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Summer internships, like so many other things these days, look different this year. More than 50% of summer intern programs were canceled and the remaining majority transitioned to remote formats, according to CareerUp’s survey of more than 2,000 internship candidates. Major companies, including Google, JPMorgan Chase, IBM, Microsoft and Twitter, are all going virtual because of the coronavirus.
Even among so much upheaval, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: managers’ expectations.
“The expectation from day one for our interns — virtual or otherwise — is you’re contributing to a project,” says Google’s Director of Talent and Outreach Programs Kyle Ewing. “You’re having an impact. That stays the same.”
Nearly half of college students told CareerUp they feel internship experience has grown even more important after coronavirus wreaked havoc on the economy. So while you won’t get to sit in on any of the normal ‘lunch & learns,’ you’ll still want to sign off in August being able to say you’ve learned a lot.
Here’s what internship supervisors and human resources experts recommend for success at home this summer.
Set a Firm Foundation
Since every manager prefers a different communication style, you’ll want to figure out what works best for your boss early in the relationship, says Inspire HR Founder and CEO Jaime Klein. Set up clear protocols so you know when to call versus email versus ping a supervisor on Slack, she says.
You’ll also want to ask about participating in meetings early on, recommends Christine Cruzvergara, who’s the vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake, a job search platform for college students. “You might be present for a team meeting, a client meeting, the company all-hands,” she says. “Ask, ‘What is my role in each of these?’”
Interns will also want to schedule regular check-ins with their supervisor. Cruzvergara likes having daily stand-up meetings for 15 minutes each morning or having longer, 30-minute meetings a few times a week to make sure everybody’s aligned. Whether you hold those meetings over the phone or via video comes down to you and your boss’s preference.
Mirror the Office Experience
Set up an office space—even if it’s just the corner of a bedroom. “Then give that space a professional feel,” says Klein. “You may want to remove posters that would show up on a Zoom call, for example.”
Regardless of your role in a video conference, you should appear on camera. That shows you’re truly present and engaged, says Chelsey Jonson, a career specialist for Arizona State University’s Career and Professional Development Services.
And while it can be easy to roll out of bed a minute before a call or get distracted with tasks around the house, try to stick to a schedule as if you were at the office. “You need to be online at the time you’re expected to be,” says Roger Conner, Director of Marketing at WorkMonger, a platform for connecting professionals to non-teaching jobs in education.
That may sound obvious, but not everyone does it. WorkMonger has offered remote internships for more than two years, and Conner says the interns who weren’t performing as well tended to be the ones who weren’t regularly online or communicating often.
Use Formal Email Communication
With most people out of the office, employers will be relying more heavily on email and instant messaging, so keep that communication professional. “Refrain from the LOLs, the OMGs, the smiley faces,” Nebraska-based talent strategist Caroline Vernon says.
But don’t fall into the trap of over-relying on email or instant message in lieu of face time — recognize when an update or query needs to go beyond written communication. For Conner, once an email exceeds two or three sentences, he prefers you jump on the phone or a video call.
In this way, the remote internship can be more constructive than an in-person one because it requires interns to be more conscious of communication patterns and schedules, says CareerUp Founder and CEO Caleb Kauffman. And that’s a good thing, as both skills will prepare interns to navigate these evolving virtual workplace norms in the future.
Connect About Company Culture
Without being able to run into employees around the office, interns shouldn’t feel shy about reaching out to staffers they don’t normally work with to do 15- to 20-minute calls about their experience. “Informational interviews are a great way to learn more about an organization,” Jonson, at Arizona State, says.
At Google, the company created a platform that sets up interns with staffers who share similar interests for informal chats. If your organization doesn’t have something official, volunteer to help start it. “There’s no more opportunity for organic connection,” Google’s Ewing says. “It’s going to require more effort.”
Interns should also plan to attend virtual social gatherings and non-mandatory calls.
At web security company Cloudflare, Head of People Janet Van Huysse says the firm encourages interns to participate in company events during their remote summer program so they can see what else is going on across the company and the industry. “It’s making sure interns aren’t just focused on their project,” Van Huysse adds.
Speak — and Manage — Up
“The old adage of ‘managing up’ applies here,” Kauffman says of the office practice of teaching your boss how to best manage you. “It can be difficult for an intern to say to their manager, ‘This communication structure is not working too great for me, could we maybe try XYZ?’ But ultimately interns need to communicate their needs.”
Find a buddy if you don’t feel comfortable going right to your boss. At Cloudflare, there’s a “buddy program” where interns are paired with someone not on their team who is safe for fielding questions that might seem a little silly, Van Huysse says. “If a company isn’t doing that, say, ‘Hey, who would be a good off-team buddy for me?’ It makes a difference.”
HR expert Vernon always advises taking initiative like that, whether in a remote workplace or a traditional office. “Speak up, be willing to jump in and take on new things,” she says. “Those are always the interns who stand out.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Cloudflare’s Janet Van Huysse.