How IBM built a global virtual internship

Oct 14, 2020 | Work experience/internships

As the pandemic hit IBM moved quickly to develop a global virtual internship explains Clare Honeybourne, Global Intern Program Leader at IBM.

I drive our strategy for converting interns into full time hires for maximum return on investment. As the global pandemic hit we made the quick decision to honour the majority of internship offers worldwide.

We announced this by sending clear communications to university contacts, candidates set to join us soon and hiring managers. We also set clear expectations about the internship being fully digital (until further notice).

As soon as we had quickly communicated our decision to honour internships, we interviewed existing interns and managers worldwide about their key concerns and needs right now. From there, we gathered a list of challenges we needed to address for our key users (personas).


Managers’ wants and needs

  1. Creating meaningful internships for Generation Z
  2. Managing remote interns who did not apply to remote roles
  3. Maximising day-to-day remote performance
  4. Understanding diversity and inclusion, wellbeing and mentoring resources available to interns
  5. Helping interns offboard seamlessly in the remote environment (e.g. laptop returns)


Interns’ wants and needs

  1. Having a brilliant virtual experience
  2. Accessing learning on working from home and communicating with their remote team
  3. Prioritising ‘meaning and purpose’ in their day to day work
  4. Feeling part of the big IBM picture
  5. Feeling the diversity and inclusion that they were expecting
  6. Feeling less deflated about changing to a remote role
  7. Sharing and comparing their experience with friends on social media

Based on these personas, our teams around the world created a global virtual internship framework and programme elements including the following (this list is not exhaustive):


What we introduced for managers

  • A guide to what typically motivates Generation Z
  • Enablement for managing remotely
  • A guide to all information available on managing a remote employee’s mental health
  • ‘Office hour’ enablement sessions and new website for managing and onboarding remotely


What we introduced for interns

  • The opportunity to meet other interns around the world via a global community chat platform, with daily interaction, weekly social media challenges and weekly intern blogs
  • Enabled completion of a new learning path for all interns worldwide
  • Casual weekly virtual ‘meet-ups’; Bring Your Own…coffee/breakfast/lunch/dinner across timezones and chat about….anything!
  • Weekly masterclasses and ask-me-anything sessions with IBM leaders, e.g. how to create rockstar Instagram and Linkedin profiles, mindfulness, Quantum Computing, IBM’s technology for society and community needs, my journey from intern to full time employee.
  • Opportunity to host or listen to the weekly intern radio sessions (US)
  • An LGBT coach
  • Mental health and wellbeing advice
  • Access to onboarding and offboarding checklists



An important step in this has been to gather ongoing feedback from interns after each weekly event, via our online chat platform and via surveys.

We continuously aim to improve and adapt to the current times we’re living in. The next step is to understand what parts of the virtual internship should continue if they’ve been a significant improvement and what should just be temporary due to Covid-19.

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