Make Virtual Internships Work for You

Internships can change the trajectory of an individual’s career, empower a potential employee, and create a talent pipeline for organizations that contributes greatly to their success. This year, bringing interns on board looks a little different. In the face of COVID-19 organizations have been forced to decide whether they will go virtual or eliminate internship opportunities. While elimination can feel necessary, there are benefits to keeping internships in a virtual space.

83% of American organizations have altered internships, making them shorter (turning to ‘micro-internships), virtual, or both. Through doing this, they hope to mitigate risk to interns and employees while still providing opportunities for students, and potentially growing their candidate pool. Onboarding and bringing interns into your organization’s culture can be challenging, but organizations like Abbott and Google say it can be done. The key is being more intentional with your effort and in your goal to create a meaningful experience. Done effectively, virtual internships can effectively build skills, empower students to grow professionally, and provide opportunities for networking and development.

The first step to facilitating a successful virtual internship is to build a plan. It should integrate opportunities for networking, professional development, and instruction as well as work. Being intentional about plans can provide structure and guidance to new interns, helping with the onboarding process and encouraging them to be more productive as they begin their work. The first piece of this plan should include orientation and onboarding processes.

In fact, providing virtual internships can provide an opportunity for organizations to look at and perfect their on-boarding and orientation processes. For interns, much of the networking and familiarity with company culture happens organically. Going virtual means being intentional about pulling interns into the organization and making them feel welcome and involved. You can do this by filling the first day of the internship with intentional activities to strengthen this. Schedule ‘meet and greets’ with staff members, provide an initial orientation and training, introduce them to peers and mentors, and facilitate interaction that will make them feel more comfortable with the work they are doing and asking questions they may have.

Some organizations may wish to create group projects, encouraging collaboration among your interns, and the point-person at your organization. This collaboration can encourage connection and make sure that who they should contact is consistently clear. In addition, it helps your interns, and possible future employees, feel connected and valued in your organization. In addition to this, it’s important to provide formal and informal forms of virtual contact, mimicking what they might see in the office and facilitating the growth of the culture.

No matter how you manage your interns, frequent communication and clear expectations will help you ensure their success. Provide adequate tools and incentives for a job well done, set weekly meetings, create mentoring programs with existing employees, and check-in regularly. All of these seemingly small things will give your interns varied connections to your organization, ensuring that they feel supported and like they are a part of the team.

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