106 Communications

6th Sense

Virtual internships: go virtual or go quiet?

April 2020 | Student engagement

Virtual Work Experience: top tips for employers thinking about their Work Experience Programmes.

Following on from two webinars that ran on Thursday 16th April, by Rate My Placement (hosted by Ollie Sidwell) and the ISE (hosted by Jayne Cullen, 106 Communications), Jayne caught up with Ollie to discuss the outputs, and she has created the following top tips for recruiters seeking to understand their options, build their business cases, secure budget and ensure that virtual work experience is meaningful for all stakeholders.

Thank you to the following people who were involved in the webinars and for giving up their valuable time and for their willingness to share and collaborate:

Kate Ross and Helen Sherwood (IBM)

Phil Sartain (AON)

Helen Sherwood (IBM)

Hannah Ralph (Allen & Overy)

Liz Noble (EY)

Tonia Galati (TG Consulting)


  1. Does your business have a clear understanding of the PURPOSE of each of your work experience opportunities?

If so, then this will help formulate the brief for how you pivot your current programmes in light of Covid to reach that goal.

Pipeline for graduate roles

Attraction opportunity – helps us 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

From our panellists there was consistency around what the principles of a Best Practice Internship should be:

  1. Provide insight into the organisation and how it works
  2. Give exposure to the role(s)
  3. Allow interns to experience the culture
  4. Meet and work in a team

The panellists are planning to use a combination of the following as part of their Virtual Work Internships:

  • Project-based work
  • Work shadowing
  • Networking (e.g. quizzes, lunch and learns, coffee chats and virtual office tours)
  • Structured learning
  • Self-directed learning
  • Self-assessment/ reflection

A key message is around being flexible – the focus of the work experience may have to change.  Many organisations are being flexible around the length, structure and timings of their programmes, often blending virtual experience with a postponed element of face-to-face experience later in the year, being mindful of the student calendar as well as of the business cycle to ensure maximum engagement.

A modified timetable to blend plenary, one-to-one, team or self-directed sessions will likely provide a good platform for any virtual internship. It is impossible to engage an adult 9-5 online; so the advice from our panel was no more than 4 hours per day in plenary, broken up with polls, quizzes and Q&As.


  1. Build a clear picture of what the potential challenges might be with taking the programmes virtual

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

Making sure all stakeholders – from the participants themselves to the internal teams – are aware of the changesthat you are proposing/ implementing. It is really important that businesses and their ELT team try to balance the needs of the students with those of the business.

Communication, communication, communication – Having interviewed a number of finalists before lockdown, I noticed a clear trend that students want to be over communicated with. They want employers to be honest (even if they don’t have all of the answers) and the RMP survey last week backed this up. Many employers are taking the time to speak to all offerees over the phone to explain the modifications to their internship. Employers are recommending honest and regular comms to keep students reassured.

Trying to replicate what you have done face to face without being flexible. 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 (1 or 2 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.


  1. Prioritise Team engagement

Delivering a new or modified programme in a matter of weeks will require a huge amount of internal buy-in from your team. 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.

Engaging with teams such as L&D and recruitment where work volume may be reduced due to Covid-19 might be an opportunity.

The panel were also keen to share 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.


  1. Build a compelling business case to modify the programme

What should the business case cover off?

  • 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)
  • What are competitors doing?


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

By doing your own networking in the market, using ISE networks, suppliers and attending webinars such as ISE and supplier run webinars.


  1. What technology considerations should we be aware of?

Explore the technology you have, learn to use it to its full extent. Adapt your sessions to ensure they are still engaging, consider the length and how to use the technology to still 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.

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 ice-breaker will help – for example, using interactive technology such as Trello, Mural and Cahoot.

Ensuring that the interns have all the equipment that they need before day one (EY and IBM are both providing the hardware for their interns).


  1. Engage with CAS – they are a vital part of the recruitment process

It is clear from both of the webinars and the volume of questions coming from the Higher Education participants that there is an appetite to engage more with employers and for employers to be working closer with CAS. All current workloads withstanding of course.

CAS 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 the medium to long term plan will be? Will employers revert back to the “traditional” internship?


  1. How to assess them?

The word flexibility creeps in here again. 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 for successful candidates. Some organisations do not feel that they will have sufficient evidence to make a fair decision, and they are therefore planning to supplement the 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, the 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 1:1s 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.

IBM – for them, ongoing assessment of interns will be seen as business as usual with regular formal reviews by task manager and career manager, designated 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.


  1. How to build a sense of cohort and build that emotional contract.

Pre and onboarding and induction are great places to start – IBM are using a Slack channel, for example, to get them working together and collaborating even before day one.

Onboarding – regular communication throughout through email, video calls and 1:1 calls.

Induction – many employers will be 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.

Throughout – Examples of engagement activity included:

  • A range of virtual coffee sessions throughout the internships, with people at different levels and from different solution lines.
  • Buddies – all interns will have a buddy in addition to their line manager who they connect with very regularly throughout the internship, who will help support them and integrate them into their team.
  • Tracking engagement throughout the internship will be vital to maximise the opportunity of conversion. So using tech to track usage rates of specific content and tools, feedback from line managers.


  1. Reward – Virtual Internships should be rewarded.

Interns will continue to be paid for the virtual experience by all of the panellists. “It’s important we stand by our commitment to the students, 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, for us to adapt and deliver during this challenging period.”

Goldman Sachs is reported to be paying for the full original 10 weeks despite reducing it to 5 weeks.

IBM and AON believe that there is no justification required as students deliver incredible work and should be paid accordingly.

Getting back to BAU?! And the long-term impact…

A student survey by RMP shows that students want the face-to-face element of the internship. Employers agree that the development of soft skills gained from face-to-face placements and internships is one of the resounding benefits that the predominance of students relish. The nuances of direct interaction are hard to replicate, so some employers are resuming office-based placements as soon as they can. However, the investment of time and budget being made to deliver some of the intern content virtually will unlikely be seen to be defunct post the crisis. The opportunity to give greater access to the content to more students from more diverse backgrounds will surely benefit all of our market.

Whatever your business position, I hope that this article has been useful. If you would like to know more about the work that we do at 106 Comms and how our approach to brand storytelling can support the work that you are doing around Work Experience, then do get in touch.

If you would like to talk about our Work Experience App and to see a demo, again feel free to get in touch.


07867 514 542

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