The Internship – Reality is Not Exactly a Movie Comedy

The Internship - Reality is Not Exactly a Movie Comedy

What a hilarious romp as Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson step into Google, of all places, as mature men and turn the intern program into an Animal House-like nightmare for their intern leader, proving, once again, that movies have nothing to do with reality… unlike Transformers. The reality, of course, is that these two men would never be accepted into the intern program and they would not last longer then the first welcome meeting.

Internships are the most valuable part of any student’s education. It is experience in the real world, and a chance to get a foot in the door of a design firm or company that can and usually will work out into a job after graduation… or not, depending on the intern’s attitude, as well as that of the boss.

Highs and Lows of Internship

I loved being an intern. I wish I had done more of it when I was in art school. I also wish I wasn’t such a hard-headed fool and had kept my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open. If any lesson in being an intern can be put forth in this article, that statement is the most important.

Mentor Guiding
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Giving Someone a Chance

When I found myself in a high level position, in charge of a large art department for a major publisher/international corporation, I wanted to give back to the design industry and hire some interns. Luckily, I received a call from the chairperson at my former art school, a man who had put me through the wringer, tossed me aside, treated me in a very unprofessional manner and obviously enjoyed torturing students. He was quite jovial when the call started and he congratulated me on “making the big time.”

Giving Someone a Chance
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

I was coldly cordial, remembering his darker side, and asked why he was calling. He wanted me to hire some interns from the school. I had actually done that with several students I had met while taking some night classes to complete the nine credits needed for a degree (I had left school ten years earlier and needed 12 more credits to graduate), so I told him I would be happy to do so. “And, I don’t want them just making copies or running errands. I want them doing the actual design work!” he insisted.

“I’ll consider that,” I told him and before I hung up the phone, I told him one last thing about letting student interns design professional magazines that needed years of experience to be successful; “if I was offered a chance to intern here when I was a student, as you promised several times when I was a student, but never did for me, I would lick toilets clean if told to do so, just for the chance to watch how a professional art department worked and the in it would have given me back then.” I was experienced enough, despite this nimrod’s behavior, to know that bridges should never be burned… unless the person is in the middle of the bridge and you can light both ends at once, with no witnesses.

I never called him back, but kept hiring students I met in my classes. Students who were smart, talented and deserved a chance to get ahead. Unfortunately, too many of them blew those chances.

With Whom Does the Problem Lie?

The two biggest problems with the interns were that they didn’t own a watch or clock and would show up late, sometimes hours late. One intern, on her first day, was two hours late and complained that the subway wasn’t running. Unfortunately, she lived in my neighborhood and took the same train I had caught to get in on time. The second biggest problem was following directions. One intern, given a project to keep him busy all day while I was in endless meetings, spent the day drawing what he thought would be a great cover for the main magazine. When I returned to the art department, I asked how far he had gotten with his assignment, he said he hadn’t started and showed me the cover he had drawn on a piece of our best drawing stock.

With Whom Does the Problem Lie?
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

He cried as I escorted him from the building. He had bragged to his family and friends about his new position and probably was petrified at the thought of telling them he didn’t last eight hours. I was angry because he embarrassed me in front of my staff, all of whom were not used to the idea of interns being in the department. The previous intern, an attractive young lady was more interested in the flood of workers from other departments coming in to hang out with her and her flirtatious laugh was nerve jangling.

Before her, it was a young man who didn’t believe in showers and before that, a young man who spent his first three hours at the company sexually harassing every woman who crossed his path. His first day lasted three hours and twenty minutes. Sometimes there’s no way of knowing who you are hiring.

Of course, following directions isn’t just a problem for students. Many working designers and illustrators with whom I’ve worked also blew it. Even on the boss’ end, sometimes those in charge forget the directions they give or change their mind and forget to tell anyone else.

As for personal hygiene and treating coworkers with a certain amount of respect, it is apparently not second nature to many people. Neither is stealing, as apparent from the original art that went missing during the short internships of some students.

Woman Accused
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Allowing the chance for someone to get an early start on their career is a wonderful feeling and watching them blow it hurts, no matter how cold hearted you may be. Years later, remembering how many interns were dismissed after a day or two, I feel ashamed I didn’t do more for them. As one friend who had asked me to hire a student as an intern (and these were all paid positions) told me after I fired the young lady halfway through her second day, “you need to tell her what she did wrong and give her a second chance or she’ll never learn.”

I made the excuse that I didn’t have time to play teacher and simple things like showing up on time couldn’t be taught… but truth be told, they could. When it comes to using interns, professional office behavior SHOULD be taught on the job.

As someone who hires the interns, we are the teachers, the fathers, mothers and mentors. That is a big part of the experience. When these students cried at being fired, I should have sat them down and explained why they were being given a second chance, and there would be no third. They deserved at least that for the foolishness of youth as for some, this was their very first job, and for all, their first professional job in their chosen field of study.

Remember When You Were Young?

I suppose the experiences of reality knocking these students around, are the best, but hardest lessons about life and the creative profession. A friend of mine says that, “tears are stupid old ideas leaving the brain.”


I didn’t have kids back then, but I do now and if one of my kids does something wrong, I hug him, explain why he was wrong, wipe away any tears, smile and wink at him and I know he has learned a lesson without too much trauma. A parent wants their child to skip the hard lessons we had to learn through pain and embarrassment. I wish I had done the same with interns those years ago. As a boss, interns have lessons we can learn from them, if we open our eyes and ears… and hearts.

Speider Schneider has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, LucasFilms, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. He’s a former board member of the Graphic Artists Guild and co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee. He also speaks at art schools across the United States and writes articles on business and professional practices for books and global blogs.


    • cre8ivetype,
    • August 29, 2013
    / Reply

    Great article and insight, Speider!

  1. / Reply

    I do agree…

  2. / Reply

    Impressive one

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