Best Practices for Virtual Internships

May 1, 2020 | By NACE Staff



NACE Journal, May 2020

The following were gleaned from posts in the NACE Community as well as discussions during Town Halls and Virtual Roundtables.

Start with the basics. Your virtual internship should incorporate the elements that give your in-person program value: meaningful work that is tied to your organization’s mission and goals; immersion in your organization’s culture; and the opportunity to build a community with other interns that outlasts the summer.

Re-earn buy-in from your intern managers. Anecdotally, some employers have reported internal resistance to making the internship program virtual. Provide your intern managers with the tools and guidance they need to make the virtual experience work for everyone. Develop a toolkit for your managers that is based on the resources your managers say they need. This might include detailed information about processes, slide decks that the manager can amend for use in onboarding interns to a particular unit, and revamped job descriptions for the interns that reflect the change in environment.

Provide your interns with the necessary technology. If your interns were on site, they would likely be provided with the necessary equipment. Replicate that for their virtual experience. Don’t assume they have wifi or a laptop or access to the various platforms needed to get their work done.

Make your interns’ work meaningful. A virtual experience has a certain amount of “disconnect” baked in, so it is important that you use every opportunity to build connections. Chief among these is giving your interns work that gives them a chance to connect with and contribute to the goals of your organization.

Recognize the challenges your interns face working virtually. Your interns are likely working from home and may not have access to a private space. They will likely need to deal with interruptions, background noise, and other distractions. Don’t misinterpret a lack of privacy as a lack of professionalism.

Have your interns adhere to a schedule. A schedule is fundamental to providing your interns with structure. This doesn’t mean, however, that your schedule has to be static or rigid. You can build in flexibility based on the work and interaction required.

Provide your interns with the opportunity to interact with each other. Connection with other interns is important: Provide the means, e.g., tools and platforms, so they can work in teams as well as connect “socially” and build interactions into their schedules.

Emphasize communication. Schedule regular check-ins with your interns and provide (or ask your intern managers to provide) ongoing feedback.