Creating an Effective Virtual Internship Programme

So, how has all of this impacted the internship industry?

Internships have long been great career progression tools for those looking to home in on their experiences within any given industry. The digital marketing and business sectors in particular, it’s much easier to host a virtual intern – given that our workspaces can now much more easily be transferred to online spaces. With the use of business tools such as Slack, Trello, and you got it – Zoom – we can now work both cross-culturally and without those traditional borders that might have once held us back. With many still looking for employment online, it’s safe to say there is also an influx of motivated virtual interns looking for suitable positions across the board.

Virtual internships offer a range of benefits that extend to both sides of the agreement. Without the costly expenses associated with re-locating or travelling to and from the physical location of the business they’re working for, virtual interns themselves have more freedom (and time) to concentrate fully on the job at hand. These freedoms make career progression a much more viable opportunity for many, even those living on the other side of the world.

Similarly, these benefits work in favour of those of us hosting and hiring virtual interns as well. With the range of applicants potentially much bigger as they’re not too limited by physical location or a lack of funding, we have access to a much greater pool of potential when it comes to sourcing the perfect intern! Renumeration costs in covering the interns’ expenses (if those are offered) become much lower, allowing us to invest in even greater areas regarding their personal development and growth as they work within our businesses.

So, how can we make the most of these digital developments and host the perfect internship? One that harnesses these new working processes, and makes the most of both the intern’s skills – and our potential to help them thrive in such an environment? There are plenty of guides out there dedicated to virtual interns themselves… But what about the other side – hosting a virtual internship? This Innovationly guide to hiring a virtual intern should help.

Planning Your Virtual Internship Programme

Before hiring a virtual intern, it’s imperative that you first plan it all out. This is perhaps the most important stage, as you don’t want to hire someone (or even a group of interns) without first knowing what their ultimate objectives in completing the internship should be. Every internship programme should have a dedicated course of action that aims to guide your interns through various steps in teaching them about the ‘ins and outs’ of your business. That’s why they’re here after all, to learn.

Hosting an intern without direction is a recipe for disaster. Here’s what you should plan out before hiring a virtual intern:

  • Length of internship

Internships can be any length – it often depends on the results they’re looking to gain from working with your company, and also what you’d like to see from them. There is obviously greater freedom when working digitally, since people aren’t so confined to restrictions regarding rental periods or money. Outlining the ideal length of the internship should help you plan out the programme effectively, ensuring everything they need to learn in that time is included.

  • Identify work schedule, hours, days off

An easy one – how much do you expect them to put into this? Do they have other commitments that may require the balancing of time and organisation? Laying out the foundation for what you expect beforehand – and being clear about it – can avoid any issues in the long run.

  • Renumeration opportunities

Depending on the industry, renumeration for internships can vary. Some aren’t paid, but with the expectation that the intern will in turn receive in-depth training opportunities that will then allow them to advance further in their career. They’ll also expect to be able to put this on their CV, and potentially use you as a reference for future opportunities. Renumeration for interns can depend on the working hours expected, workload, or traditionally to cover travel and lunch expenses. Budget how much you’re willing to put into this, and obviously ensure each intern is paid the same since they’re on the same level.

  • Digital spaces to work within

While offline internships may usually present the intern with a physical desk or workspace, virtual internships involve the set up of digital tools they can use to work collaboratively.

  • Onboarding guides and information packs

Giving some information beforehand about your company culture, background, and expectations for staff can help massively in welcoming your new intern to the business. This is par for the course with any entry position at a company, and can help generate a sense of belonging.

  • Schedule regular feedback meetings and progress points for mentorship

Depending on the timeframe through which the internship will take place, you’ll want to make sure your virtual intern never feels forgotten! This can be even easier done when working in virtual spaces, since they’re not physically there to request help. Being an intern can also be daunting, especially if it’s a first internship – so they may be reluctant to reach out and seek feedback. Setting out these regular progress reviews before the internship begins is a great way to ensure dedicated time slots where you and each intern can meet (perhaps via Zoom), and discuss how everything’s going. Outline what should be covered in each feedback meeting – are their expectations being met? Are yours? What have they struggled with, and where can you help? Being upfront and honest with feedback provides better frameworks for improvement and growth.

