Lessons Learned from a 2020 Virtual Intern Program

As a result of the pandemic, many companies were forced to conduct virtual summer internship programs in 2020. Magnified Events had the opportunity to work with one such company, helping to plan and execute the social aspects of a virtual program involving over 800 global interns. Although most would agree that an in-person program is better suited for making new connections, a virtual program, if done properly, can still be very effective. Our experience, including the feedback we received from the interns themselves, is worth sharing. As organizations plan for the summer of 2021, here are some tips for running a powerful and impactful virtual or hybrid internship program.  

  • Start the planning process early.  We now know the landscape and what our options may be for the 2021 interns – virtual, hybrid or in-person. Start planning by first evaluating what worked and didn’t work for your company (and your competitors) this past year. 
  • Send a fun welcome package to participants before the program begins. This does not have to be physically mailed. There are many other fun ways to send items or information. Whichever method you choose, consider including a link or QR code to a video that explains the program with its highlights. Make this video upbeat and fun to start the excitement early!
  • Build a robust social aspect into your summer program.  Placing interns on small social ‘teams’ provides many opportunities for casual peer-to-peer connections. Challenges, games and spontaneous meetings (whether in-person or virtual) are great ways to facilitate relationships on many levels – not just business.
  • Make the first week BIG. In a virtual situation, so many of the important firsts are non-existent. Our data indicates this as the best time to grab the interns’ attention. Interns are not yet immersed in work and they are anxious to start the program and meet their co-workers and fellow interns. With respect to this first week, our data revealed that 99% of our invitations to join social events were accepted and up to 95% of participants used our social platform on a daily basis. 
  • Include the business area managers in your plans and get their buy-in. In our experience, management participation made a huge impact. Interns that had managers who promoted the social components of the program and encouraged involvement were much more likely to participate and feel more connected. 
  • Understand your technology options and constraints. Your company may have regulatory or technological obstacles that limit your ability to use additional platforms or links for program enhancement. It is vital to collaborate with your compliance and/or IT departments to understand these internal restrictions prior to the start of the program.  
  • Incorporate your corporate culture into the program. There are many ways to convey your corporate culture and messaging through virtual activities. By customizing the experience to include information unique to your company, your interns will feel more connected and excited about the opportunity.
  • Communication is key. Plan for an effective way to communicate information to your interns, as well as a way for interns to communicate with each other. It’s inevitable that changes to an agenda will occur during the course of the program. There are many messaging platforms that can provide a single location for communications to take place. 
  • Prizes are appreciated! Prizes can come in many forms – from gift cards to company swag to face time with senior members of your firm. They help drive participation and add a fun level of competition to the program. 
  • Allow for self-paced activities. Many interns quickly get into the workflow and can feel overwhelmed. Allow for some of the social activities to be done on an individual basis and at any time to help avoid stress.  It is also important to have a mix of optional social activities that are fun and not an obligation. 
  • Do not make the mistake of thinking all in-person events can be reproduced virtually. Our experience and data suggest that most interns do not want to sit at their computers and watch a DJ playing music or a similar type performance. They crave more interactive activities. Based upon our surveys, the most popular activities were interactive, purpose-driven, fun and quick.    

The intern situation for summer 2021 is still uncertain. However, if your company is planning another virtual program, or maybe a hybrid situation, we hope that what we learned and found effective for us will help you get started in your planning process. 

We wish you much success in creating an amazing 2021 experience for your summer interns!

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