Creating a Dynamic Virtual Intern Onboarding Experience

For organizations offering virtual internships, figuring out how to manage your offsite interns is a challenge in itself - and creating a great onboarding experience for your remote interns is no small feat. After all, the onboarding process is one of the first and most important aspects of your program, and will set the stage for a successful intern experience overall.

After getting the scoop from several leading internship program managers, we’ve put together a great list of ideas on how to create a dynamic intern onboarding experience, even when it’s all remote!

Train your managers on managing remote interns

Your managers are likely not familiar with managing remote teams, let alone interns who often need a bit more guidance than more seasoned professionals. Draft a best practices document for your team that includes feedback from your pre-intern surveys including any concerns your incoming class has, and ideas to address those concerns proactively.

Host a welcome kick-off event before the start of the internship program. 

For example, you could do a virtual meeting for all of your interns, give a brief presentation on your company and answer any questions your interns have. Make sure to invite the managers so they can introduce themselves to the group as well. To take this a step further, consider inviting mentors and past interns to share insights and help get your incoming class excited for what’s to come.

Make an impact on the first day by getting creative

The first day is the true launch of your internship program - make sure to welcome your interns right away, and try to think outside the box to get them involved and engaged. Our experts say to keep the first day light, fun, and engaging rather than immediately hitting them with a ton of admin tasks and training sessions. Here are some great ideas for the first day of onboarding:

  • Virtual escape room challenge
  • Strength-finders 
  • Virtual cooking event
  • Virtual magician  
  • Living room scavenger hunt
  • Make it “intern day” so they immediately feel welcomed and appreciated

You can also do an “end of first day” intern welcome session, or a happy hour, where interns can get to know the team and each other. You could have every intern introduce themselves individually, or use breakout rooms for smaller group interactions.

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Ice breaker ideas: 

Whether in your pre-internship kickoff, or first day kickoff icebreakers can help everyone relax and get into the spirit. Some great ideas from our experts:

  • Have interns set their virtual background as something that has a special meaning for them, or their school mascot
  • Put them in small groups, and give each group a certain amount of time to find 3 things that everyone in their break room has in common
  • Run a trivia game, it could be general (popular memes for example), or company-based

For the rest of the week, you can dive in with intern-specific onboarding information - sort of an “Intern 101”. If you plan ahead, you could also have your interns pre-record introductions and play them throughout the day. Ask them to share a fun fact, or show their remote workspace for example. 

As you get into the details, make sure to have your senior leaders speak to the intern class., Don’t forget to give an overview of payroll, legal, compliance and anything typically included in your new hire onboarding. This is also a great time to have your interns meet their managers and mentors, if they haven’t already. 

It’s important to provide some structure and let your interns know what to expect. Have managers set up weekly one-on-ones, and host a weekly or bi-weekly intern group meeting. Setting up a separate Slack channel for your interns can also help them get to know each other and start to build a great intern community.

Ready for another pro tip? Use themes to keep your onboarding fun and interesting - from a themed kick-off event, to weekly themes that tie in your events, training, and contests. 

Continue the experience throughout the internship:

While onboarding sets the stage for the internship, you don’t want to start with a super fun first week, and then drop the ball for the rest of their intern experience. Make sure you continue to engage your interns throughout the program. You can have a lot of fun with mini-events that don’t take a lot of time, like weekly photo contests for places they went pre-Covid, pics of the interns cooking, baby pictures, etc. 

Where it makes sense, offer prizes for participating in events and contests. This can be anything from company swag to gift cards (Amazon and DoorDash are especially popular with interns), to bigger end-of-season prizes like Sonos speakers or GoPros. Another winning prize idea? Scooters! Apparently these are a big deal on campus ;). And if interns are a big part of your recruiting strategy, you can even expand your contests to include friends and family - for example an “intern and their buddy” contest where they both get a prize.

A final thought, if all of this seems too much to tackle you can always hire a 3rd party event planner. It’s likely more affordable than you think, and they’re full of great, creative ideas to make your intern onboarding experience a winner!

Want more insights on how to successfully shift your internship program for a virtual environment?

Check out our insightful intern panel - PIVOT: Internships of the Future

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