  • Create a sense of company culture and community online

This is a difficult one, but it’s essential if your virtual intern is to feel a genuine part of your company. A great way to introduce them to everyone is to host an introductory meeting. During this meeting, everyone should outline their role in the company, and contact details of all the essential people your intern may need to communicate with throughout the internship should be provided. Don’t make it too formal if your company doesn’t operate like that! Try an introductory game where everyone states their interests, hobbies, and even personal goals for the future. This helps bring some personality to each face behind the screen!

  • Set standards!

Working as a virtual intern, people might be at a loss as to how often they should get in touch, submit work, and the like. Set out standards for what you expect during the onboarding process, and this will solve potential questions that may arise in the future. Another consideration – how professional do you want them to act? Keeping things light is a great way to foster feelings of company community, but it’s good to train interns in professional conduct so they can move on to further opportunities having learned a thing or two about appropriate business behaviour.

  • Outline objectives and potential for future progress

Ultimately, you’re both getting something out of this internship. Outline 3 or 4 key objectives that your intern should aim to meet by the time the internship comes to an end. You can even do this with them during the onboarding process. Communicating with them and figuring out what it is they want to learn can help you create a more tailored internship experience for your virtual intern.

Share Opportunities and Postings Online

The next step after planning, is to share the opportunities that you do have online. A great space to do this is LinkedIn, as there are always plenty of diligent students and starting out professionals looking for opportunities. You might want to use multiple avenues and platforms to share your virtual internship opportunity – not everybody uses LinkedIn. Often, there are dedicated industry spaces where companies can post up and coming positions, so this depends on what area you’re working within.

As you share your virtual internship posting, be sure to be upfront about your overall expectations. Include the responsibilities involved, renumeration, preferred length of the internship (though you might want to keep this open for discussion), and preferred past experience. Be open about what your company does – you don’t want an influx of irrelevant candidates that have no interest in working for you, since you weren’t clear about your business in the initial posting.

Conduct Interviews and Get Hiring!

Obviously for a virtual internship, it makes sense that interviews will be conducted online through a platform such as Zoom. You may prefer call-only interviews, but video format is arguably more beneficial in adding that personal touch to your meetings. Set out a series of questions before you conduct interviews, so you can gather a picture of how the intern will work, behave, and whether they will mesh with your company well based on personality.

Some question ideas for hiring a virtual intern:

  • How do you think this position is a good fit for you?
  • What do you expect to achieve by the end of this internship?
  • What’s your ideal career? How do you expect to get there?
  • Are there any previous work experiences you’ve had that you wish could have been better? What would have made them more impactful?
  • Which tools do you think could help you succeed in this internship?
  • Are there any limitations to what you can achieve via virtual work?

After the Internship

Here are some of our tips on how to keep moving forward with your interns after the internship has ended.

  • Keep in contact – Once the virtual internship ends, it’s a great idea to stay in touch. Don’t just brush them off and forget about it – an internship is often a pivotal experience for those wishing to move further in their career.
  • Give organised feedback – They may be looking for honest feedback, so you might want to compile the results and discussions previously made throughout those feedback meetings. This means your virtual intern can notice where they’ve grown, and will hopefully identify the internship with your company as a positive experience!

  • Write a recommendation letter – Your intern has likely put a lot of effort into this position, and writing them a future recommendation letter can make them feel it was all worth the time and resources spent! This can also help them progress further as they move on to alternative positions. If you want to become a reference, this is a great way to do it. Make sure to give permission for them to include your contact details on a CV or reference sheet.

  • Discuss potential future opportunities – Interns sometimes expect, depending on their performance, that you might want to keep them on in your company. This goes for both virtual and physical internships! If there are suitable opportunities, you might save time and resources by keeping them on or keeping them in mind for future hires. They’ve already got to grips with company culture and understand your processes. Don’t waste this!

Hopefully, the above guide will have given you an informative overview of how you can design, pull together and implement your virtual internship. Hiring a virtual intern is becoming much more commonplace, but getting it right from the start is vital in curating that positive experience for the both of you.

Handy Business Resources by Innovationly

If this article has piqued your interest, take a look at our other blog posts dedicated to business growth and guidance. At Innovationly, we’re in this to disrupt the business industry in specific areas – including in helping startups grow from the get go, both on and offline. Due to our commitment in providing free quality resources that can help, we plan to extend our outreach and generate upcoming articles that can help you, your business, and those within it thrive.

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