Is a Virtual Internship a Good Idea for Your Business?

What is a Virtual Internship?

If you’re a forward-thinking company who’s always looking for new and interesting components to add to your talent management strategy, why not a virtual internship?

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It may sound a little new age, but it follows larger talent and hiring trends that even small businesses are putting in place throughout the country and the world. Just think about the rise of virtual and remote employees. It’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to embrace these ideas, and the same is going for interns as well.

A virtual internship is most often found in areas such as IT and technology, as well as journalism, content marketing, and within research-centric industries.  

The application process for most virtual internships is pretty similar to what you’d see in a traditional program, but of course, it may be more based around emails, phone calls or video chats.

The Advantages

Possibly one of the most significant benefits of using this type of approach to sourcing interns is that you’re not limited to a talent pool only in your geographic location. If your business is based in Manhattan, finding great intern talent isn’t likely a problem. Talent surrounds you from around the world, and people are also scrambling for the chance to relocate for an internship opportunity.

If you’re not in Manhattan or you’re not a big name, it can be a good way to attract higher caliber possibilities you might not otherwise be able to access.

There really are no limits to the people you could connect with and potentially bring on board as interns because there are no geographic or logistical limitations.

If you find an amazing coding student from somewhere around the globe, you can bring them on as an intern without having to arrange or pay for things like travel and lodging.

You’re going to be able to pull people from diverse backgrounds, unique educational experiences, and people that could bring an entirely new and fresh perspective and approach to your way of doing business, and isn’t that the hope of most intern programs, regardless of whether they’re virtual or traditional?

There’s also been a lot of recent controversy surrounding interns, with many complaining they’re treated poorly and not paid for the tremendous amount of time they put forward. With a virtual program, there’s less of a chance of a controversy like this arising, and you can keep better tabs on how work is being assigned to an intern. You may even be able to pay the intern a small hourly wage since you’re saving on the overhead costs that could come with having them in the office.

You can really focus on assigning the work that is going to be most valuable to both the intern and your organization, rather than having someone come into the office and turn into a coffee runner.

While there are those advantages, what about the disadvantages?

The Disadvantages

One of the big problems is that part of the intern experience is about getting that hands-on office interaction that most college students haven’t yet had an opportunity for.

Interns are meant to see what it’s like in a day-to-day work environment in the field they’re interested in, and these programs are also a great time for these young people to build networks that can benefit them in their job search.

If you have traditional interns, you may also find you’re able to build a relationship with them to cultivate them into the ideal future employee. It’s much harder to build that kind of relationship, or even to offer mentorship opportunities when you’re only working with someone virtually.

It can also be hard to get a real feel for the intern’s quality of work and potential in a virtual environment. Let’s say you’re in public relations or marketing, and you have an employee who’s terrific at writing press releases, but you won’t have the chance to know how well that person performs interacting with journalists, getting the message out there or building those relationships that are pivotal in your industry.

This might not matter in an industry where personal interaction isn’t important or where most employees already work remotely, but if not, it can pose a drawback to the virtual intern concept.

Additionally, on-the-job experience is a great way for interns to not just do the tasks they’re assigned, but to find ways to expand their role in a position, and this is something that’s almost entirely unavailable in a virtual setting.

Managing Virtual Interns

If you weigh the pros and cons and decide this type of arrangement is right for your business, it’s time to start the planning process, which requires some special management skills.

If you’re already managing virtual or remote employees, you may have that system in place. If this is new to you, it’s important to base your internship on tools and technology that will pave the way for a lot of communication.

The more communication, the better.

A project management tool like Basecamp or Google Docs is also a good thing to include as part of your overall internship strategy.

Remember, an internship should be valuable for both parties involved, so create goals that highlight not just your expectations for your intern, but also the expectations you hold for yourself as a manager. Set benchmarks for how often you’ll communicate, how and when you’ll provide feedback, and when you’ll “get together” with your intern just to gauge how everything is going. Try your best to create that mentorship relationship which is such an essential component of traditional internships.

You might also consider the development of an onboarding and culture introduction training program for your virtual intern, to get them to the point where they feel like part of your team, rather than some random outsider who completes a few tasks every week.

So let us know your thoughts after taking a look at the pros and cons of a virtual internship—something you think could be valuable to your business, or no?

March 18, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   internships   

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