The Truth About Virtual Internships

Devin Foster

What’s working and what’s not when it comes to virtual internships? Is TikTok recruiting resonating? Are unpaid internships a thing of the past? Find out in this recap of our special July 28 episode of Talent Experience Live with Phenom’s marketing interns Denise Seebold, Riley Stack, and Geeta Gunti!
 

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Gen Z? If it’s selfie-obsessed Justin Bieber fans, it’s time to update the way you look at the next generation of talent — because they will be filling roles at your company for years to come. 
 

With this impending new wave of emerging talent in a time of remote work, new ways to recruit and build early career programs are a vital way to fill junior roles fast. According to CareerUp, 46.2% of students believe COVID-19 has made internships more valuable. And studies from the National Association of Colleges and Employees found that just over 70% of employers end up offering their interns full-time positions. 
 

The question everyone wants to know: Are today’s interns taking them up on their offers? 
 

Meet Phenom’s summer marketing interns, and get the down-low on what they have to say about building rewarding internship programs in today’s virtual climate. Watch the full episode below or keep scrolling for highlights!
 


How can your company stand out virtually when recruiting for internship roles?
 

It sounds cliche, but communication is key. Ensuring all contact with candidates is both consistent and engaging is a vital way to differentiate your company early on. You’re not the only one sizing the other party up after all; candidates are also taking note of every interaction they have with your brand and the people that represent it. 
 

Denise Seebold, one of Phenom’s three marketing interns and an upcoming senior at West Chester University, had a lot to say on this topic. In her eyes, there are three main attributes that students like herself look for when deciding on a best-fit company.
 


Paid positions. Many of today’s internships — especially at larger for-profit companies — pay. While unpaid internships do exist, they must meet particular qualifications according to the US Department of Labor — and they probably won’t attract a high-volume of candidates. According to Seebold, “It’s not realistic to say, ‘hey I want you to work 40 hours a week for three months and not offer you a dime.’” Phenom (and the majority of the Fortune 500) agree. Interns bring new perspectives and fresh energy to your workspace. Invest in them, and they will invest in you.
 

Exciting company culture. When a company truly cares about the culture of their work environment, it shows...especially on social media, on its career site, and in the way employees talk about their job and refer others to work there. Authentically showcasing the best aspects of your employer brand and leveraging employee testimonials in various forms can make or break young talent’s decision to work for you instead of a competitor.
 

Opportunity to network. Let’s face it: a lot of the time, it’s not about what you know, but who you know! There’s a reason the majority of college graduates who have completed at least one internship are generally better off when entering the real world. Especially in a B2B environment, interns are gaining exposure to other industry professionals and getting a better taste of what path they want to pursue down the road.
 

Is Tiktok an effective way to recruit Gen Z talent?
 

If you’ve questioned whether or not your company should be joining the Tiktok empire, you’re not alone. Tiktok has quickly been adopted by large and small corporations alike to build brand awareness and increase buy-in. 
 

According to Riley Stack, summer intern and senior at Penn State University, Tiktok and other video streaming platforms offer unique opportunities that your social and TA teams may want to pay attention to. “Especially during these times of working remotely, it is crucial to humanize your brand and video is a great way to do that,” said Stack.
 

Instead of offering a three-paragraph blurb on your career site about how fun it is to be an intern at your company, go the extra step to actually show your candidates what a typical day-in-the-life of an intern looks like. Get creative and use video to your advantage. Say what words on a screen can’t — and watch your engagement numbers climb.
 


How do virtual internships compare to in-person opportunities? 
 

COVID changed a lot about how corporate America works, including internships. Early career programs may never look the same with many companies adapting to work-from-home or hybrid models for the foreseeable future. As a result, it’s essential to encourage strong communication between managers and interns. 
 

67% of students who have engaged in virtual internships prefer daily check-ins with their manager. To make sure all expectations and deadlines are clear while working virtually, consistent effort is required to optimize the experience and the quality of work. 
 

