Join Our Community

How to Provide a Valuable Interior Design Internship

business of interior design interior design leadership leading interior designers Aug 31, 2021

If you are looking to hire an intern for your Interior Design business, it truly isn’t a bad idea! Delegating is such a smart way to get more work done around the office, and it is a great learning experience for your hired intern in the process. Not only can you get the immediate help you desperately need, but you may also find your next design assistant or junior designer in the process.

Check Out: “How to Find Interior design Intern Candidate by Using LinkedIn

The most important thing to remember is that you are taking a moment in your intern’s life, and you should make the most of that time for them. It is vital to provide a valuable internship for your intern, and here are some great ways to make that happen.

1) Identify Roles & Responsibilities

Before you begin the hiring process, start by outlining the role along with responsibilities. Clear expectations will help both you and the intern. Begin with identifying the following:

  • Days and Hours
  • Projects – roles and responsibilities
  • Meetings and client participation
  • Opportunities for exposure
  • Vendor connection
  • Research needed

Remember, an intern experience should be beneficial for both parties. Yes, you need help with lower-level tasks, but you also want the intern to learn as they go. By clearly defining your expectations, you provide the intern with an opportunity to learn and succeed. It also prevents you from expecting more than the intern’s abilities.

2) Determine Reporting Structure

Identify reporting structure will help the intern know where to turn with questions. Be sure that person is available and can work one-on-one with the intern. Ideally, you want to pick someone interested in leading and who has the experience to provide value to the intern. By identifying the management role, the intern has a clear reporting structure and knows where to turn when questions arise or need help with prioritizing work.

3) Consider a Buddy System

This may sound silly, but it can be effective when introducing a new employee to the team. Remember, we have all had that new job feeling where you are completely excited and lost for a few weeks or even months. It can be very beneficial to connect the intern with someone on the team. This is not a management role but rather a professional friendship or mentor.

Check Out: “9 Ways to Mentor Interior Designers and Why Mentorship is Important to Our Industry

Take a close look at the personality of the person you hired and your team. Then, match the new employee with someone eager to take the new person under their wing. This employee can give additional guidance by finding supplies, vendor contacts, understanding processes, and potentially software assistance. Managers aren’t always available, so it is great to have someone available when the manager is not. It also allows your employee to gain some valuable mentoring experience, especially if they want to grow into a leadership role.

4) Prepare Desk Space and Necessary Supplies

Unfortunately, this has happened to be me more times than I want to recall. The worse is when I started a new job as a director, and on my first day, I had nothing – no computer, no pens, no paper, not even a stapler. The office was completely empty. I was lost, and it wasn’t a good start. Don’t make this mistake.

Before the intern starts, set up the computer, they will use it and make sure all software is available and updated. Set up their email account and provide credentials to any systems that are necessary to work. Also, be sure the new employee packet is ready to complete on the first day. It is good to let the employee know to bring their two forms of ID for the I-9.

Check Out: “10 Ways to Find a Design Intern in Today’s Market Place

Clean the workspace and make sure the equipment is in working order. Finally, it is nice to welcome your new employee by leaving a little note, card, or sign on the desk. These little things can make someone feel welcome and start the internship off on the right foot.

5) Help Establish Goals and Deadlines

Upon starting, it is good practice to sit down with your intern to discuss priorities and workload. In addition, this is an excellent time to get to know the intern a little bit more and determine their personal goals and what interests them.

Together, you can establish goals for the internship and a clear timeline. This allows the intern to have something to work towards and helps them to stay accountable. After they reach the goals you have set, don’t be afraid to have a reward system in place. Even if it is a gift card or just recognition within the studio. Recognition goes a long way to help keep employees motivated and engaged. It also encourages them to want to continually improve and work towards even bigger goals.

6) Encourage Questions & Note Taking

If they are taking your internship, the design students want to learn outside of the classroom. Encourage them to ask questions daily. If they did not bring a notebook or something to take notes with, then provide them with one. Have them take notes of all the nuggets of information you give them. You are now their teacher, and the information you give them needs to be something they take seriously. Set several questions for them to have ready for you to answer each day, almost like a homework assignment. They need to be constantly learning, and you need to constantly teaching!

Check Out: “Four Impactful Benefits to Hiring Independent Workers

Another suggestion, which also works for all employees, is to encourage them to brainstorm 2 to 3 suggestions for any problem before asking. For instance, if an employee comes to you with a problem, before you jump in with an answer, ask them what solutions they have thought of, then discuss those together. Finally, identify why or why not something will help the intern or employee develop problem-solving skills. In design, we all know that your ability to solve problems is a vital skill for a successful career.

7) Give Opportunities to Use Their Voice

Many interns have never been in positions like this before, and some may even come off a bit shy. It is your job to help your interns learn and grow. The most significant way you can help them grow is to allow them the opportunity to lead, speak, and use their voice. Some examples could be leading a meeting or even as simple as asking for their input or ideas. Just this simple act will help them to become a better leader in the long run.

8) Schedule Regular Status Meetings & Reviews

Your intern must know how they are performing throughout their internship. Take note of how they are handling their tasks and where they can improve. Provide constructive feedback and help answer any outstanding questions.

When talking with an employee, one of my favorite tactics is to first ask how they feel about their performance. Then, after they answer, I narrow the question to what areas they think they can improve. Along the way, I give encouragement and ideas on what might help them.

Don’t just give negative feedback. Your intern will feel encouraged to do better on the areas of improvement if they hear praise in another area. So be sure to identify areas they are excelling in and start and end meetings with positive notes. You must have equal parts of praise and areas of improvement within your conversation. If all they hear is negative feedback, then that could discourage them from wanting to improve.

9) Leave Them With Something to Show Off

It is essential that you realize that this is a learning opportunity for them. It also can be an excellent opportunity for them to build their resume and portfolio. They need to have something that they are working towards. It can be a certificate of completion or even a project you had them complete during their internship. Whatever you leave them with, let it be something they can be proud of and something worth showing to future employers.

10) Set Your Own Realistic Expectations

Hiring and cultivating an intern is a lot of work. It is a big responsibility, as you are helping develop the industry's future. Most interns know little outside of what they have learned in the classroom. Therefore, they are eager to learn from a professional designer. With that said, it is essential not to expect too much from your intern. By not having realistic expectations, the experience may be disappointing for you both. Be ready to give advice and lessons you have learned along the way. Recognize their inexperience and need for guidance. 

More Helpful Tips

Be sure the entire team is familiar with the roles and expectations of the intern. Everyone on the team should be in agreement on how the intern will help the team.

Make sure the intern feels you are excited to have them as they are with you. This can be a team lunch either onsite or offsite to welcome the person or even just a quick gathering with treats in the break room.

Having an intern can be an outstanding opportunity for you and for them. Giving them this experience can help them in many ways, including the opportunity to grow as an entrepreneur and the opportunity to learn about how to be a successful interior designer. It can also help you and your firm by giving assistance and possibly fresh ideas. So, once you get to the hiring process and find your perfect intern, remember these steps, and your internship will be an excellent experience for both of you!

Sign Up for Our Monthly Newsletter

Get helpful career, business, and design tips right in your inbox each month.

At Behind the Design, we are committed to building a stronger design community by reimagining education, training, and support for interior designers. Through our various software training options, educational articles covering everything from leadership to marketing, and soon Continuing educational courses, we are committed to helping you. Join our newsletter to get the latest education and training updates.

Sign Me Up!

More on Behind the Design...

How Marketing Is Changing in the Wake of AI

May 17, 2024