virtual internships

5 Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know About Creating a Virtual Internship Program

Amid COVID-19, businesses of all sizes are pivoting to offer virtual internship programs for college students and recent postgraduates. As a startup company, you likely depend on the help of interns and freelance workers to carry out your day-to-day tasks. But how do you execute a virtual program?

A virtual internship may look and feel a bit different than an in-house internship, but utilizing certain best practices may help your startup get the extra help it needs (and often for free).

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If you’re considering starting a virtual internship program, make sure to cross the following items off your to-do list:

Set expectations

What are the goals and expectations your have for your virtual internship program? It’s critical that you are able to determine the answers to these questions prior to looking for help:

  • How will the virtual internship program work? You should be able to outline the intern’s daily responsibilities and the number of hours they will work each week.
  • Are there any specific tools interns need? Since you’re operating in a virtual setting, will you need to mail out laptops or tablets? You’ll need to make sure the interns you hire have the devices necessary to do the work. You may also install project management software in these devices to better manage interns and their workloads.
  • Do you have the proper onboarding materials? Make sure your team can quickly get new interns up to speed with information about what your startup does, its mission and the big projects he or she will be working on.
  • Will the program be paid or unpaid? Determine if there is any paid compensation, a work from home stipend, or other monetary incentives available for virtual internships. You’ll also need to confirm whether or not interns will be working for college credit.

Related: Download StartupNation’s FREE COVID-19 E-Book!

Strategize remote onboarding 

Just like an in-person internship, virtual ones require a certain amount of onboarding and orientation prior to the start date. Begin preparing a few weeks out by strategizing onboarding and orientation with your team members who will be working with your interns the most.

Virtual onboarding tasks, such as filling out paperwork, is made easier with software made to help you with paperwork and HR documents, like DocuSign and HelloSign.

Orientation may consist of online training sessions that are briefly taught by your team members who will be working directly with interns. These sessions may also be a series of informational pre-recorded videos, webinars or PowerPoint slides. Make sure your team is available post-orientation to answer any onboarding questions.

Outline any necessary technology

Part of your onboarding should cover the tools and apps necessary for your virtual interns to stay connected. Some of these may include but are limited to the following:

  • Online file sharing: Encourage interns to utilize your team’s online file sharing platform, like G Suite or Dropbox.
  • Project management tools: Collaboration tools like Airtable and Asana make it easy for interns to quickly log in, review assignments and organize their workloads.
  • Videoconferencing apps: Utilize popular videoconferencing platforms include Zoom, Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting.
  • Communication tools: Set your intern up with an email address and loop him or her into your Slack channel.

Additionally, if interns need to keep track of their hours worked, make sure you have the proper timesheet software installed in their electronic device to get started.

Stay connected

As COVID-19 continues, it’s critical that virtual internships do not exist simply to assign interns work and leave them to finish it. Interns should be able to feel as though they are part of the team and the company culture — even while remote.

You can ensure proper connection and communication by following these tips:

  • Engage with your interns every day: This may be via Slack messages, emails, texts or all of the above. Make sure interns know they can come to you with any questions, thoughts or feedback.
  • Get creative when taking meetings: Consider hosting morning breakfast meetings through Zoom or afternoon lunches together. If you have remote activities, like trivia night after work, let interns join in with the rest of the team. This is a great way to give interns the chance to meet everyone and learn more about their roles in the company.
  • Create “hands on” assignments for interns: Consider assigning interns to work on assignments like case studies or specific projects that give them the chance to build real world experience as they continue to work remotely.
  • Schedule in feedback and review sessions: Use this time to check in with interns and see how their work is progressing. Allow them to ask questions, brainstorm ideas for upcoming initiatives together, and see what (if anything) needs to be done better or differently in the internship.

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Offer to provide ongoing professional development support

Post-internship, stay connected! Write a positive recommendation for their LinkedIn page, or offer to introduce your intern to a connection you have that is in the same field as the intern and may act as their mentor. You may even consider bringing an intern on full-time in the future. And if you’re not in the position to make full-time hires once the internship is over, you can continue to provide support and cultivate your relationship in other ways.

Key takeaways

Many students are choosing to put their studies on hold, forgoing a virtual fall semester of classes for the real-world experience a virtual internship will provide them. You may find that hiring virtual interns this fall provides numerous benefits to your business.

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