Internships in a global pandemic – what we’re doing differently

Hodges' dark empty entryway

When coronavirus hit Virginia, our office went fully virtual, and we continue to work virtually to this day. Luckily, we are in an industry where we are able to do so – staying connected via Zoom, Slack and through our shared client responsibilities.

Casey Prentice and I head up Hodges’ internship program, where every semester we host two students for a three-month, paid internship. We pride ourselves on the caliber of The Hodges Partnership internship – students work as an extension of our team, doing real work for real clients, that we’d be doing ourselves if we didn’t have the extra team members. We’ve had some stellar interns come through our doors.

It’s a competitive program (historically) with three rounds of selection – resume and writing sample review, phone interview, and finally, an in-person interview.

So, when summer came around and Hodges was still virtual, Casey and I were discussing what an internship would look like without an office (kudos to our spring interns who experienced the growing pains with us). Would we be able to maintain the caliber we’re so proud of? Ultimately, we couldn’t turn away students and take away the opportunity, so with the support of Jon and Josh, we decided we would build a virtual program and see how it would go.

Spoiler alert: It went well.

Here are some of the things we tweaked this summer and for fall:

Deskless with the structure of a desk job.

Just like our in-person internship, interns had a set schedule of when they would “be online.” In a time with so little structure, a set schedule provided our interns a routine. In addition, it set expectations with their managers, so there was clarity around who was on the clock and available for assignments. 

Slack access to streamline agency communication and share THP personalities

Hodges has used Slack for years, but interns, traditionally, have never been a part of it. Internships were in-person, and our interns were integrated into the daily office chatter, with easy access to everyone, so it wasn’t necessary.

When things went virtual, though, we added our interns to Slack. It’s a lot of business, agency chatter and keeping each other updated on industry trends, but it’s also a lot of food, joking around, gifs, celebrating wins and photos that make us happy.

Staff meetings for everyone!

In pre-COVID agency life, Hodges had a weekly staff meeting Mondays at 10:00 a.m. If an intern was scheduled during that time, they sat in on the meeting from the sidelines. Now that we’re operating virtually, we have three short staffers a week. It’s a quick 30 minutes at the beginning of the day to see each other and touch base on what we’re all up to, including the interns, giving them an unprecedented seat at our virtual conference table. We made sure their schedules overlapped with some of those meetings to they could interact with the whole THP team.

Debriefing the whole shebang

Because this was so new, we wanted a debrief. We wanted to hear about their experience – what they liked, what we could have done better, any feedback or tips they had for future candidates. Our summer interns Amanda and Andrew gave great feedback and helped inform some of the changes we’re implementing in the fall (see our final bullet point).

Moving forward, we’ll add a similar pow wow at the mid-way point, too, to make sure everything is tracking well.

Getting creative with intern-send offs

We love celebrations at Hodges, and that includes sending our interns off. Usually, we’d gather in one of our big teaming rooms, have a bunch of sweets to feast on and chat about their favorite parts of the internship, what they learned and where they’re off to next. We give them a card that everyone in the office had signed with thanks and well wished.

In our new normal, we had to get creative with a virtual send off. And that meant local donut/cookie/ice cream deliveries, so everyone had a sweet treat for a Zoom call. Plus, each Hodger filmed a selfie video that was compiled into a larger montage in place of our handwritten card.

Changes to our application process

Now for fall, we totally revamped our application process. Instead of basing our first round of reviews on resumes and writing samples, we asked three short answer questions. That’s it.

This allowed us to gauge writing skills, brevity and creativity, without any bias based on previous experience or schooling.

After reviewing the short answers, we asked selected applicants for their resumes and conducted Zoom interviews– from there, we made our final selections. This new application process enabled us to speak with a wide range of diverse applicants.

This week, we’re going to do a socially distanced laptop pick-up with our THREE fall interns (we couldn’t pick just two this time). They’ll get a quick rundown on how to login, and we’ll send them on their merry way, quite possibly seeing them in real life for the first and maybe second-to-last time.

With everything we learned from summer, we’re confident we’ve held tight to the high bar we’ve set for ourselves, our program and our interns. And stay tuned, because you’ll be seeing more of our new squad in the coming weeks.

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Aidan Newbold

In both her professional and personal life, Aidan is a storyteller and makes it known in her writing, strategic thinking and creativity. Aidan’s experience at Hodges ranges from engaging NASCAR fans through a social media campaign to writing regular content for Swedish Match’s Umgås Magazine, to pitching media for Richmond Region Tourism and planning press and influencer events.

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