The Rules

The Rules

So, you just got your first internship at that great magazine or design studio. Well done! We know you're juggling school and work, and that school comes first. We're all about making sure you learn as much as possible and that your talents are being properly nurtured. That said, we also have a few things we expect from you in return. And so, we want to share some tips to help make your internship good for all of us.

Come to work on time. Yeah, we know you're tired and you were up all night working on the project that's due when you leave this afternoon. But we have real deadlines, too, and we're depending on seeing your smiling face when we get in. Or at least not too long after. And if you're not coming in, let someone know.

If you're not busy, ask someone if they need help. They'll probably say yes, even if it's only to help with some quick scans or putting some books back on the shelf. Your initiative will win you friends and people will give you food.

Ask before working on your homework at the office. We'll probably say it's okay to slip in a few printouts, but remember to use your good manners and ask first.

Cell phones on vibrate, please. Enough said.

Dress like a grownup. We know you're on a student budget and all, but you'll be treated like a peer if you look like one. People outside the department don't always remember who's an intern and who's a freelancer. Sometimes they don't even remember who's on staff. If you blend in and you stick around long enough, you might start getting benefits and a 401K.

Offer to help tidy up. Really. We're a mess. We're busy, and don't always have time to organize. We know you're a gifted designer, but people will absolutely love you if you help them with ugly, necessary chores from time to time. They'll let you keep stuff because they feel so guilty watching you clean. And sometimes there's good stuff there, like books and debit cards.

The more people trust you, the more they'll give you to do. If you can handle a teeny piece of design in a timely way, you'll get a bigger one to tackle. We guarantee that. It's all work, and we're not possessive. We love to see you excited about having your designs used. We used to get that excited before we got so jaded. You remind us how fun it can be.

Be respectful. You don't have to be in awe; we're not that important. But remember that some of us are a lot older than you. "Sir" and "Ma'am" are going too far, but we bristle at "Dude."

Smile from time to time. We already have surly coworkers, editors or clients. We can't handle sullen interns. You're young! Life is good! We need the illusion that you're happy to be with us. But if you're not, please let us know and we'll work with you to figure out what we can do to make things better.

Check in before you leave. We don't always remember which intern's in on which day, so don't assume we know where your files are or how far you got with a project. Let someone know where things are and that you're heading out. Goodbye hugs are nice, but not necessary. We'll see you next time.

  • The Editors

    Gail, for the... one billionth? time, I just sent this out as a link again. I really wasn't kidding about the poster/small handbook/tiny tiny tattoo template idea: this is a MUST-READ! We've got to get more airtime on this. Very seriously.

  • Emily Smith

    A poster !!!

  • Gail Anderson

    I can't believe how similar our rules are (though mine are certainly snarkier). We need to do something with these--an article...a book...a TV SPECIAL!

  • Ina Saltz

    Dear Gail,

    Well said! Very valuable information (for all junior staff, not just interns!).

    Interns need A LOT of guidance, and I wrote up my own set of rules (you have covered many of the same points, of course.)

    Below, Professor Saltz's words of wisdom. And if anyone needs a good intern, drop me a line! (



    BE RELIABLE. This is the single most important rule! Be on time or early. Don’t make any excuses; just BE there. Once you have agreed on a schedule, stick to it, no matter what.

    BE POSITIVE. Be friendly and upbeat. Show that you are happy for this opportunity. Have a good attitude. Internships are competitive; remember that it is a privilege to be where you are. Having this internship on your resume will be valuable when you begin your job search later on.

    BE OBSERVANT. On your first day, check out what everyone is wearing. and how they are behaving. Try to be aware of what is considered acceptable attire and try to emulate it. It’s different from dressing for school; when in a professional environment, you must dress accordingly.

    PAY ATTENTION to the interaction between department members. If you watch carefully, you will pick up signals that will tell you how to conduct yourself professionally, and you will begin to learn how the creative process works. Ask politely if you may be included in meetings. Remember that you are there only to observe, and you should always assume that every meeting is confidential.

    BE RESPECTFUL. Important business is going on. Understand that people are busy and are juggling many tasks. Although every creative environment is different, don’t be fooled by appearances. While the atmosphere may seem casual, staffers are responsible for meeting goals and deadlines; the work is very serious even if people seem to be joking around.

    BE PROACTIVE. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. Ask your supervisor if he/she needs anything at all. If not, ask everyone else in the art department. You are not only there to learn, but to help with whatever tasks you are assigned.

    BE REALISTIC. Don’t expect to do design work right away. You may be asked to do mundane tasks such as copying, faxing, filing or returning artwork until you have shown that you can handle more responsibility and that you can be trusted to follow through with your work.

    BE DILIGENT. Complete all assignments on time. Work turned in late, no matter how good, may be of no value. Try to go above and beyond what you are asked to do. Take full responsibility for your work. If your supervisor is working late, ask whether you are needed before going home.

    BE HELPFUL. Offer to go out for snacks or soda; this shows that you are willing to help make staffers’ jobs easier with even the smallest of tasks. Remember that simply by being in a professional creative environment and observing how team members interact, you are gaining valuable experience in learning how to conduct yourself in the “real” world.

    COMMUNICATE. Don’t be shy. Don’t wait for your supervisor to ask how you are doing with a task; keep your supervisor informed frequently. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; you are there to learn and most members of the department are happy to answer your questions.

    you may be offered freelance (paying) work and possibly even a staff position (this happens more often than you think!). Even if your internship ends and there are no immediate opportunities, if you make a good impression you may be called back when a spot opens up; you will have an inside track because you are a “known quantity.” And even if that doesn’t happen, or if you want to try a different area of graphic design, if you leave a good impression you can ask your supervisor whether you may use him/her as a reference when you are job-hunting. Having good professional references makes you a stronger job candidate.

    Prof. Ina Saltz, CCNY Electronic Design & Multimedia, 2007

  • dan savage

    Perfect... also dont forget to double check you have the correct name...

    Right Greg Montalvo?

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