So you’ve found your perfect intern candidate with our tips in Part 1 – now what?
Set expectations early.
An internship is still a job. In fact, I always reminded my interns that they should consider every day of their internship as an interview. It takes a lot to undo a bad first impression. Remind them – you are always being watched.
Set expectations early and clearly. What are their responsibilities? What are their tasks? What should they or shouldn’t they be doing? What are the company protocols that they should be following? This framework will shape their time at your studio.
The first few days.
The first few days will be crucial for your intern. Initially, they will likely be a tad gun shy when interacting with your team. Remember, it’s very possible that this is their first real workplace experience. The best thing you can do to acclimatize them is to show them around, introduce them to people (regardless of rank or status) and help open the avenues of communication. How they comport themselves throughout their time at the studio will largely be dependent on the first few conversations you have with them, so make sure to devote enough time to helping them get them lay of the land.
Structure, structure, structure.
Interns typically only have approximately 3 months at your company. Realistically, it will take them about a third of that time to learn the ropes and feel comfortable with their work environment. That means their window of effectiveness is only about 2 months!
Before their first day, you’ve hopefully laid the groundwork with other members of your team who can serve as mentors. Depending on your interns’ career interests, these are the people who will be instrumental in their success. With the guidance of a mentor, one of the best ways to test their conceptual understanding is to task them with a large project to complete before their internship is over.
For instance, if he/she wants to become an animator, give them access to some test rigs and have them do some animation tests that increase in difficulty. Schedule some time for your intern to become comfortable presenting their work in a dailies type scenario, where they can receive feedback and “director notes” from their assigned mentor. They will have to learn how to hit deadlines and address notes in the same way a professional working artist might.
Fail in the classroom, succeed on the floor
Providing a safe space to fail is vital to building professional confidence. Knowing that they can ask any question without negative repercussions allows for interns the safety to push the boundaries and go that one step further in their assignments and projects. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they pick up on the best practices and processes set in place by your studio. If/when they make the transition onto your staff, they will already be familiar with the way your company does things. As a result, they will be less likely to make costly mistakes.
It will also be tremendously beneficial for them to participate in some kind of artistic development. If you are able to offer something like figure drawing during lunch, getting outside of their comfort zone provides awesome learning opportunities that can be shared with other members of your team. Pushing them into activities that develop new and unfamiliar skills will inevitably surprise them and open them up to discover and try new things – the perfect mindset for new employees.
Show them the bar.
(Note: This does not mean showing them where you keep the booze. Some interns aren’t 21 years old yet. Just something to keep in mind if you invite interns to wrap parties, by the way.)
Consider your internship program as a prolonged testing period. If they are aware of the level they need to reach in order to be considered as a viable candidate for employment, they will push themselves that much harder. More importantly, however, having the interns around for three or more months allows you as an employer to not only assess their skills, but also find out if their personality jives with the rest of the team.
Their success is your success.
The ultimate goal of a successful internship program is two-fold. Obviously, the ideal situation is that your stellar intern would be the perfect fit for a full time position and would “graduate” with minimal ramp up time, saving your company time and money on training. A solid intern is worth their weight in gold and their professional success directly reflects on the quality of the internship program.
However, sometimes hiring them on isn’t possible for whatever reason (finances, timing, not a good personality fit, etc.) Hopefully, they will take what they’ve learned to their next company. I’ve been constantly surprised to learn what my ex-interns have accomplished in their careers and I honestly couldn’t be more proud. I can think of at least two who will be my boss someday!
Stay in touch with your interns as they navigate this crazy business. Some are destined greatness and, if you designed your program properly, they will hopefully be able to trace it back to the opportunities you provide. Now imagine how grateful you’ll be that you didn’t make them fetch coffee.
Resources and Research
Some of the major animation studios have some variation of a talent development program for young artists who are serious about pursuing their craft. For more information about their programs, follow the links below.