How to go from intern to full-time product designer

Tips on maximizing your growth as a new designer.

1. Convince yourself you’re not “just an intern.” 🤓

Early in my internship, I got great advice my teammate Will. I asked how I could set myself up for long-term success at Gusto. He told me to jump headfirst into anything I wanted. To not shy away from anything because, “I’m an intern.” I took that advice and ran with it. I became a team captain at our annual Gusto Games and co-founded the San Francisco chapter of our environmental group, Green Gusties. All things I may have shied away from because they weren’t within my defined role.

You can grow up without “growing up.” From my favorite bar in Chicago, where I attended Designation.

2. Grow confident in your whole-self. 💗

I’ve struggled with this. When I get nervous, I can become formal — but in actuality, I’m a goofy, light-hearted person. So at Gusto, I invested time really getting to know my teammates and figuring out ways to help others. Fostering these connections allowed me to feel comfortable being my whole-self which, in turn, helps me create my best work.

Me at my purest—case and point.

3. Build yourself a seat at the table. 🏗

In the beginning of my internship, I worked on a cross-functional project with remote partners. I witnessed our progress halt and after a few days, connected with someone who had expertise in recruiting customers for interviews. They taught me how to run a data query and pull the customers I needed, allowing me to unblock our project. Moving forward, I continued this approach. It helped grow my voice as a team player.

I helped organize for Gusto to host an Inclusive Design event with A11yBay.

4. Develop unique design interests. 🔮

I’m passionate about Inclusive Design. In December, I met Michael, an inspiring senior designer at Airbnb focused on inclusion. When I arrived at Gusto, I discovered our head of design was his mentor. I jumped at the opportunity to bridge this gap — I organized for Michael to give a guest lecture to our design team and for Gusto to host an event with his Meetup group, A11yBay. I also joined task forces to help improve accessibility of our own physical space and product.

6. Improve your presentation skills. 💬

Over the course of three months, I presented A LOT. I presented at small group critiques and hackathons, as well as to cross-functional teams, department heads, and eventually to the entire executive team. That’s right, as an intern I had the opportunity to present my final designs to our c-suite. It was awesome (OK it was scary, but I survived). Instead of feeling like I was the smallest person in the room, I took it as an opportunity to meet and learn from new people. Each time I presented, I gained comfort and iterated on my preparation and presentations based on feedback.

Introducing myself and my work to our executive team.

7. Learn how to prioritize your process. ⌛

My first project was a customer service chatbot with a tight deadline. My original plan had three rounds of customer testing — after getting feedback and reflecting on my goals, I cut two. I realized due to the human nature of chatbots, interacting with a clickable prototype wasn’t going to give us the data we needed—but a live demo later on would. Knowing this, I cut two weeks off my original proposal and, more importantly, met my deadline.

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Gusto Design

One intuitive place to manage payroll, benefits, and HR for your business. Goodbye, tedious work. Hello, meaningful work. We're hiring designers!

Caitlin Brisson

Written by

Product Designer at Gusto // Visual scientist

Gusto Design

One intuitive place to manage payroll, benefits, and HR for your business. Goodbye, tedious work. Hello, meaningful work. We're hiring designers!