Remote Internships: How to Engage Your New Graduates
By: Will Hayden
COVID-19 has had sweeping effects on the American job market. According to Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, the United States lost 21.5 million jobs between February and April 2020. During the entirety of the Great Depression, the number of jobs lost didn’t exceed 9 million.
For the college students and new graduates who have been lucky enough to find internships and work amidst this new recession, their experiences have been far different than what they anticipated.
Many employers have transitioned to remote internships. Other employers have shortened the duration of their summer internship programs. In every situation, employers have a responsibility to make the employee experience as positive and enriching as possible.
Consider the following statistics:
When employees feel cared for, 94% say they feel personally engaged in their work, compared with 43% of those who don’t feel cared for.
When employees feel that information flows freely at their organization, they’re nearly three times more likely to feel their organization provides a positive employee experience.
Offering interns and new employees your best resources will secure your talent pipeline. 99% of employees who feel they have higher well-being and organizational support recommend their company as a great place to work.
Clearly, amid conversations of cutbacks and efficiencies, organizations should prioritize the employee experience for all employees — especially those who are experiencing corporate culture for the first time.
5 ways to run remote internships to engage new graduates
Here are five specific ways organizations can optimize the employee experience for remote interns and recent grads.
1. Prepare your managers for remote interns
Make sure company leaders are equipped to welcome and manage new team members virtually. This requires specific preparations, such as mapping the onboarding process, trainings and performance reviews to a new virtual format.
As you optimize these experiences beforehand, you’ll show virtual interns and new hires that they’re valued within your organization all the same.
2. Focus on career development
Interns and new graduates benefit immensely from mentoring partnerships, networking events and career exploration opportunities. Instead of removing these elements from their employee experience, simply adjust them to work virtually. Find experienced mentors within your organization willing to share advice and knowledge. Set up virtual networking happy hours or information sessions with key leaders across your company. With some creativity and planning, the best parts of these experiences can be preserved.
3. Aim for individualization in virtual internships
Nobody wants to fall through the cracks — especially this new generation of workers that hopes to prove their worth during less-than-ideal circumstances. So, give them opportunities to demonstrate their skills, then celebrate their unique contributions along the way. Creating an inclusive environment helps employees feel belonging, connection and community at work.
4. Create a project marketplace
Develop a central hub where interns and recent grads can explore work opportunities outside of the discipline they were hired for. This creates natural opportunities for networking, career development and informal education. Offering this type of flexibility will help your interns stay engaged, especially when they’re looking for additional responsibilities.
Consider using a mobile-first employee engagement platform to communicate with interns and to post “odd jobs” from all corners of your company. Granting your remote interns access to these internal tools will help them feel connected and engaged, even when their workload slows.
5. Honor your commitments
In the event that your intern program must be cancelled, and can’t continue virtually, do everything in your power to provide meaningful experiences and resources to your hired candidates. Consider the following ideas from AnitaB.org:
Continue to employ the interns, but loan their time to support COVID-19 related projects.
Fund and assist with remote internships for down-stream partners — including nonprofit partners. In this way, you can support both interns and partners.
Collaborate with industry partners to help connect interns losing their internship to placements in another sector.
Commit to provide the internship at a later date or transition to a co-op or project during the semester.
Provide a letter of endorsement for the students that have been displaced that they can use in seeking future opportunities. AnitaB.org provided an example draft.
Offer webinars, mentorship and other virtual skill-building experiences for displaced interns, to provide skills, visibility and insight that can help bolster the students’ professional experience, or partner with and support organizations that can help.
Convert the intern salary dollars to scholarships to assist displaced low-income students that rely on internship earnings to cover college and housing expenses.
The employee experience you create is unique to your organization, and it sets the tone for everything that occurs at your company. Despite cutbacks, hiring freezes and social distancing measures, it’s entirely possible to create a meaningful and enriching employee experience for everyone who joins your organization. For additional resources, visit our free Care in Crisis resource center.
As employees increasingly seek a sense of purpose in the workplace, managers and leaders have the ability to foster a work environment that makes work meaningful.
About the author
Will is a content creator based in Pittsburgh, PA. He started his career as a brand creative, writing commercials for Dr Pepper, Snapple, and Jeep. Will also has a passion for social justice and well-being, and recently took a break from his marketing roles to pursue a master's degree in social work.