Having received an offer to intern during the summer at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), my colleague is concerned about the impacts of COVID-19 on his human-to-human interactions with other staff of the Bank. This concern is valid and Rastraraj isn’t alone in this boat. As many students prepare to begin their summer internships in an era where the new normal, at least for now, is working from home and social distancing, many may not gain the hands-on experience they anticipated.
Even before the pandemic, a reason many internships were unsuccessful was that several supervisors failed to connect with their interns. Their busy schedules, perhaps, inhibited them from issuing tasks to their interns and monitoring them to note their productivity and recommend changes where necessary. Now, with almost all organizational works done online, this compounds the situation and interns may vanish in the waves of their supervisors’ busy tasks and online meetings.
The first thing entrants can do for themselves is to understand the nature of their internships. Internships usually fall into two broad categories: research placements and operational placements. By understanding this, the interns would know the kind of workload the organization requires them to do and how they can effectively communicate their outputs to their supervisors.
The next thing is requesting a well-defined term of reference. A term of reference is the scope and limitations of any activity. The goals and requirements, as well as the key performance indicators (KPIs) of organizational tasks, may change with the current situation. So, interns must ask their supervisors to describe whether there are changes to their roles and expectations and how they (entrants) fit into the organization’s plan moving forward in the coming months. These questions, and more, must be answered in ways demonstrating that the internship can help the candidate grow professionally.
It has been mentioned above that the failure of many internships is usually based on poor guidance from the supervisors, and the pandemic may exacerbate this problem. To avoid this, interns must act intently. They should not wait for their managers to ask them about their tasks or to schedule check-ins. They should take the initiative to do those things themselves. But this cannot just happen. So, the entrants must request their managers to tell them the best means of mutual interaction. The managers may be comfortable with communicating via emails, phone calls, or online conferencing platforms like Zoom, among others. Whatever the preferred means of communication, interns must ensure that such can be sited when clarifications need to be made. Secondly, by scheduling regular check-ins, the candidates get to discuss with their bosses about their ongoing tasks and request for constructive feedback on their performance.
Furthermore, interns must inform their supervisors about the possible difficulties they may encounter undertaking their tasks. Depending on their location, interns working from home may face several challenges like poor internet access, limited resources to fund internet subscriptions, limited access or information to events or networking engagement their supervisors may want them to attend, and the difference in time zones, among others. These must be spelt out so that both parties are aware of the situation and adjustments initiated.
More so, interns can expand their network by requesting to join or forming a virtual group for all interns in the organization. This way, they can share their experiences and learn from one another on how best to approach certain issues in the organization.
An online internship may not be the best form of human-to-human interaction Rastra desires but at the moment, it is the given. So, adapting quickly to this form of engagement combined with effective communication with superiors is the best strategy to make the most out of the internship opportunity.