I recently decided to take on a design intern at my company (not the first time, but we don't do it that often). We received hundreds of applications and reviewed every one of them before making a decision.
When we announced the position was filled, a few people asked for feedback, wondering what they could have done differently.
Of course, we simply received an overwhelming amount of interest and could sadly only choose one person. It was a tough decision, but ultimately we selected the candidate who best fulfilled the requirements of the role. However, we did see some trends and missed opportunities that may be helpful to anyone applying for a design internship.
1. Having an online portfolio immediately increases your chances
While we stated on the job description that having an online portfolio was a must (we work on a portfolio builder, after all), we still received several Dropbox links and PDFs. We reviewed them anyway because ultimately, it’s about your skills and your potential. But sharing your work this way doesn’t do you any favors, especially if we have many portfolios to review. Downloading 100MB+ PDF files and scrolling through them without any real navigation (plus the laggy Adobe Reader) isn't fun. If I have too many portfolios to review, I usually dismiss PDF portfolios entirely.
Presentation is the essence of design. You’re not expected to have a full book of work at this point, but it’s still important to present the work you do have in a polished, modern way.
2. If you don’t have experience, experiment
When you’re still young in your career, it’s understandable you won’t have many projects to share yet. In the meantime, do some experiments and personal projects of your own. Until you have the experience and the work to show, help us see your potential.
We were surprised to see most designers don’t do this. I’m not suggesting you do some intensive unsolicited redesign for a company on your own time. Just design one screen for a hypothetical app. Create a logo for yourself. Make a fake landing page. These things take just a few hours and tell us everything about your potential when you don’t have much experience in the field. Put your best experiment or two in your portfolio and the rest on your Dribbble page, so we can find more if we want it. This is not only valuable for potential employers but should be a fun and helpful exercise for you too.
3. Update all your design and social accounts
You can assume that anyone considering you for a job has visited every external link on your site. We did, at least. Not to find incriminating evidence, but to get a better grasp on who you are, how you interact with the design community and how you would add to our team. If you’re not active on Twitter, don’t link to it on your site. If your Dribbble page is horribly out of date, update it before you submit your application. Show us a consistent picture of who you are, or even give us a little more in your public social pages. No, your political leanings or meme choices shouldn’t influence anyone’s decision about hiring you. But culture is important to a company and we want to understand how you will add to it. Show us.
4. Have a memorable About page. Show personality.
This is the first place we went when reviewing your portfolio, before even looking at your projects. Your About page gives us context and sets the tone for your whole site. It’s important to not only give us a brief overview of your experience and interests, but to show some personality too. Remember companies are looking through hundreds of applications and portfolios. Do something that stands out. If you're new to the industry, your work may not stand out yet, but your personality might. We shared some advice for creating a great About page right here.
5. Curate your projects
We say it all the time. So does almost every company we’ve interviewed in our How to Get a Job at X series. Your portfolio should only feature your best work. If it’s only 3-4 projects, that’s fine. We’d rather see just a few great projects than a lot of decent ones. One underwhelming project can drag the rest of your work down and make a potential employer question your taste.
6. Keep your case studies concise
Case studies are incredibly important, and we were happy to see most submitted portfolios included thorough case studies that explained the project challenges, process and outcome. However, most of them were very, very long.
Your case studies serve two purposes: To show us how you work and also how you communicate. If your case studies are long and dry, it makes us wonder if your communication style is too. And in our company at least, which is completely remote, excellent communication means everything.
Keep your case studies brief. Make them scannable. Make them beautiful. Remember your readers and think about how much attention you can personally give to even the most compelling articles you read online. If you’re struggling to edit yourself or write powerful case studies, there’s no shame in asking a friend to help you. These writing tips for designers will also be useful.
7. Enthusiasm counts for a lot
In our application, we left a space for you to share your experience and tell us what you want to learn from this internship. For many applications, it was this small note that caught our interest and set someone apart. We (and we imagine most companies) want to work with people who are passionate about what they do but also humble and eager to learn. Show us you want to work with us as much as we want to work with you. It will go a long way.