Virtual internships: Why ‘engagement and experience’ are key

A new tool from Alexander Mann Solutions aims to help employers transition their intern programs online.
By: | July 1, 2020 • 2 min read
(Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series related to internships and employee recruitment in the era of coronavirus and priorities for HR leaders.

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As most employees remain working from home in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, internships are also following suit and going virtual. But, moving to an online setting isn’t as easy as just creating a series of Zoom meetings.

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“It’s firstly working out the interactions that make work shadowing or on-the-job training successful and then performing a gap analysis to figure out what is mostly likely going to be lost in translation virtually and how these can be recreated,” says Jane Clark, global head of emerging talent consulting at Alexander Mann Solutions.

Read all of HRE‘s coronavirus coverage here.

Lunch and learns, mentor initiatives, virtual social events and access to a broad range of team members, Clark adds, all can help recreate the spontaneity that often fuels engagement during in-person internships.

Engagement and experience are at the heart of Alexander Mann Solutions’ new Virtual Internship Platform. The solution integrates with applicant-tracking, online-learning, core HR and other systems and can be tailored to the employer brand. The VIP tool can facilitate onboarding, and features a live-chat option as well as a 24/7 chatbot.

Jane Clark, Alexander Mann Solutions

“Whether it’s easy access to a recruiter during office hours or the intern-buddy chatbot at all times, interns can get answers to their specific questions when they need to,” she says.

It also allows cohorts of interns to communicate in chat groups, which, she says, can “shape their levels of engagement with their fellow interns.”

Personalization is embedded throughout, Clark says: All communication is personalized, and interns can set preferences on how they want to receive updates or communicate (such as via Zoom or Teams). Interns can “like” content and answer pulse surveys that invite personal feedback.

On the back end, employers can build core content across all interns’ programs as well as tailor content to certain groups. The tool can send alerts if interns aren’t interacting with the assigned content so that adjustments can be made. It also includes psychometric testing to assess skills and personality, which may fuel decisions about the future talent pipeline.

Diversifying the intern base is among the biggest advantages of virtual internships, Clark adds.

Related: How the world’s most admired companies drive D&I

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“There are many benefits to virtual internships, the biggest and most important one for me being the low barrier to entry that technology offers,” she says. “Organizations should be able to reach a much broader audience in terms of diverse candidates than ever before, especially those candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds that office internships may have precluded in the past due to geographical and financial constraints that come with staying away from home.”

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Read part 1 here.

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.