Summer internships during a pandemic

As local organizations adjust their summer internships to the new coronavirus reality, managers are tackling the challenge of how to incorporate students into their culture—sometimes, without seeing them face to face.

It’s impossible to fully replicate the experience of being in an office, so managers and interns must get creative to foster a work-from-home internship experience that is as close to the real deal as possible, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the process, Baton Rouge companies are improvising.

While nonverbal cues that come from speaking to someone in person can’t be simulated, there are still ways organizations can keep interns engaged and make them feel valued. Take, for example, the nine summer interns at BASF’s Geismar plant, who are all on modified schedules, working a few days a week onsite and the rest from home.

“We wanted to figure out, what interactions will these interns be missing by working virtually two or three days a week?” says Francesca Shreve, BASF’s senior talent advisor. “We wanted to give them a rounded idea of what BASF offers.”

To do so, Shreve implemented several new initiatives intended to give interns a better sense of the company’s culture. Interns are now partnered with BASF mentors, with whom they share biweekly phone calls, and both parties are encouraged to come out to volunteer opportunities. BASF has also launched a mini-series in which company directors deliver presentations to the interns, who may then ask the director questions about their role at the facility.

Moreover, BASF’s employee resource groups—including its LGBTQ+ and ally group, women in business group and emerging professionals group—have organized WebX coffee chats, which Shreve believes “could be great resource to the next generation of the workforce.”

“Even when they’re working from home, we schedule those WebX’s so they’re getting the same knowledge and attention they’re getting onsite,” Shreve says, noting safety is BASF’s top priority.

Similarly, Jones Walker wanted to figure out the safest way to continue its summer associate program, which has traditionally given law students ample opportunity to network with the attorneys—their future employers.

Jones Walker’s legal recruiting team determined the best route to take would be for the firm to break up its six-week program into two halves, with summer associates working the first three weeks remotely and reporting to the office the next three weeks.

“We tried to be really creative about the activities we did, and we tried to check in with the students every one or two days, because we realize that can be an isolating process,” says partner Rae Vasquez, who’s overseeing four summer associates at the firm’s Baton Rouge office. “It was incumbent on us to make sure they stayed connected to our attorneys.”

During the three-week remote period, the associates were given projects via email or phone call, with check-in Zoom calls scheduled several times per week. Additionally, some networking events were transferred online—including a Zoom wine tasting in which a sommelier discussed each wine the firm had delivered to associates’ homes—while others took place outdoors, like a socially distanced pizza party on LSU’s Parade Ground.

Now that the law students are coming into the office, though, various safety measures have been put in place. Among them: Temperature checks at the door, daily questionnaires and recommended mask-wearing in common areas, as summer associates work in their own offices. Meanwhile, socially distanced networking lunches are arranged in the law firm’s spacious conference rooms.

“Working from home is one thing, but coming into the office and seeing other people around you is a different way to learn culture of our firm,” Vasquez says. “Not only do the summer associates still get to interact with the attorneys who are here, but for those who aren’t, we set up virtual coffees for them to meet with one another.”

If your company must readjust its summer internship program, consider the following tips from the LSU Olinde Career Center:

• Host a virtual information session. Use a video conferencing tool like Zoom or Google Hangouts so that groups of students dial in and view or listen to an overview of your organization and opportunities.

• Post any open internships or other job opportunities in Handshake. Source candidates using Handshake’s filtering tools, and direct message or email those you’d like to connect with using the email address provided in their public resume.

• Assign your interns to work that can be completed remotely, such as a new project or organizational research. Have them provide your company with a business continuity plan to re-establish normal operations once restrictions are lifted, or for future large-scale events.

• Have your hires sit in on virtual meetings to observe management of the crisis by leadership to develop their own problem-solving skills.

For more information, visit the career center’s website.

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