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Secrets of Onboarding Remote Interns During a Pandemic

As Kyra Rieger watched internships get upended when the coronavirus took hold, she was nervous that hers might fall through as well. Instead, Rieger made history, joining Knopman Marks’ first remote summer class of interns.

“I’m so happy things worked out,” says Rieger, a rising senior at Northeastern University, who joined Knopman Marks as a summer co-op. “This is my first office job. Well, my first office job without an actual office.”

Businesses from Yelp to the Walt Disney Company called off their summer internship programs in the wake of the pandemic, disappointing college students who look to internships as a way to gain valuable professional experience.

At Knopman Marks, Leigh Yanocha and Danielle Barringer pivoted on a dime to reinvent the company’s robust summer internship program as an entirely remote offering. “It was very important to us to follow through with our internship program,” says Yanocha, head of people strategy. “We’re committed to investing in early talent development.”

Rounding out the Knopman Marks 2020 Summer Internship Program, which runs from June 1 to September 4, are Amil Khattar, Dagan Lin, Antara Nag-Chaudhuri, and Donatella Mancinone, who is continuing a co-op she started in January.

Recruiting for Remote Positions During a Pandemic

Assembling the class of interns was not without its challenges, especially the task of interviewing students, who were fleeing their campuses in the midst of the pandemic. “Students were moving out of the dorms when we would normally have been on campus meeting them—it was crazy,” Yanocha says. “We ran about a month behind our usual schedule.”

Unable to meet the interns in person made building a cohesive team trickier. However, the criteria for the internship remained the same: “We look for students with a high GPA, who have administrative skills and can work independently as well as on teams,” Yanocha says. “We also look at their extracurricular interests. We’re interested in people who like to get involved. It adds spice.”

A detailed 47-page training manual introduces interns to the team, explains company policies and expectations, and provides an overview of every licensing exam Knopman Marks teaches. Each intern is paired with a faculty member and assigned to support a specific exam.

For Yanocha and Barringer, who both had memorable internships at the start of their careers, creating positive internship experiences is a chance to pay it forward.

Corporate Culture in a Remote Work Environment

In the four years since Yanocha took over the summer internship program, she has worked diligently to make sure students gain skills that will help them thrive in any professional setting. Interns receive a wide range of hands-on experience, from presenting in a group to running large webinars. They’re also taught soft skills like punctuality, a positive “can do” attitude, and teamwork.

For Mancinone, whose eight months with Knopman Marks will end in September, a highlight has been the chance to wear different hats. “Marketing experience. Data analysis. Customer support. I’m getting a lot of real-world experience,” she says.

Mancinone is also grateful for the unexpected bonus that her manager became one of her best friends. “I can’t even imagine how future internships will compare,” she says. “It couldn’t get any better.”

Yanocha worked with Barringer to ensure that interns had opportunities to make connections with one another and the team. “We wanted to make sure our remote internships would still provide the kinds of networking opportunities that, from our experiences, Leigh and I both know can be so valuable,” notes Barringer, a data strategist and member of the faculty.

Yanocha and Barringer dreamed up creative ways to foster a team dynamic and bond: daily morning check-ins, rounds of online Taboo, and a virtual happy hour where everyone learns to mix up specialty cocktails and build an elegant cheese board.

Nag-Chaudhuri especially enjoyed hearing the weekly “Inside Scoop,” presented by different members of the team, including interns: “It was so interesting to learn more about the people who work here. People really make an effort to get to know you so you feel like you belong.”

Yanocha believes building a team culture is more important now than ever: “I told the interns, ‘I hope in five years, you guys still talk to each other.’ We want to build a cohort.”

They’re also building a highly supportive environment. On day one, interns and co-ops met in a “virtual lobby,” where Yanocha and Barringer welcomed them. Everyone introduced themselves before taking a moment to troubleshoot any tech issues. Yanocha and Barringer then escorted the group to a company-wide virtual meeting so they could meet the larger team. Afterward, “the interns received the keys to the office, which, in this case, was their email login details,” Yanocha says. “We were so excited to welcome them aboard.”

Rieger, a marketing major, appreciates the availability of the Knopman Marks team. “If there are any problems, it’s easy to get in touch with someone,” she says. “I never feel like I’m sitting in a room by myself with no idea where to turn. It’s not a big corporate environment. Everyone helps us out.”

Virtual Training Can Boost the Remote Internship Experience

To ensure that interns have a memorable experience even though remote internships can’t replicate some aspects of office life – such as opportunities to have organic conversations or impromptu brainstorming sessions with colleagues – Knopman Marks returned to its roots.

New this summer, the internship program includes SIE training from Knopman Marks’ exceptional faculty. “I wasn’t expecting that we would be trained to take the SIE,” Rieger says. “We’re not only getting work experience but a credential we can put on our resume.”

Lin, a rising senior at Boston University who is studying business administration and eyeing a career in investment banking, is looking forward to taking the Securities Industry Essentials, or SIE, Exam at the end of the summer. “This will be something I’ve done that will set me apart from other applicants in the future,” he says.

Khattar, a rising junior at Northeastern University, has enjoyed meeting candidates working toward the goal of passing their licensing exams as he studies for the SIE. “What surprised me most about this internship is how devoted everyone here is to each candidate,” says Khattar, who is majoring in business administration, with a dual concentration in marketing analytics and finance. “We have thousands of students training here, but I’m humbled by how much devotion and care each instructor has for every student.”

Leigh’s Top Tips for Onboarding Interns Remotely

1. Do the pre-work. Make sure interns have access to the company email, online platforms, and the training manual in advance. If possible, also share a physical or virtual “care package” with welcome notes, swag, computer backgrounds, and relevant tech to build excitement.

2. Make their first day special. Start the day with a virtual team check-in so the interns feel welcome.

3. Check in daily. Help them acclimate by holding a standing meeting each morning (a place to address questions).

4. Give them something of lasting value. Make sure interns walk away with new skills. To make the virtual experience more robust, consider additional programming, such as SIE or career training.

5. Plan virtual social events. Create opportunities for interns to get to know one another and interact with the team.

Suzanne Riss is an author and Director of Communications at Knopman Marks Financial Training. Previously the award-winning Editor-in-Chief of Working Mother magazine, she is a fierce advocate for issues facing working moms and an authority on work/life trends. Her expertise has been tapped in interviews by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and CNN. Suzanne's third book, Work Disrupted, published by Wiley, was released in January 2021.