How To Start Your Virtual Internship Program

By May 26, 2013

It happens to every startup. You’re beginning to gain traction, understand the right marketing and sales tactics for your business, and getting to the point where you can’t do it all yourself.  All this good news means it’s time to expand your team. However, you’re worried about making any costly hiring decisions while you’re still getting on your feet.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average cost-per-hire for entry-level workers was $5,134 in the past year. What’s the best way to add value to your team without breaking the bank?

Remote hires — more specifically, virtual interns — present a cost-effective option for adding value to your company. Each year, more companies are opting to take on virtual internships in an attempt to expand their temporary workforce to new locations, gain a fresh and youthful perspective, and cut overhead costs.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to set up your virtual internship program today.

Yes, Your Company Can Take On Virtual Interns

Did you know that 59.3 percent of students are open to doing a virtual internship? It’s a common misconception that only marketing companies hire virtual interns. Remote workers can be beneficial to companies of all sizes and industries. And they work especially well for cash-strapped small businesses and tech startups preparing for explosive growth.

Bringing on temporary or project-based virtual talent is a great way for companies to nurture students and help them transform into professionals worth bringing on full-time after graduation. Naturally, the best type of work for virtual internships can be done from any location with minimal supervision. But before you begin to pen the job description for your virtual internship listing, remote internships aren’t just about assigning tasks.

The Benefits Of Hiring Virtual Interns

Opening your company up to students across the nation — potentially the world — can do wonders for your company. You now have access to students located at top universities, a greater variety of experiences and skill sets, as well as a chance for greater diversity. You’ll also receive access to better talent through the flexible nature of your virtual opportunity. Students who may have otherwise passed up your internship due to a busy schedule, may see remote work as a better match for their schedule.

Your virtual internship opportunity will save you money, especially if you’re worried about space, equipment, supplies, and general office perks. Your virtual interns won’t place a burden on you in any of those areas. Saving money on overhead costs may even allow you to pay your virtual interns — a great opportunity for attracting more competitive talent.

Many companies find virtual internship programs to be a fantastic pipeline for young talent. Internships usually last three months — that’s roughly 90 days to see if your potential interns have what it takes in terms of know-how and cultural fit. Consider it a test-run for a future hire.

The Potential Downsides Of Virtual Interns

While I wish this wasn’t the case, hiring virtual interns isn’t the solution to all of your company’s problems. Virtual interns should never be considered as a cheap way to get things done. For example, you may have the workload to hire a part-time virtual software development intern, but without diligent management, things could go awry. Your interns need guidance, structure and feedback. Internships are educational environments, and the online factor should never take away from this crucial point.

Since your virtual interns won’t be spending any time in your office, they will gain little insight into your company culture. As an employer, this may lead to some problems in gauging whether this student would make a great full-time hire. How can you be certain they’ve really got what it takes to thrive in your company’s unique environment?

You must have excellent communication skills to take on virtual interns. If you can’t find the time to pick up the phone or video chat at least once a week, you’re not doing your company or your interns any justice. Believe it or not, successful virtual internships are often hinged on face-to-face interaction.

Setting Up A Mutually Effective Virtual Internship Program

Don’t let the virtual setting of this internship fool you. When it comes to recruiting, hiring, managing, and benefiting from a remote addition to your workforce, you get what you give.  Virtual interns require the same amount — if not more — planning and guidance than your average office-dwelling intern. Here are a few things to consider for your virtual internship program:

– Only recruit and hire interns with the experience and skills to thrive in a virtual environment

– Read up on the latest internship laws

– Develop a semester-long or project-based plan for the internship involving specific duties, projects, goals, and an intern handbook

– Choose an intern supervisor who is a great leader and enjoys working with students

– Nail down a variety of mediums for communication: Skype, email, phone, etc.

– Develop meaningful projects for your interns that benefit your bottom line

– Schedule weekly calls or video chats for guidance and feedback

– Create a plan to train the student virtually, perhaps with a once a week hour-long workshop that even goes beyond the scope of the interns work.

– Choose an appropriate compensation plan

– Use strong employer branding to spread the word about your opportunities


Ready to take on a virtual intern? Create your job listing today and give your company the boost it deserves with the help of an outstanding student anywhere in the nation.

Does your company hire virtual interns? If so, what kind of benefits have you experienced?


About the Author:

Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.