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CTDO Magazine

Internships Forge Ahead

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Despite the global pandemic, many companies are finding ways to maintain their internship programs.

Internships are a good way for college and graduate students to get a feel for a real-world work experience in a specific field. Interns develop and hone professional knowledge and technical skills, and they forge important professional connections. Ultimately, they gain a practical work background that can differentiate them from other candidates when they enter the job market.


Organizations also benefit from internships. A recent HR Dive reader survey found that around 25 percent of the approximately 1,700 HR professionals who were surveyed primarily operate internship programs as a way to create a talent pool for the future.

Further, internships may represent an opportunity for an employer to boost its recruiting and talent outcomes and create leadership opportunities for internal employees, both cited by approximately 18 percent of respondents.


Not surprising, summer internships look a little different this year. Glassdoor reports that internship hiring in the United States for May 2020 fell 49 percent, compared to May 2019.

According to the online job board, more than half of US internship openings on its site were taken down after the coronavirus crisis began in the country. Companies such as Yelp and the National Institutes of Health canceled their 2020 summer internship programs.

Talent acquisition platform Yello, which is used in more than 70 countries, also saw a major decline in internships among its users. The firm surveyed more than 900 current college students to learn how the global pandemic has affected internship opportunities. Nearly two-thirds said their student internships had been rescinded and that the companies did not provide any form of alternative offer.

However, it’s not all bad news. Data from Glassdoor confirms that industries such as manufacturing, accounting and legal, and computer software and hardware are continuing on with their internships.

Handshake is an early-career network that connects 5 million student users with some 500,000 employers. According to its poll of 1,000 students, 14 percent said internships were expected to occur as planned.

Some organizations are shortening or delaying their internship programs. For instance, Goldman Sachs decided to still offer the experience to its interns, but it’s reducing the original 10-week internship to five weeks.

Citigroup and JP Morgan announced similar plans. And all three firms promised to offer the same amount of compensation.

Meanwhile, other employers are opting to take their internships online, especially among big tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Twitter, IBM, Lyft, and Salesforce. Microsoft, which had planned to host more than 4,000 student interns this year, is embracing virtual internships.

Kathleen Hogan, executive vice president and chief people officer, explains via the Official Microsoft Blog that the company is still “committed to creating a meaningful and fun virtual internship experience for each one of them.”

Fortunately, Microsoft has the infrastructure and support needed to deliver a remote internship program and host virtual events that “focus on building connections, fostering learning, and empowering interns to achieve their goals and uncover their passions,” Hogan explains.  

Charting a new path

For companies that want to continue with remote internships, Yale University’s Office of Career Strategy offers advice for optimal performance. For starters, be sure to set up a communication protocol.


Yale recommends using two official check-ins (Monday and Thursday, most likely) to structure the week, review projects, ask and answer questions, and provide feedback. Managers can use other chat tools for quick questions and to build rapport throughout the week.

In addition, organizations should have remote interns focus on project-based work. That may mean shifting some of the work that has typically been tasked to interns. (Think: coffee runs.) Instead, consider such options as social media management, data entry and analysis, market or policy research and reporting. Give clear instruction and clarify priorities.

Finally, create a learning plan—Yale offers a template to get you started. It is a document that helps the intern and manager develop goals, define how the intern will achieve those goals and how the organization will evaluate them, and detail the supervision structure.

Consider specific professional skills and knowledge the employer can provide and the intern can learn. Then list the tasks and projects the intern can use to achieve them.

Yale’s Office of Career Strategy notes on its website that “by offering remote internships today, organizations can continue to recruit a diverse group of capable interns who will become tomorrow’s full-time employees.”

And while this experience is not what anyone expected, Hogan says it’s still a key opportunity for companies and interns to learn and grow. “After all, the power of a growth mindset is that every obstacle is an opportunity to succeed. Adversity often creates some of the biggest leaps in innovation,” she writes.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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