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  • Duolingo Takes Strategic, Innovative Steps in Virtual Internship Program

    April 17, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    Internships
    An intern with Duolingo attends a virtual check in as part of the company's virtual internship program during the coronavirus pandemic.

    TAGS: best practices, internships, operations, spotlight, coronavirus

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Duolingo has always hosted interns in-person at its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, due to COVID-19, the company has decided to move entirely to a virtual program for the summer. There are several strategic and innovative steps it is taking to ensure it delivers a valuable experience for interns in this virtual work environment. 

    “We have created an internship program framework that can be executed both in-person and virtually,” explains Renee Davis, Duolingo’s university recruiting manager.

    “Our primary goal is to make sure we don’t lose the elements of our program that Duolingo interns value most: meaningful work tied to our mission, immersion into our company culture, and an intern community that lasts beyond the summer.”

    Davis says that Duolingo has been very transparent with interns about its decisions.

    “One of our company operating principles is to be candid and kind, so we’ve provided consistent updates to interns via email and through our intern Facebook group,” Davis says.

    For intern managers, Duolingo’s university recruiting team has created an intern manager working group to gain insight into how to translate in-person best practices into virtual best practices and to identify the resources that are most important to managers. Based on the information it is gathering, Davis and her team are building a digital toolkit with templates, slide decks, process overviews, and more that managers find most helpful.

    “This will help us preserve those program elements and prepare our intern managers to manage remotely,” Davis explains.

    Duolingo will also host intern manager training sessions before the program starts and facilitate bi-weekly manager meetups throughout the summer, during which managers meet in small groups and discuss tips, learnings, and challenges.

    The university recruiting team has also implemented an innovative structure and resource compilation that will connect interns to Duolingo and to each other in the virtual workspace. These include:

    • Pre-onboarding—Interns and managers will meet via Zoom before the program starts to get to know each other. Additionally, interns and managers are creating short videos to introduce themselves to the intern cohort. Duolingo will compile the videos and share them during its intern welcome sessions to build cohesiveness among start dates.
    • Check-ins—Managers are encouraged to have shorter, more frequent check-ins, instead of longer weekly check-ins. The intent is to provide interns with “real-time” help and feedback. Interns may be reluctant to ask for help, especially virtually, so this will provide daily touch points to alleviate that. Managers will also have more formal midpoint and final performance evaluations with their interns to stay aligned on progress and expectations.
    • Resources—Duolingo is creating a digital toolkit for interns so they have a “one-stop shop” for resources. The toolkit gives them on-demand access to helpful slide decks, documents, and links. Interns and intern managers will fill out an “operating manuals,” which is a one-page guide into how they prefer to work, communicate, and give/receive feedback. This recognizes Duolingo’s understanding that much of this can be lost when interns and managers are not interacting in person, and the importance of having a discussion around working styles. In addition, since clear expectations are critical to successful performance, the company has developed a project template for its managers to use that outlines their intern’s project goal, timeline, and objectives and key results. This will help ensure that interns have meaningful work and clarity on expectations.

    Davis stresses that organizations can convey who they truly are and give a strong sense of their mission and culture in the virtual environment. One major way to do so is to ensure interns have work that contributes to the company’s mission.

    “We hear from our interns year-over-year that opportunity to make an impact is the most valuable part of their experience,” she notes.

    There are other ways to immerse students in the company and its culture. To provide interns with a forum to learn about other teams and projects, Duolingo will host weekly sessions that will provide insight into the various projects happening throughout the company, and sessions that give a deeper look into each team and what it does.

    “We will also have several virtual company culture initiatives that interns will be encouraged to participate in, such as, weekly all-hands meetings via Zoom; monthly employee meet and greets; work-from-home Slack channels to share pet photos, silver linings, and more; and virtual clubs focused on a variety of interests, such as theatre, yoga, running, books, movies, and more,” Davis says.

    She offers some additional strategies for providing beneficial internships virtually, including to:

    • Be transparent—Everyone is adjusting differently right now, especially students. Students appreciate updates even if they are small. Reaching out to them to share when you will be making a decision or sharing insight into what they can expect goes a long way.
    • Be flexible—Not everything is going to translate perfectly from an in-person experience to a virtual one, and that is OK. Understanding that you may have to tweak things along the way will help you manage expectations within your organization.
    • Use technology to connect—There are so many great tools right now to bring people together: Zoom, Microsoft teams, Google Hangouts. Even if you don’t have a video conferencing tool specific to your organization, try to experiment with different things for your interns to give them a more “real” experience. If you’re looking for some fun things for your interns to do, try a virtual game night through Houseparty or a company trivia night using Kahoot.
    • Prepare resources before the internship—Setting up your managers and interns with toolkits that they can access on-demand throughout the summer will help them feel prepared and ensure everyone has access to the same information.