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Entry by Anastasiya Elaeva, Indiana INTERNnet Intern

Still not feeling ready to start a virtual internship program at your organization? Maybe reading another organization’s success story may persuade you. Interactive Intelligence Inc., a global provider of IP unified business communications solutions, headquartered in Indianapolis, has been hosting virtual interns for several years. Their corporate recruiter, Debbie Linville, shared with me how the idea of running a virtual internship program was born and what types of projects interns were working on remotely.

Interactive Intelligence launched their summer internship program in 2006. That year the company hosted six bright interns from different schools in Indiana. When the summer was coming to an end, and it was almost time for the students to return to their universities, one of the company’s managers came up with the idea that the interns could keep contributing to Interactive Intelligence projects by working remotely from their campuses. 90% of communication went online via email. “Only occasionally, the interns had to discuss their assignments with their managers by phone,” adds Debbie.

Overall, students had completely different experiences as virtual interns. Working from their campuses primarily at night or during weekends, outside of Interactive Intelligence’s office hours, they had to be independent and self-reliant in the execution of their assignments. “It was a chance for students to learn more about themselves, and what they actually can accomplish alone,” explains Debbie.

Among the virtual interns who worked at Interactive Intelligence over the past years, there were several computer science majors helping the company with new software development. A secondary education student worked with the company’s client education team and was responsible for scheduling enrollments. In addition, a finance major intern contributed to the Interactive Intelligence finance team by monitoring and reviewing their customer accounts.

All the virtual interns who helped the company had previous experience working in the Interactive Intelligence office. They were familiar with the company’s corporate culture and their managers’ expectations. Debbie would recommend having students in the office first, and then extending their internships through the academic year, so students can continue doing projects that are meaningful both for them and their employer. Debbie’s advice for organizations that are still hesitant about launching virtual internships is “don’t rule anything out, be brave, and you will be surprised by the level of work done by students who work remotely.” According to her, virtual internships allow work to continue after the summer, and students have a chance to get a longer experience. At the same time, keeping interns outside of a usual summer internship period is a huge benefit to the company.

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