examples of visual problem solving for graphic design projects, two or three refined, completed projects
Sophomore: Sketchbook examples of visual problem solving for graphic design projects, three to five refined projects, one campaign, Behance portfolio
Junior: Sketchbook examples of visual problem solving for graphic design projects, four to seven refined projects with mock-ups showing context, more than one campaign, Behance portfolio
Senior: Sketchbook examples of visual problem solving for graphic design projects, seven to ten refined projects with mock-ups showing context, more than one campaign, Behance portfolio
Everybody: Professional photography of your work and a physical portfolio book (awesome black case, iPhoto book, etc.)

I’ll approach specifics about these portfolios, both online and physical, in another post.

Resumes and Cover Letters

The Resume

A graphic design resume should reflect your level of mastery with the most called-upon skillsets in the industry. Make notes and rank yourself on these programs. You can use a Likert Scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being professional and 1 being a complete newbie. Using this info, you can add your design skills and create a visually interesting, infographic-based resume (see the Biblio at the end of this post for examples).

Software Experience

The list of programs required usually depends on the job description for the internship. Below are the ones I see most often, in descending order of importance to the industry, IMHO:

Adobe InDesign

Adobe After Effects

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Photoshop

WordPress CMS (content management system)

Google Analytics

Adobe Acrobat Pro

Adobe Premiere

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Excel

Microsoft PowerPoint


Cover letters

Cover letters are usually used as the content of an introductory email, with the portfolio and resume attached. This makes them less of a “cover letter” and more of an “email letter,” whatever that means. However, for the love of Pete, make the message personal and relevant to the job post, not some canned response from a Google search for cover letters.

By the way, who is this Pete, and why does everyone compete for his love? Anyway…

Use the job description as a template for writing your graphic design cover letter. Each line-item request in a job description is a reflection of the perfect candidate, but usually not reflective of the one that gets the job. The hiring decision is based on the candidates who actually apply, not the elusive unicorn of a perfect candidate. Ever hear the phrase, “Good, not great?” Don’t psyche yourself out of a job or an internship before you even make an application. You have a skillset to present. Use the cover letter as a way to address that skillset and be specific, instead of duplicating a perfect, yet impersonal, letter. Even your studies abroad and volunteer work is something to address in this single page…those experiences are very attractive to employers!

In my next post about internships, I’ll address how employers should handle the request for an internship.

For now, here’s more resources and a video of herding cats.

Thanks for reading!

The Biblio: Links and Stuffs for Consideration

Dan Miller is a job coach recommended by Dave Ramsey. Dan is also a former client of mine. I use his best-selling title 48 Days to the Work You Love in my classes. He also has a revolutionary approach to applying for jobs, applicable by both students and mid-career job seekers. Check out his website and podcast links here.

Examples of Creative Resumes

Behance, a great way to start organizing your work for applications

Lipscomb U: Internship Types and Requirements for Credit