The art of successfully managing a virtual internship program

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About the Author: Saloni Khandelwal is an IIT Delhi alumnus who worked in investment banking in Deutsche Bank, London, for 5 years before co-founding Exambazaar. She shares insightful details about her experience of successfully managing a virtual internship program.

We have built Exambazaar from the ground up on the back of excellent work by our exemplary interns. We consider them a part of the EB Family and internship ends are heart-clenching affairs. We’ve hired over 50 interns in a variety of domains, be it business analytics, marketing, digital curation, content writing, or graphic designing. And in the process, we’ve learnt the nuts and bolts of running a successful virtual internship program. It is our pleasure to share our learnings with fellow startups and companies looking to benefit from the versatility and flexibility of robust internship programs. There are 3 block steps to an internship program and we’ll look at all of them separately: –

1. HIRING (The 3Ps of Interns)

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The critical facet of hiring interns as opposed to full-time employees is that ‘enthusiasm trumps qualification’. All our efforts are focussed around identifying interns with the potential to learn, passion to work, and aptitude to produce. We call it the 3Ps of champion interns. Here are the things we do to weed out unwanted candidates:
Providing a descriptive internship profile
Adding a description of the work involved along with the approximate number of hours and allotted stipend sets clear expectations for a potential intern right at the outset. This helps an intern decide whether the concerned internship is right for her, rather than wasting the time of both parties by applying to the wrong kinds of internships. This write-up will also be immensely helpful in case there are future productivity issues.

Adding company specific questions
Many times students and recent graduates mass-apply to internships without an intention to actually follow through. You can separate out the wheat from the chaff straight away by adding company-specific questions that require them to spend some time researching about the internship profile and company before applying blindly. For example, we typically add a question like “Mention 2 things you like or dislike about the Exambazaar blog” which forces them to understand the purpose of Exambazaar if the internship makes sense for them.

Using a primary screening method
As a second level filter, we also ask applicants to complete a short task before we even begin reviewing applications. This can be either through an email or a Google Form. This further helps in narrowing down the pool to only really passionate candidates.

2. PRODUCTIVE RETENTION

the-art-of-managing-retention

Productive retention means cultivating a team of happy interns who nail the 3Ps. While the potential is an inherent quality that we are unlikely to impact in the relatively short duration of the internship, we employ the best techniques to maximise the passion and productivity. A virtual internship is different from a traditional internship in one key aspect that arises from ‘remoteness’ – discipline! And all our techniques take that into account.
Regular mentoring in the first few days
The first week is absolutely crucial to establish parameters. What you sow in terms of work ethic, zeal, responsiveness, quality is what you reap for the rest of the internship period. Hence, make sure to attend to your interns with almost obsessive attention at the start.

Setting structure (weekly assignment of tasks) and inculcating accountability
As most virtual interns are college students or recent graduates, their schedule may not allow for availability at your working times. Hence, we make sure to understand their availability through an availability sheet before they start. Accordingly, we assign them the work weekly (with daily goalposts) which helps them manage work in their own time and also generates an accountability for completing it by the end of the week.

Constant Communication (on Slack)
Communication is key in maintaining discipline. We use Slack as the primary mode of work communication and expect our interns to be responsive on Slack even if they’re busy otherwise. It helps us keep track of their progress, establish realistic timeliness, and assess work quality in conjunction with the time spent.

Assigning responsibility and diversity of tasks
To ensure a steep learning curve, we believe in assigning more responsibility to the interns across a variety of tasks as the internship progresses.

3. FEEDBACK

the-art-of-managing-feedbackEvery intern’s circumstances, working style, availability, and strengths are different. By keeping an open channel of communication, we establish an easy mechanism for all parties to adjust the workload as per convenience. Besides the regular adaptation loop, we also encourage formal feedback from our interns.
Feedback sessions (fortnightly)
Ideally, we’d like to do feedback sessions every fortnight, but we’re not perfect. We do however have a 2-way feedback conversation every month. We provide valuable feedback on the holistic growth of the intern and in turn encourage suggestions on how the internship experience can be improved. For eg. Feedback below helped us understand the importance of flexibility for virtual internships.

Renuka Dixit, Content Writer (Bachelor of Mass Media Student): “This virtual internship works the best for me, because of the excellent communication channel. There is transparency between the employer and the employee and a healthy work environment which makes me feel at ease while working. Any issue or concern can easily be communicated and the employer is extremely understanding. However, it is slightly difficult for me to specify what time I will be available every day owing to my classes, and that too as a media student. We have erratic schedules and I cannot exactly commit every day; it would be better if I am assigned a week’s worth of work which I can finish as and when possible instead of expecting daily updates.”

Taking Criticism in the stride
Not everything is rosy. We’ve also come across several instances of surprising feedback from interns. From stipend being too low and work being too tough or monotonous to general criticism about the inefficacy in the hiring process, we’ve faced our share of challenges. But the important learning for us has been to not take it to heart, improve the process for valid concerns, and learn to work past it.

End of internship feedback
As a policy, we provide and invite feedback about the overall internship experience, broken down by parameters like productivity, quality, initiative, etc.

In the end, we would just like to say that no matter how good a program or how much learning an internship can add to an intern’s resume, eventually virtual interns leave. Reasons vary from not being able to manage an internship and coursework simultaneously to inadequate performance or external factors. We’ve learnt not to be deterred by it and account for it in the hiring process itself. So should you. We hope that you can improve your internship process by incorporating our learnings and make it a worthwhile experience for both interns and yourself. Happy building!

Are you also looking to hire interns? Please post your requirements here.

24 thoughts on “The art of successfully managing a virtual internship program

  • November 20, 2017 at 11:27 AM

    It was interesting thanks

    Reply
  • February 24, 2018 at 3:25 PM

    Very helpful to us. We are just starting the process of hiring interns. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Reply
  • March 16, 2018 at 7:49 PM

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  • April 27, 2018 at 3:49 PM

    Thanks! Glad to be of help, we’ve gone on to hire more than a 100 interns now. Learnt some new things on the way :)

    Reply
  • May 17, 2018 at 11:36 PM

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  • September 27, 2018 at 2:47 AM

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