How to start an online internship program

Online internships offer an opportunity for students to get real-world business experience without spending each day in the office. If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to work with interns, a virtual intern program might be the right solution. Not only will you add value to your company by bringing in a fresh perspective, but you can also provide hands-on training for students.

Why you should consider an online internship program

Here are a few ways your business will benefit from an online internship program:

  • Save time. A virtual workforce allows you to delegate never-ending busywork, freeing up experienced team members to focus on high-impact activities.
  • Save money. Cash-strapped small businesses can tap into a temporary workforce without the burden of overhead costs for in-office employees.
  • Better talent. Access students from the top universities across the country, giving your company a way to bring in diversity and new skill sets.
  • Future hires. Most internships last for three months, which is a perfect timeline for a test-run to see if the interns have what it takes to be a future hire.

With an online internship program, your company can nurture students by preparing them for full-time employment after graduation. Interns can complete their work from any location, reducing the supervision and in-office training required for other positions.

7 steps to creating an online internship program

It might seem like a daunting task to start an online internship from scratch. This guide will simplify the process by walking you through a step-by-step plan for launching your new program:

  1. Evaluate your needs. How will your business use the interns to benefit current projects and initiatives? Think about the needs of your company, as well as the experience of and opportunities for interns. Identify departments that are looking for extra help or areas where business development is needed. The goal is to offer practical experience in a supportive setting so interns can apply what they’ve learned and see what it’s like to work in the industry.
  2. Identify internship details. Now that you know how to use the interns in your company, it’s time to design a plan to ensure you’re meeting their needs. For example, you need to determine pay structures, how many interns to hire, how to assign projects, the duration of the internship, and potential work opportunities after the internship ends.
  3. Choose online collaboration tools. Since the interns are working virtually, communication is critical to ensure everyone is on the same page with their assignments. If you don’t already have one, now is the time to use an online collaboration system to delegate projects, send reminders, and discuss the details of each project. Additionally, determine a weekly communication schedule to allow coordinators, managers, and interns to touch base on the ongoing projects.
  4. Finalize the application process. How will interested candidates apply for the internship? JotForm has an easy-to-use online internship application form template that gathers personal information, education details, and work history. Using this application will enable you to compare candidates side by side and find the right people for your team. You can use pre-assessments to ensure each intern is placed in the correct position and department.
  5. Advertise the position. Write a job description that describes the position, outlines details about the industry, and explains the expectations for the internship. Post the position on various online job boards. Widen your candidate pool by sharing the internship opportunity with universities and student groups.
  6. Hire and onboard new interns. As you evaluate candidates, look for specific traits and skills that you want to bring into the company. Narrow down the applicants to your top selections, then conduct interviews through a video chat. Finally, complete background checks and offer positions to your selected interns. Determine the internship start date, as well as orientation and onboarding practices.
  7. Provide ongoing support. Communication is critical to provide interns with support and feedback throughout the internship. Don’t make the mistake of assigning tasks, then walking away and letting interns self-manage for the semester. Ongoing feedback and support will help interns to improve and ensure that their work efforts align with the needs of the company.

Follow these steps, and you’ll start a successful online internship program that will benefit your business and provide interns with experience they need for their careers.

Chad is VP of Marketing and Communications at JotForm. He’s also a frequent contributor to various tech and business publications, and an absolute wizard with a Vitamix. He holds a master’s degree in communication and resides with his wife and cats in Oakland, California. You can reach Chad through his contact form.

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