Internships can be an invaluable learning experience and possible entrée into the working world. This past summer, graduate students in the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) program at the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI spent time at companies across the United States. Four of them agreed to share how they prepared for their internships—at GEICO, IDEXX Laboratories, Microsoft, and CBS—and what they accomplished there.
Kara Bougher is studying to be a user experience (UX) designer, possibly in an education-related role or company. She worked at GEICO’s Washington, DC corporate headquarters on their Digital Experience Team as a UX/UI design/research intern. Her goal was to learn how a design team functions in industry, which she feels she achieved.
“My supervisors and mentors were really receptive and helpful in making sure I was able to get what I wanted out of the internship. I learned a lot about giving and receiving feedback effectively, and was able to learn some new tools and software. Getting some hands-on experience also gave me a better idea of what I want to look for in a full-time job,” she said.
Bougher says she prepared by working on her portfolio, preparing a list of questions, and getting assistance from others. “Pat (Rhodes) in SoIC Career Services was really helpful with editing my portfolio, resume, and cover letters. Getting feedback from other students and from people outside of the field helped as well.”
She advises others to connect their past experience with current experience and goals and not to rule out an opportunity too quickly based on location or industry. “I didn’t think I would be able to do an internship out of state, and I certainly didn’t initially think insurance would be my dream internship. However, it worked out; the internship ended up being a great fit.”
Bougher also encourages students to keep working on their portfolio, continue to edit, seek feedback, and make changes to that critical part of an application for a job or internship.
Steffi Gogoi has a long-term career goal of working as a UX designer to create product designs that will foster community around the globe. She interned at IDEXX Laboratories in Maine as an interaction designer on a mobile app project.
While there, Gogoi won a poster competition, which she presented to IDEXXers, including vice presidents of the company. IDEXX, like many of the companies mentioned, offered the interns activities such as learning lunches, company tours, networking opportunities, and team-building exercises.
Gogoi says, when it comes to seeking internships, “Start early, fail fast.” She recommends connecting with people who believe in your potential, ask questions, share your ideas, and believe in yourself. “You never know what you are capable of until you try!” She also suggests building a portfolio side by side with applications, rather than one after the other. Gogoi, too, worked with Rhodes on her resume and cover letter.
“I read many UX articles on Medium (website) and in UX magazine, and also looked for upcoming trends in UX design, prepared for interview questions, read company profiles, and rehearsed my introduction part before giving the interviews,” Gogoi said.
Swapnil Kosarabe is aiming to strategically solve complex design problems that can empower humans to achieve more, with his degree in HCI. He spent the summer as a UX design intern at Microsoft in Boston and says that he gained more than he ever expected, working together with 40 interns with different ideas and perspectives.
Kosarabe was able to visit the Seattle headquarters and participate in an intern signature event that helped him improve his networking. He says Microsoft arranged several interesting events that helped interns get to know each other better.
He says several factors helped him secure the internship, including feedback from faculty on design, inspiration from UX designers in user-centric organizations, following UX groups and articles that helped him learn the art of storytelling, and presenting his projects to alumni to improve his soft skills.
Kosarabe’s advice to those seeking internships like his is to “Be innovative and think outside of the box. Get inspired, but don’t imitate.” He also suggests sketching ideas, participating in whiteboard challenges, and attending conferences.
Amber Tansy interned at CBS in San Francisco, working as a UX designer in the gaming sector. She is still working for CBS part-time while she finishes her master’s degree. “CBS offered the perfect environment for me to get my feet wet in the industry, and within my field. It was the perfect position for me. Fortunately, I’m still in it now, only 2,000 miles away.”
Tansy says the best part of the experience was the people she worked with. “Everyone was a gamer, everyone was extremely laid back, friendly, personable, but hardworking. I instantly felt like I belonged when I arrived, and needless to say, they couldn’t get rid of me once the internship ended,” she joked.
She suggests not waiting too long to apply for internships; although she started in October the previous year, she says that might have been a little late. Instead start as soon as you can, as soon as positions open, she advises. And she emphasizes that applicants should not recycle their resume and cover letter for every application. “Make. Unique. Cover. Letters. Because recruiters and managers can tell the difference.” She also encourages attending university-held events like career fairs, conferences, etcetera, and finally, be confident.
Tansy reminds others to remember, “The people on the other end of the phone/video/table are not the only ones interviewing someone. You’re also interviewing THEM, so come with questions… If they answer something in a way that you dislike, you DO NOT have to work for them. A job goes two ways: an employee and employer relationship is a mutual one.”