DCU Research Team

Virtual Internships Step 1 - Begin with the end in mind

Purpose & Expectations

The point of departure for any internship programme should be understanding the objectives it sets out to achieve. The organisations in our research identified a number of different objectives for their programmes.  The objectives identified remained remarkably consistent in the virtual context.

By far the most widely identified motivation was around developing a graduate pipeline. In an increasingly competitive market for graduate talent, internships represented a key means of showcasing the organisation and providing employees with a realistic expectation of working for that organisation.  They also provide an effective selection tool as the work placement facilitates the assessment of intern’s cultural fit and other important selection criteria. A number of interviewees mentioned the importance of behaviours and fit over pure technical competence in this regard.

In a small number of cases, we heard about an explicit focus on the development of competence in the interns with the aim of ensuring they were work ready when they did join the graduate programme on completion of their studies. In one professional services firm, this was reflected in interns being recruited in the first year of their studies and returning back over multiple summers to build their skills. Other objectives raised by our interviewees included, to fill a skills gap in the organisation or bring new ideas or skills to the firm based on the latest knowledge from education.

A related objective for internships was aligned with building diversity in the talent pipeline. Almost all respondents mentioned the desire for gender diversity. The diversity and inclusion (D&I) orientation was often aligned with organisational values or wider corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. A number of organisations with smaller intern programmes mentioned CSR as their key motivation. The emphasis on diversity was manifest in a number of ways. These included ensuring the programme recruited from a diverse range of universities and colleges. There is little doubt that the virtual format removed some of the barriers for interns based outside major cities who would have been subject to accommodation costs in the past. Additionally, delivering gender diversity in STEM disciplines was identified in a number of organisations. A number of interviewees mentioned partnerships with networks such as ‘Code like a Girl’ in this regard.  Organisations with programmes in the US cited examples of recruiting from historically black colleges and universities as a key means of building diversity. We return to this in the next step.

Identifying the programme goals, objectives, and expectations for both the company and interns alike, provides the first step in the design of the programme and was also core to thinking about the KPIs that should be measured in evaluating the programme. (We return to this in the final step.) A virtual programme outline and roadmap with clear objectives and expectations, a vision of what success looks like underpinned by an analysis of the requirements and resources, summarises this first step in the path to the creation of a virtual internship programme.



Objectives, Purpose and Expectations

  1. Establish clear goals, objectives, and purpose for the programme.
  2. Identify intern expectations about the internship programme.
  3. Consider objectives around diversity and inclusion.
  4. Consider links to organisational CSR programmes.
  5. Develop key performance and evaluation metrics around objectives.
  6. Identify key performance metrics for the intern.
  7. Use objectives to inform programme design and resource requirements.