How To Prepare for Summer Internships During COVID-19

With some adjustments and problem solving, your organization can still provide a strong summer internship program during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Tips on reconfiguring your summer internship program, and making sure it works for you and your interns

The thing about unprecedented events like the COVID-19 pandemic is that they’re, well, unprecedented. That means that — because things have been happening so quickly and somewhat unexpectedly — the myriad of ways that an event of this scale can impact things are only being revealed as we go along. One thing small businesses are beginning to wonder about is their summer internship program.

Maybe you had a crop of interns already selected and now you’re wondering how to carry out the program remotely. Perhaps this was going to be the summer you finally set up an intern program and now you’re questioning the whole thing. Small businesses certainly face more barriers than a company the size of Microsoft — which announced its 2020 virtual interns earlier this month. However, with a few changes and some creative problem solving, there’s still plenty you can do to make the most of a solid summer internship program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should I just cancel my summer internship program?

While it might be tempting to just scrap interns this summer, remember that everyone is suffering thanks to the pandemic. The students or young professionals you hired may have been looking forward to the opportunity for months. They might have been relying on summer income before and might be even more so now.

Tough business decisions have to be made all the time. Cancelling might be the way you have to go if you can’t find a way to fund interns among the economic downturn. If you’re still deciding what to do, it’s important that you keep your interns as up-to-date as possible on any changes coming down the line, and do what you can to mitigate disruption. Why not offer the same spot next summer to the same people if you’re able to?

It’s important that you keep your interns as up-to-date as possible on any changes coming down the line, and do what you can to mitigate disruption.

That said, unless you have to cancel, don’t! In fact, most businesses aren’t. The National Association of Colleges and Employers polled 103 of its employer members and found:

  • 35% are making no changes to their programs
  • 35% are reducing the length of their internship programs or delaying the start date
  • 29% are pivoting to a virtual program
  • 15% are reducing the number of interns
  • 20% are moving milestones, like end-of-program presentations, online

While it will be essential to adhere to public health guidelines and recommendations throughout the pandemic, as you can see, there are plenty of ways to continue a summer internship program.

Make internships remote

Even if remote meeting technology isn’t your strong suit, consider moving your summer internship program to the digital sphere. Look at it this way: as long as you can find a way to still provide value to your interns, this also gives you an opportunity to improve your familiarity and utility with new software and technologies that are only going to get more pervasive in an increasingly remote world.

Luckily, there are all kinds of resources already out there:

  1. If you’re hiring college students as interns, chances are they already have a computer, or at least access to one. So getting them the hardware they need shouldn’t be a challenge.
  2. Second, there are all kinds of ways to work remotely these days. There are cloud-based platforms like Google Docs and Google Sheets that let you seamlessly collaborate on documents from afar, and video conferencing platforms like Zoom designed to make meeting and presenting remotely easier than it has ever been.

When it comes to the benefit for your interns, considering that there’s a good chance that the future of work will be forever altered after COVID-19, a remote internship might just be exactly the professional preparedness experience your interns need to be ready for the future of work.

The biggest challenge with taking the remote direction for summer internships is managing interns, since managing remotely differs from managing in the office. As it is with pivoting your traditional workforce to remote work, the same goes for interns: set clear expectations at the outset by establishing the kind of responsiveness you expect from them. Specify what channels — from email to Slack or text — you expect them to be on top of.

Reconfigure the start or duration of your program

Delaying the start of an internship or cutting the program short because of COVID-19 are other solutions companies are turning to.

If taking things online simply won’t work for your type of business, all is not lost. While it’s perhaps less than ideal, delaying the start of an internship or cutting the program short because of COVID-19 are other solutions companies are turning to. Of course this means waiting to see when the economy will safely open up again in your state and city, but right now everything is in flux so that kind of “wait and see” approach is something that most of us are having to deal with these days in one form or another.

Does a delay shorten your program?

When thinking about delaying your program, the first thing you’ll want to consider is whether or not that means a shorter program or not. It might be ambitious, but just because your program is starting later doesn’t mean it has to cover less. That might mean that the internship becomes more intense than originally planned, or you find creative solutions for delivering the type of experience you want to offer in a condensed time frame. But if you can, pay should remain the same regardless of duration.

If you want to delay without cutting the program short, that’s something that will have to be clearly communicated with your applicants or negotiated with the interns you’ve already selected. Keep in mind, many have other commitments when the fall rolls around. If everything goes according to plan and you can start your in-person internship program later this summer, you might consider dedicating part of the internship to figuring out how to carry out the final weeks in a remote capacity once schools start up again.

Whatever approach you take, just remember this: The main thing to consider is what works best for you and your interns. Figuring that out is the true goal of preparing for summer interns during a pandemic.


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