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Hiring Remote Interns

The skillsets that recruiters seek when considering candidates for remote work at any level include an appreciation for self-learning and the ability to be self-directed, organize oneself and work asynchronously.

Interns will come to the table with limited experience in this area, but recruiters can screen for some of these qualities during the interview process to provide insight into how they've operated virtually in the past.

Questions to ask remote internship candidates
  • Tell me about a time when you moved a group project forward, at work or school, where you were in a different physical place than your other team members?

    • Particularly for university students, chances are high that they have worked remotely on an important project. Dig for details on how they enjoyed it, what challenges they faced, and how they coped.

  • Have you ever taken an online course or training session? If so, describe your process for managing your own time, respecting deadlines, requesting assistance, and solving problems.

  • Are you an active member of an online community, or do you have experience managing logistics remotely for in-person events/gatherings?

  • Have you completed freelance work for remote clients, and would you be willing to provide references upon request?

  • Have you thought about where you would work remotely if offered this internship?

    • Managers should not expect a precise answer to this, as even senior staff should experiment with workspaces, but it's useful to understand if the candidate has considered this element (GitLab.com, 2020).

“ Remote interns are essentially learning two fundamental things: the job itself, and how to work well with no office. In turn, it's important to calibrate expectations and what is measured. ”
GitLab.com, 2020

Strategies for Success

Conducting a virtual internship remotely requires special care and consideration from everyone involved. This is particularly important as interns are usually newcomers to the workplace. (GitLab.com, 2020)

Ensure technology works
  • Ensure that both the organization’s technology, and the student’s, can handle the tasks that will be assigned, particularly if a VPN will be required for their work.

  • Help candidates understand how to set up a virtual workspace that allows them to conduct their work professionally.

Establish and share defined learning goals
  • Frame and share the scope of the position and the work it will entail, including a defined work plan, a timeline in which the work needs to be accomplished, and any special long-term projects.

  • Project work tends to be particularly suited for a remote experience.

  • For credit-based internships, these goals will need to be aligned with the student’s academic requirements.

Develop a robust on-boarding experience
  • Creating a robust orientation process is particularly important for a virtual internship as this may be the first professional experience for the intern.

  • Help interns feel connected to and supported by the organization through: 

    • staff introductions via real-time meetings hosted on a video platform

    • reviewing of the internship goals

    • providing a clear framework for how to operate remotely including how to check in with supervisors and clarifying work hours

  • Introduce students to other virtual interns and staff mentors.

Ensure thoughtful and timely feedback
  • Provide timely check-ins and communication that is clear.

  • Leverage the appropriate tool for the message:

    • Email can be handy for quick check-ins or status reports

    • Online project management tools are efficient resources for assigning and managing tasks.

    • Deeper conversations should use synchronous platforms like videoconferencing or the phone.

Provide a defined schedule
  • Providing a defined schedule will be helpful for both the intern supervisor to evaluate a student’s progress and for the new intern to know that they are on track.

  • This is very important for those internships that are credit-based and require documented hours.

  • A framework will help the intern enhance their ability to better manage their time when they have a clear picture of what is expected of them.

Earmark time for organizational involvement
  • Although much of the intern’s time will be spent engaging directly with their supervisor and/or unit colleagues, it is important to help the student feel connected to the entire organization. Make a student feel a part of the organization by:

    • asking them to participate in organizational meetings

    • having them interview or remotely shadowing executives

    • engaging them in collaborative projects

    • allowing them to provide project presentations

Provide context around work and tasks
  • It is critical to provide the details and important context for each week’s assignments to the student in advance. This allows students to be better organized in their work and to know when they will need to seek additional information to accomplish their work objectives.

  • Supervisors are encouraged to provide context around the intern’s work during individual meetings.

    • Explaining why their work is important and how it is contributing to the greater good of the organization can have a profound impact on the intern’s growth and overall experience.

Include project work
  • Choosing non-essential or back burner projects is recommended.

  • Provide students with access to and training with online project management tools will assist the student in organizing their work and provide the supervisor with another way in which to track their intern’s progress.

  • Offer interns the opportunity to work on cohort-based or cross-unit project work to help develop those all-important teamwork skills and learn more about a company and its mission.

Facilitate mentoring and social engagement
  • Set time aside for interns to share their experiences with other interns or newer employees can help to build a feeling of community.

  • Be creative in planning synchronous activities that bring interns together for informal fun and/or connects them to alumni, mid-level management, and executives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Virtual internships can be uncharted territory for the organization, supervisor, and intern involved. Contact the Career Services team to find additional support.

Why a virtual internship instead of a traditional experience?

Flexibility is one of the great advantages of a virtual internship – neither students looking to gain experience nor companies looking for talent are bound by geographical limitations.

Virtual internships can allow students to work when and where they want while opening up a whole new talent pool for employers.

What are the benefits?

The first is the removal of geographical limitations. Interns can work wherever they are comfortable, and companies can consider talent outside of the areas that they would normally recruit.

This gives the organization the opportunity to make the internship more project-based, adding value to the organization and allowing students to tackle real problems and get a well-rounded internship experience.

What challenges should we anticipate?

You will need to make sure that your organization's IT department has the capability to support remote workers. This may include VPN access and access to other technologies that the organization utilizes.

Cybersecurity is something else you will need to address with interns – make sure to discuss this with them during training. With a virtual internship relying so heavily on technology, it is paramount that the interns take security seriously.

Another key factor is communication. Expectations need to be set with supervisors to make sure they have daily check-ins with the interns they oversee, otherwise, they run the risk of their interns feeling disconnected from the organization.

How do we make a virtual experience engaging?

This is probably the most important thing to consider while building a virtual internship. How do you recreate the interactions that they would have in the office every day?

The most important part is assigning them a direct supervisor, as well as a mentor/coach. Regular check-ins with both should be built into the interns’ weekly schedule.

Social and networking events can be scheduled throughout the internship. These don’t have to be quite as often, but a bi-weekly or monthly intern networking event can be a great way for the interns to get to know each other, and others throughout the organization.

Consider events that are professional in nature. Hold trainings and professional development workshops as a way to get interns engaged with each other.

Career Services @