Dear Addi P.,

Due to the pandemic, I need to come up with ways to develop a virtual internship program while my workforce is still remote. How can I bring recent graduates into my organization and give them the feel of real-world office experience?

— Virtual in Virginia

Dear Virtual in Virginia,

I have some suggestions for improving internship programs that I think could work for you. If you implement these strategies, you'll have a virtual internship program that gives new grads the real-world experience they crave and develops potential candidates for your workforce in the process.

Setting goals

As with any solid program, setting goals is critical. Do this not only for your interns but also for your staff. Keep in mind that for virtual internships, your intern will need to learn two basic things: the job itself and how to work efficiently outside the office. Your HR team, on the other hand, will need to learn how to manage and monitor interns in a remote setting.

To start, approach virtual internships like you would in-person internships and determine what projects your interns will be working on. Base this on organizational needs and what you hope to gain, which can help provide strong insight into your organization should interns have interest in joining you full-time. Then define what will make your virtual internship program an educational and rewarding experience. For instance, will your program involve certain technologies for communications? Perhaps it will include access to case studies and simulations to help achieve guided, real-world experience.

Communicate all goals with your HR team to ensure buy-in and commitment — a successful virtual internship program depends on it. Also be sure to develop individual expectations such as work availability, online conduct (e.g., turn on cameras during calls) and learning objectives for both your interns and your staff.

Providing proper technology and resources

Think about the technology your interns will need to effectively work and communicate in a remote setting. Common tools to consider are video conferencing platforms and apps for messaging and productivity tracking. Technology will be critical overall to program success and will be your primary tool for managing remote teams. Make sure to supply your interns with a computer in advance of their start date to ensure there's enough time for setup.

Additionally, you should provide a contact number for IT to help with any tech issues. Consider offering work-from-home stipends so your interns can purchase desks, chairs or other items needed to complete a proper remote workspace.

On top of setting up interns for success, this can also establish goodwill and help make your business an attractive place to work.

Training interns and managers

A month or so before your virtual internship program begins, make sure all participants have their onboarding materials such as a digital employee handbook and information on your business's policy and culture. It's also good to provide information about how they can engage with other employees online and direct them to the proper forums for any feedback or questions.

Have your training initiatives devised in advance and facilitated by your HR team. Also be sure to relay information regarding online orientations and required online trainings, whether it's work-related areas like software training or general skills areas like time management.

Designate a manager to keep track of your interns' development and progress. Have a training plan for your managers, too, as they'll be the ones responsible for many facets of your virtual internship program, including managing schedules and evaluating performance. If your managers have worked with interns in the past, be sure to bring them up to speed on best practices for virtual engagement. Also bear in mind that creating a strong relationship between managers and interns can help further establish a potential pipeline for future talent for your organization.

In addition, consider conducting online satisfaction surveys throughout your virtual internship program to identify areas for improvement.

Offering mentorship and networking skills

Keep in mind that many interns have limited professional experience outside of the classroom, so it's important to offer guidance through mentorship. Conduct bi-weekly, one-on-one virtual meetings with your interns to listen to feedback, provide encouragement and ensure productivity. Give them meaningful projects that will allow growth and learning in their area of interest. Additionally, show them how their work connects back to your business needs and outcomes.

Interns are naturally curious about the experiences of other interns, whether at your organization or elsewhere. This offers an opportunity to introduce the concept of professional networking – albeit remotely. Consider scheduling a virtual meet-up among the interns at your company or partner with other organizations.

To help foster networking skills, managers can offer tips and practice for the interns during bi-weekly meetings. These skills – whether used in person or during a video chat – are valuable in the world of work beyond those required for performing a specific job.

By following these suggestions for improving internship programs, you can continue to build a strong candidate pipeline, even during a pandemic.

Take care,

Addi P.

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Addi P. is a digital character who represents the human expertise of ADP. The questions and challenges come from professionals who manage people at companies of all sizes. The advice comes from ADP experts who have a deep understanding of the issues and a passion for helping leaders create a better workplace. If you have a challenge you'd like to pose for Addi P, complete this simple form.

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