How to Create a Great Virtual Internship for Your Business

Everyone dreads an unengaged intern. It’s difficult making space in your schedule to take on an intern as it is. Not to mention the amount of precious time you’ll have to use training them. That’s a lot to risk when at the end of the internship you may have nothing to show for your efforts.

A virtual intern can almost feel more daunting. How can you hope to keep someone interested and engaged when they don’t even see you in person? Will you have to chase them for work every day?

These worries may be unfounded. A five-year study by the Internship Institute found that “A qualified manager can gain 225 full 8-hour workdays of productivity in a calendar year by effectively utilizing college interns.”

Interns want to work. They just need to feel like their internship matters and that you are prepared to let help them make a difference in your business.

Preparing for your first virtual internship is not so different from preparing for an in-person internship. The main differences will be in who your applicants are and how you will communicate.

Here are the questions you need to ask yourself when designing your virtual internship.


1. What should your intern work on?

If you’re having trouble thinking of what your intern should do, look at where your needs are:

Do you have busy work piling up?

It’s common in small businesses for senior-level employees to get caught up in menial day-to-day tasks that take away from their real job. This is a perfect opportunity for you to hire an intern to boost productivity.

A remote intern can be a great opportunity to take small tasks off your hands like:

  1. research
  2. filling out forms
  3. comparing reports
  4. troubleshooting
  5. creating presentations

These may seem like dull tasks to you, but for an intern looking to get their start, even these tasks can be valuable provided they come with some mentorship.

Is there a new entry-level position you want to hire for?

Maybe you have a potential opening at your company where you would like to recruit some young talent but want to give it a trial run first.

Tasks involving new technology that your current staff may not know well like social media and SEO may be a perfect opportunity to bring in an intern. It can be a way for you to explore new avenues for your business without committing all the way.

A virtual intern can slowly begin taking on tasks for the position and move into a full-time role when you think they are ready.


2. What time do you have available for your remote intern?

Internships aren’t just cheap work, they also require your time. Interns are looking for mentorship from your business. Before committing you should make sure to ask yourself these questions:

Do you have any experienced staff available?

An internship is a rare opportunity for a novice to learn from the best. While your top staff may be busy people, learning from them could be extremely inspiring and beneficial for your intern, especially if you intend to hire them later.

See if you can free up a senior staff member for at least an hour each week or per month to meet with your intern and make sure they have some guidance.

Who will answer day-to-day questions?

Besides senior staff availability, you’ll need someone available who can answer any passive questions about projects. Find someone who has room in their day-to-day schedule and make them the internship program manager. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but a little regular interaction will help your remote intern feel involved.

For example:

A developer collaboration platform called GitLab has been running its business remotely for some time. They created an “onboarding buddy” system for new hires. GitLab picks a team member to be the main point of contact for new team members. The onboarding buddy is responsible for making sure interns and new hires are introduced to other employees.


3. What are your goals for your intern? How long will they take to achieve?

Internships can feel pretty useless to both your intern and you as an employer if you don’t sit down and figure out what you want first. You must formulate clear, effective goals for your intern so you both can feel like something was accomplished.

Sometimes you can work this out with the intern once they get started, but more often than not it’s good to have these laid out already. An easy system to follow is the SMART goals framework: 

  1. Specific – Avoid general goals like, “make ____ better”. What does “better” look like as a number? A better goal would be something like, “increase website traffic by 10%.”
  2. Measurable – How can you know that the goal was accomplished?
  3. Achievable – Make sure it’s something that can be done by someone who is still learning and in the time frame you’ve planned.
  4. Relevant – An internship should do something that actually benefits the company. Don’t just makeup busywork. It will leave everyone less inspired.
  5. Time-based – Have a definite endpoint. Internships aren’t meant to go on forever. Write down what you need to see in your intern before you are ready to move them into a full position. If they are just on for a couple of months, then what is something you could reasonably expect them to complete in a couple of months?


4. How will you communicate with your intern?

Once you have your timeframe, goals, tasks, and supervision ironed out, you’ve more or less designed an ordinary internship. The extra challenge from the virtual internship is deciding how you will communicate.

Remote internships bring a couple of extra communication challenges to the workplace including:

  1. Dealing with different time zones
  2. Keeping interns engaged
  3. Making interns feel like they are part of the team

Here are some things you should consider when deciding how you will keep in touch remotely.

Choose your primary form of communication wisely

Poor communication planning can waste hours of your time. Figure out what your primary form of communication will be with your intern. Will you be using email, video calls, a messenger service, or all three? Each form has different advantages depending on what you want your intern to do.

For example:

A messenger app like Slack may be better for remote interns that require a lot of correspondence. Email may be better for a more project-based intern, especially if your staff is too busy to answer small questions or they’re in a different time zone. Video calls are a nice tool for giving your internship a personal touch, especially if you want them to move into a client-facing role or meet with a manager.

Find creative ways to make your interns feel involved

Remote communication doesn’t have to be a limiting factor for your internship either.  There are many ways you can use it to enhance the experience of your interns. For example, in an article for Harvard Business Review, Intel revealed some ways they virtually enhanced their interns’ experience:

As a substitute for in-office “water cooler” conversations, we created a monthly speed networking activity, which allowed interns to reserve 15-minute sessions to meet with other interns and employees.

We also gave interns opportunities to spend an hour with full-time employees for coffee and coaching on a more formal basis. Through this process, we enlisted 150 employees — from new college graduates to senior directors across nearly every business unit at Intel — to submit their bios for interns to review and choose which representative they’d like to chat with. This gave interns the ability to connect with employees based on how their background and work at Intel resonated with their own personal interests and professional goals.


Where will you find your virtual intern?

Finding the right intern is just as important as planning the internship. But there are so many places to find an intern today that it can be overwhelming for an HR department.

Should you use a big job board like Indeed or Glassdoor? Should you post your spots in dedicated Facebook groups? Should you do both?

If you spread a wide net on the internet to find interns, then you’ll have a lot of applications to search through for a candidate. If you’re a small business, it may not be worth your time to sift through all the candidates and that could land you a subpar intern.

Ideally, you should find a third-party service that can help you narrow down your options.

We created Virtual Internships as that third-party service helping potential employers like you find highly skilled interns perfectly matched to your roles. Our team gathers interns from top universities and government programs worldwide and assess their skills to provide the best fit for all of our partner businesses.

The best part? You can sign up and match with an intern with us completely free. We’ll even help your design the internship. All you need to do is fill out the form on our website with your company email, and we can walk you through everything you need to do to create a productive virtual internship this year at no charge to you.

Sign Up Today

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