Seebold credits the year and a half of experience she has taking remote college courses as a driving force behind why she and so many of her classmates will graduate feeling ready to take on a remote work environment. “We are so accustomed to making it work,” she revealed. “It’s a unique asset we’re going to bring to the real world since we’ve kind of been through the ringer already.” 
 


When all three interns were asked about their outlook on the future of work and whether or not they would return to in-person work if given the opportunity, their answers coincided with the way many employees feel. 
 

Geeta Gunti, junior at the University of Pittsburgh and Phenom’s third summer intern, shared how she prefers remote work and has appreciated the flexibility that comes with working from home. Gunti sees hybrid work as “the way of the future” especially for international companies like Phenom who have employees working in different time zones around the world. 
 

Stack and Seebold also agreed that working remotely has presented more opportunities for growth than they expected, and expressed they would be open to hybrid career opportunities in the future. Pro tip: don’t sell your Zoom stocks anytime soon.
 

Applying internship experience to first job opportunities
 

A rewarding internship allows your interns to make both meaningful contributions to your team while still allowing them to learn along the way — no coffee runs involved!
 

Gunti shared how her tasks this summer have allowed her to walk away with meaningful takeaways on a few different levels. Taking the lead on producing Phenom’s weekly newsletters was one of Gunti’s main tasks this summer, which not only taught her the intricacies of working towards a deadline but also “how to communicate with various members of the team in a timely and efficient manner.” 
 

In addition to producing newsletters, Phenom’s interns worked on a variety of other marketing tasks in the three months they were on the team. Building email campaigns, producing organic social content, researching and writing blog posts, and working on a collaborative video project with other Phenom interns were just a few of the projects they took ownership of this summer. 
 

While all three interns are sad that their time at Phenom is coming to an end, they are confident that they’re leaving with valuable experiences to use in their future careers. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from this team is that to be successful and impactful in your career, you must be pushed to your limits and challenged by those around you,” said Seebold. 
 


Our advice to you: take advantage of the time you have with interns. Investigate where their strengths lie and where they need extra guidance. The skills they acquire and the lessons they learn from you will shape them into the next generation of decision makers, managers, and CEOs.
 

Get started on revamping your early career programs
 

We asked our interns: What final advice would you share with other employers to help them develop more engaging internships? Here are their key takeaways:
 

Appoint an intern manager. Seebold shared that having fellow marketing team member and content writer, Jenn Thomas, to turn to throughout the summer helped her and the other interns feel comfortable with asking questions and receiving extra support. “Jenn really knew how to make us feel welcomed from the start, not only as a colleague but as a friend.” 
 

Facilitate collaboration. If your team is planning on welcoming a group of interns, it’s a good idea to make sure they work well with one another. According to Stack, developing strong relationships with her fellow interns made for a positive work environment, especially when working remotely. Allowing space for teamwork and collaborative projects is a great way to make remote work feel less ostracizing. 
 

Encourage 1:1 team interviews. At the beginning of the summer, Phenom’s interns conducted several short interviews with other members of the marketing team to explore their different roles, ask for advice, and better understand the team dynamic. Gunti was appreciative that she was able to get early insight into the roles of each team member and how each contributed to the overall success of the department.
 

Provide opportunities for real learning. Coffee runs and busy work are not only a waste of your interns’ time — it’s a waste of your time as well. Does managing intern work require more trust and patience than usual? Sure it does! However, putting to work the fresh perspectives and eager willingness to learn is a gateway into building the next generation of influential professionals.
 


Investing in young professionals through exposure to real-life experiences and teachable moments is an investment into the future of your employer brand. Gen Z is a force to be reckoned with, and it won’t be long until you start to see them filling more spots in your Zoom meetings and desks in your office.
 

Thank you to all of our interns for a phenomenal summer spent together. Continue doing great things — your “Phenom Phamily” is rooting for you!