More Than Just Fetching Coffee – How to Make Meaningful Internship Experiences

Written by Alix Ambriz
In the best of times, running an effective internship program can be challenging. So, how can you create a meaningful experience for interns who never set foot in your office and connect with you only through the wizardry of online platforms?

At Vivayic, we have been remote working since before it was cool, and we have a successful track record with our interns in that environment. Out of the 14 interns we’ve had who are now in the work force, we have hired eight as full-time employees and now have one as a client.

I began my career at Vivayic as one of those interns in 2013, and I’ve never left. In all honesty, it has taken Vivayic a few experiences (mine included) to navigate the intern world. We continue to learn new ways to provide the best intern experience possible, and we thought we’d share a few suggestions.

As your organization plans for summer 2020 interns (either in your office or virtually), consider these tips:

Number 1

Give interns meaningful work – While this should be a no-brainer, it is easy to wrap up intern time with the tasks others don’t want to do – opening mail and getting coffee. Keep in mind that an ability to get coffee tells you little about how an intern fits into your organization. This is one thing Vivayic has done well since my intern days. We assign interns the same types of projects any of our full-time folks would tackle. These projects may take a bit longer and require a few more rounds of feedback and edits but are mutually beneficial in the long run!

Number 2

Provide an environment of autonomous teamwork – Talk about an oxymoron, but hear me out. We give interns the space to create, succeed and fail on their own. At the same time, we equip them with the information needed so they know who to reach out to on the team for feedback and help. They know they can go to the teammate they are working with directly on the project, but we encourage interaction with as many team members as possible. We want our interns to OWN specific projects so that at the end of the summer they can say, “I created this.” But when they need to pull in a teammate, they know who to go to!

Number 3

Help them see the big picture – Make sure interns understand how the task they’re doing fits into the grand scheme of a project. If interns don’t understand the scope of a project, we miss out on ideas they could generate to make it better. Commonly, we task new interns to test functionality and to proofread elearning courses under development. We take the extra time, though, to review the overall objective of the project, description of the intended learners, and how this module fits in to a larger curriculum plan or sequence of modules. Instead of, “Hey, check that we spelled everything correctly and the links work”, our interns are able to review for global consistencies across all of the elearning modules, provide feedback on designed activities that may not make sense to the learner, or even brainstorm content for the remaining modules. Explaining the bigger picture means you can maximize the work interns are doing for one project, while helping them feel as their work is tangibly related to the success of the larger team and our company. It’s amazing how much high-quality work an intern can contribute when their work is meaningful and visible to others.

Number 4

Take time for intentional connection – Yes, the first few days of an internship include the typical “tell me about yourself” and organizational onboarding experiences, but it’s important to continue to carve out time for intentional connection throughout the summer. Instead of just asking about interns’ hometowns and majors, consider asking them questions like:

  • What’s been your favorite project you’ve worked on and what class was it in?
  • What do you find yourself doing when you realize you’ve lost track of the time?
  • What values were instilled in you from a young age that you still hold? What new values have you found to become important to you over the last few years?

In addition, tell them some of the lesser known facts about you and your organization. Think about sharing:

  • The experiences you’ve had that led you to the work you’re doing now
  • Ways your organization gives back to the community
  • How your team actively pursues living out the values of your organization

Keeping this intentional connection with your interns helps them feel like an important part of the team. By the end of the internship, they may feel more comfortable providing valuable feedback about what you’re doing well and the areas they see for improvement in your organization.

Number 5

Keep them engaged after the summer is over – As the summer wraps up and you’re excited about the work your interns have done, consider asking them to stay engaged with your organization throughout the school year. Perhaps they could come into the office a few hours each week to work on specific projects. Or, you could connect with them virtually once a month to keep them updated on their summer projects, brainstorming with them to get their feedback.

This type of follow-up may mean your intern comes back to work for you next summer … or as a full-time employee after graduation! I interned with Vivayic starting my sophomore year of college. I continued to work on small projects with the team through the following semesters and even through other internships. This ultimately helped me make the decision to jump on full-time after graduation!

If you haven’t hired an intern yet or need to revise your existing intern selection because of the pandemic, consider this…

Hire from past intern recommendations – When we say goodbye to productive, effective interns, we ask them to recommend a few peers they think would fit well with the work we do and our culture. Who better to add to your talent pipeline than someone who has been working in your world for the last three months and spends the other nine months with students?

Whether you’re an organization that is continuing during this time in your normal environment, temporarily doing the remote work thing, or perhaps remote work has always been your jam, you can make any intern program a success. We believe the best internship experiences allow interns to put their skills to good use and push them to grow in areas they’re passionate about. At the same time, the organization should see benefits from the interns’ fresh ideas. If you need assistance in crafting a meaningful intern experience, or if you’re a student interested in interning with Vivayic, reach out. We’d love to chat over virtual coffee!

Alix Ambriz
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