How to run virtual work experience programmes

Apr 23, 2020 | Work experience/internships

Top tips from Jayne Cullen of 106 Communications, who hosted ISE’s recent webinar with a panel of employers to explore how they are running virtual work experience programmes.

Thank you to our panellists Kate Ross and Helen Sherwood (IBM), Phil Sartain (AON), Helen Sherwood (IBM), Hannah Ralph (Allen & Overy), Liz Noble (EY) and Tonia Galati (TG Consulting) for giving up their valuable time and for their willingness to share and

Here are the key takeaways from ISE’s webinar ‘how employers are delivering virtual internship and placement solutions’:

1. Develop a clear PURPOSE for each of your work experience opportunities

This will help formulate the brief for how you pivot your current programmes in light of Covid-19 to reach that goal. For example:

  • Pipeline for graduate roles
  • Attraction opportunity – helps build our employer brand
  • Build relationships (and provide support for) with candidates from diverse backgrounds
  • Social responsibility to provide next generation of talent with work experience


2. Build a clear picture of potential challenges

We asked our panellists what main challenges they have encountered in developing their strategic response to Covid-19:

Making sure all stakeholders – from participants to internal teams – are aware of changes: It is really important that businesses and the ELT try to balance the needs of the students with those of the business.

Communication – Having interviewed a number of finalists before lockdown, I noticed a clear trend: students want to be over-communicated with. They want employers to be honest, even if they don’t have all of the answers. We have heard that many employers are taking the time to speak to all offerees over the phone to explain the modifications to their internship. They are recommending honest and regular comms to keep students reassured.

Trying to replicate what you have done face-to-face – It may be that some business areas can’t offer the full work experience opportunity as they may have clients with security issues, for example, and are therefore limited in what client work exposure they can give due to client confidentiality. Therefore, being transparent with candidates that the opportunity to work on live deals is unlikely is recommended. In answer to this challenge, some firms are looking to complement their virtual experience with a shorter (one or two days) face-to-face element later in the year. Other firms are focusing their internship around classroom-style learning modules combined with project-based work at both enterprise and business unit levels.

3. Prioritise team engagement

Delivering a new or modified work experience programme in a matter of weeks will require a huge amount of internal buy-in from your team, but who do you see as your team? The panel talked about looking at this challenge as not just one for the early careers team, but as a much wider business opportunity. For example, engaging with teams such as L&D and recruitment where work volume may be reduced due to Covid-19.

The panel also highlighted the importance of training internal stakeholders to ensure the smooth delivery of the virtual experience. For one panellist, they are reducing the number of line managers involved to help ensure the best experience and to improve the support the early careers team can provide. Support will include live tech training, briefing and update sessions before and during the internship, support materials and clear guidance as well as a point of contact on the early career team for questions. Giving guidance to line managers around the levels of interactions and how to make them meaningful was also mentioned as part of the training.

4. Build a compelling business case

Here are examples of what your business case could include:

  • Reminder of the purpose of the work experience
  • Explore options and explain the impact of each
  • Limiting factors
  • Logistics
  • Overview of the programme and how it will hit objectives and add value to the student
  • Benefits to the employer brand
  • Benefits to the corporate brand
  • Supporting talent acquisition for the medium term (especially if a V shaped recession)
  • Competitor activity

5. Have a clear picture of what others are doing in the market (and why)

Undertake an analysis of competitor activity. You can do this by networking in the market, accessing ISE networks, speaking to suppliers and attending webinars such as those run by ISE and suppliers.

6. Review your technology

Explore the technology you have and learn to use it to its full extent to deliver your virtual work experience programmes. Adapt your sessions to ensure that they are still engaging, consider the length and how to use the technology to create a memorable, engaging and valuable experience.

Don’t rely on just pre-recorded content; make use of live sessions and consider engaging global speakers and leaders that you may not have had access to when the sessions were face-to-face.

Also, be patient! Test your kit. Make sure you have a back-up plan. Work to the lowest known bandwidth – bright and shiny is great, but not everyone is running at your network speed. Keep sessions short, mix them up, and use interactive tools where possible. Check in with your audience very regularly. Mini-polls and quizzes are always good, and a really good icebreaker will help – for example, using interactive technology such as Trello, Mural and Cahoot.

Remember to ensure that the interns have all the equipment that they need before day one. We heard that EY and IBM are providing the necessary hardware for their interns.

7. Engage with careers services – they are a vital part of the recruitment process

It is clear that there is an appetite to engage more with employers and for employers to be working closer with careers services. All current workloads withstanding of course!
Careers services are keen to know:

  • How are you changing the offering?
  • What timelines are you working to?
  • How will students be assessed?
  • How can they help students prepare?
  • What technology will you be using?
  • What is the medium to long-term plan? Will employers revert back to the ‘traditional’ internship?

8. Consider how you will assess them

For some businesses and schemes, the opportunity to assess interns during their programme remains a key part of the selection process with the opportunity to offer a full-time grad role on completion.

However, some organisations do not feel that they will have sufficient evidence to make a fair decision, and they are therefore planning to supplement their virtual work experience programme with two in-person days later in the year when a final interview will be taking place.

As part of AON’s virtual internship, interns will continue to complete self-evaluation against their objectives but they will also complete self-reflective video diaries, and will continue to have regular one-to-ones with their line managers. They will also be tracking engagement with the learning modules and live virtual sessions, and engaging with managers throughout to garner feedback.

For IBM, ongoing assessment of interns will be seen as business as usual with regular formal reviews by task manager and career manager, and with pastoral support throughout. Task managers and teams are rarely based in the same location, so remote mentoring and management is proven and works well. Initial regular checkpoints will take place to ensure learning will be set up.

9. Build a sense of cohort and that emotional contract

Onboarding and induction are great places to start building a sense of connection in your virtual work experience programme. IBM is using a Slack channel, for example, to get interns working together and collaborating even before day one.

For onboarding consider regular communication throughout – email, video calls and one-to-one calls.

For induction, many employers are taking the content from their face-to-face inductions and repurposing for virtual delivery. Replacing video content with live virtual interviews with senior people was recommended.

Examples of engagement activity include:

– Virtual coffee sessions throughout the internships, with people at different levels and from different solution lines.

– Buddies – give interns a buddy in addition to their line manager who they can connect with regularly and who will help support them and integrate them into their team.
Remember to track engagement throughout your virtual internship to maximise the opportunity of conversion. For example, tech to track usage rates of specific content and tools and/or feedback from line managers.

10. Virtual internships should be rewarded

All panellists explained that interns would continue to be paid for the virtual work experience. One employer said: “It’s important we stand by our commitment to the students and continue to build our diverse talent pipeline for the future. It’s also important for our employer brand and our brand in the market with our clients. And for us to adapt and deliver during this challenging period.”

Goldman Sachs is reported to be paying the full original 10 weeks despite reducing its experience to five weeks. IBM and AON believe that there is no justification required as students deliver incredible work and should be paid accordingly.

Watch ISE’s webinar ‘how employers are delivering virtual internship and placement solutions’

Was this article helpful?


Share This