Jay Samit, a leading Hollywood digital media technology executive and author, once said:
“The very first thing I tell every intern on the first day is that their internship exists solely on their resume. As far as I am concerned, they are a full-time member of my team. For all the negative stereotypes about millennials, you would be astounded by how hard they work when they believe their contribution matters.”
When COVID-19 struck, many organisations around the world found ways to make sure work progressed without too many hindrances – thanks to the en-masse shift to remote work. This also included making internships virtual, as far as possible.
What is a virtual internship?
A virtual internship allows the participants, known as interns, to gain work experience without having to be physically present at the job location. A host of communication tools and applications – emails, Slack, Zoom/Microsoft Teams and others – ensure ease of communication and interns get to dip their toes in and get a feel of the organization.
So, what are some of the pros and cons of virtual internships?
No geographic limitations – Post the onset of the pandemic, companies are more open to hiring remote employees and interns too. The American multinational technology company Intel ran a virtual internship for 5,700 participants in 32 countries in the year 2020 and found that their virtual internship program outshone their traditional internships. The success of the virtual internship program has prompted Intel to continue with their virtual-only internship program at least till September 2021.
Find the right fit – The horizons have expanded for employers, enabling them to consider applications from students all over the world and hire interns who are the best fit for a specific job description. The opportunity to hire interns who contribute to achieving your organization’s diversity goals is higher through virtual internships.
Build a strong and robust talent pipeline: Remote internships act as a strategic recruitment tool for many top organisations. In this day and age where remote hiring is the de facto way to find new talent, virtual internships give you an opportunity to evaluate an intern’s work performance before making a decision to offer a job at your organisation.
Enhance your employer brand: A well-designed and planned virtual internship program could be just what you need to catapult your brand in the eyes of fresh graduates. Your organisation’s ability to quickly switch to virtual internships, due to unexpected circumstances, showcases its ability to efficiently handle change. A positive experience during internships leads interns to not only decide to join your organisation as full-time associates, if offered a job, but also recommend your organisation to friends or family members.
Absence of an office environment – The absence of an office environment and face-to-face interaction, and no possibility of the hand holding that many interns require to be successful at work, could be a deterrent to the success of a remote internship. Interns will have to be self-starters and highly self-motivated in order to thrive in the current remote work environment. Moreover, remote internships might not provide an environment that is conducive to the development of work-related social skills, such as listening skills, adaptability skills and empathy.
Lack of maturity and irregular work hours – Due to the lack of experience in an actual work environment, interns are often considered immature and even commitment-phobic. Not just that – if the interns you have hired are still in college and attending regular classes, the hours they are available for work may be few and might not match with the hours the rest of the team is online.
Remote work is prone to technical glitches – Interns might also struggle with getting to understand and using software tools that are needed to be productive at work. Without anyone to guide them, they are often on their own to solve such issues and this would take away from the productive time that an intern puts into work.
A win-win for both
An SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) article states that in spite of some of the drawbacks, there has been a whopping 6,000 percent increase in internship postings this year compared to last year. Before dismissing interns as being green behind the ears, keep in mind that those out of university are highly motivated and eager to prove themselves. Today’s fresh graduates know that the job environment is not easy. Good jobs are hard to come by and hence most of them are keen to put their best foot forward during their internships. In the days to come, there is no doubt that virtual internships will become a part of the new normal.