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Best Practices and Tips for Virtual Internships

April 23, 2020 Talent
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The University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) shared these best practices and tips for employers that are considering hosting virtual internships. These guidelines are designed to help employers establish successful virtual internships that benefit both the organization as well as student interns.

Virtual internships can be as equally rewarding as an on-site internship for both employers and students. Working remotely allows for flexibility and safety for students and employers, especially during times of global change. Following some of the suggested tips and guidelines below will ensure a successful virtual internship experience.

Start Strong: Setting Up for Success

Allocate more time prior to, as well as at the start of, the internship for the following: 

  • Select and test and the right software for managing work.
  • Conduct staff training on enterprise software and systems. If students are expected to use new software or information technology, it should be provided free-of-charge.
  • Develop a work plan, training materials, activities, and tools that the intern will need to be successful in the role. 
  • Establish cultural and professional norms and expectations, such as a communications plan, supervisory meeting expectations, team culture, and working with other members of the team.
  • Clearly define expectations for both the intern and the supervisor/mentor. These need to be agreed upon before the start of the internship. Goals and expectations should be reinforced on a regular basis.

Create a Written Work Plan

It is essential that all tasks and projects are carefully prepared and planned in order for the virtual intern to manage the work effectively by themselves. The creation of a written work plan that covers the entirety of the experience is encouraged. 

Access to Information

Because the intern will not have the opportunity to have the everyday interactions of the workplace, the materials, instructions, and task descriptions need to be well prepared and available online so that they have access to that information when it is needed. 

Team Engagement

For the supervisor, it is suggested that you engage the rest of your team in the delivery of the virtual internship experience. By doing this, the intern will have the opportunity to interact with several individuals throughout the course of the experience. Team members need to be committed and available to engage with virtual interns on a daily basis (and sometimes multiple times a day). 

Create Balance

Create and deliver a well-balanced experience for your intern that includes: 

  • Learning about your organization. 
  • Focusing on professional development. 
  • Engaging in meaningful projects and work that will help to develop their overall ability to become a valuable team member in the future. 

Fair Compensation

Our position at UMSI is that internships should be paid. The reason for this position is threefold:

  • Unpaid internships are often only accessible and feasible for privileged and wealthy students, which can reproduce social inequalities since internships are known to have positive impacts on grades and employment prospects.
  • If the work is truly meaningful for the organization, then it is likely to be worth compensating the student intern for their work.
  • The exploitation of student interns (particularly in the private sector) has been documented around the world, where unpaid students perform essential duties for an organization. Paying student interns avoids this problem. 

Average hourly pay rates for UMSI students range from $15 – $25, depending on the type of internship, level of work, type of organization, and skills required.

If your internship budget or funding has been impacted due to COVID-19, please know that UMSI students are eligible for internship funding support from the school that could help supplement an unpaid or low-paying internship. Students can apply and request funding as deemed necessary. It is expected that compensation is discussed at the start of the recruiting process for transparency and planning for the student. 

Technology Resources for Delivering a Virtual Internship

Virtual Meetings
  • GoToMeeting
  • Zoom
  • FaceTime
  • WebEx
Communication Tools
  • Slack
  • Email
  • Instant Messenger
Free Project Management Tools
  • Asana
  • OpenProject
  • nTask
  • Monday
Online file sharing
  • Google Suite
  • DropBox
  • Box

Source: The Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions, UW-Madison