Building a Successful Virtual Internship Program

For companies moving forward with internships, virtual tactics that prioritize connection and communication set interns up for success.

Summer internship season is nearing, as college students seek 3-month opportunities around the world. For example, about now, Washington, D.C.’s army of interns are usually preparing to don lanyards and business attire to work for museums, Senators and major businesses. However, the COVID-19 pandemic’s upending of operations around the world is changing internships too. Only 36% of companies surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) are going forward with summer internships—and they’re doing it virtually.

The Benefits of Internships for Businesses and Professionals

Internships are often an invaluable experience for a student, recent graduate, or those looking to make a career change. According to the NACE, more than 56 percent of students completing an internship or co-op received at least one job offer, compared to less than 37 percent of students with no internship or co-op experience. The intern can experience, firsthand, the ins and outs of a company within their desired industry while learning how to manage professional responsibilities. Internships offer a glimpse into decision making, project deadlines and interpersonal skill-building, all necessary to succeed in the real-world professional setting.

According to Randstad, internships are valuable to businesses as well. Reasons to develop an internship program include: the ability to discover new talent, reduce overall employee workload, provide additional management practice for senior employees, and experience new ways of problem-solving from interns with varied experiences (think social media). These benefits come with minimal costs, and increased productivity. Internships are the ultimate recruitment channel, shaping a pipeline of budding talent and future leaders.

Connection and Communication are Crucial for Virtual Internships

Once a company decides to conduct a virtual internship, preparing the intern for success starts with the onboarding process. Remote onboarding should consider the fundamental paperwork, proper technology, and online training sessions. Handshake recommends preparing interns 4 to 8 weeks before they start by providing the right tools to be successful, as many aspects of a virtual internship depend on software designed to manage remote teams and virtual tasks.

According to an article by Fast Company, the major challenge for companies large and small is how to create effective remote internship programs that can substitute for in-person projects, learning, networking, and socialization. The article recommends that managers start by expressing solidarity with their interns and setting clear expectations around their responsibilities. Consistently offering open feedback on projects keeps interns motivated, always remembering that interns are there to learn.

Company culture, learning, and networking can be cultivated virtually for interns as well. Integrate interns into proper communication channels, such as Slack and email. Include them not only in important one-on-one meetings but those Friday team happy hour video calls as well. Connecting them with their fellow interns even before they officially start the internship helps them feel comfortable as they settle in. Along the way, virtual breakout sessions and networking lunches keep interns learning and connected.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is changing typical business operations and shifting the way we work, internships are still invaluable for those eager for early-career experiences and for employers that recognize the benefits. Proper connection and communication set the foundation for successful virtual internships.

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