The Tricks to Working with a Remote Intern
Career Growth

The Tricks to Working with a Remote Intern

We’ve witnessed and embraced the rise of remote work, but what about working with an inexperienced intern? CC's Marketing Manager breaks down the best tips she learned supervising a remote internship.

It was my third week working at Career Contessa when I got the email. Someone wanted to intern for us, and her name was Sruthi

I immediately thought: “Wait, I just started. I don't even know what I would have an intern work on. And do I have time to manage anyone, let alone an intern who would work remotely?! Won't it just end up being more work for me?”

But in our initial phone call, Sruthi was passionate about CC, eager to learn, and seemed on top of her game. And this is startup life, where we take all the help we can get. So despite my reservations, I went with it—and it was the best decision ever. Here’s what I learned.

CHOOSE WISELY

All interns have some willingness to learn—otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be doing an internship. But it takes a special personality type to excel at a remote internship—the type of person who has an insatiable desire to learn and the ability to self-motivate. They absolutely have to be able to get things done on their own.

You’ve probably managed someone who needed a bit of hand-holding. If you haven’t, here’s a good idea of what that’s like: 

- Asks endless questions. 

- Doesn’t understand that 90% of said questions can be answered by Google. 

- Listens and takes notes, but doesn’t seem to reference those notes and instead asks more questions, which brings me back to where I started. 

Bottom line: this kind of behavior hardly works in a standard internship. Add the complication of working remotely? Your g-chat window will be blowing up all day, every day.

Regardless of where they are, if you have the opportunity to hire someone who is genuinely excited about what you do, DO IT.

So what qualities should you look for when hiring a remote intern?

  • Resourceful - because they need to be able to find answers to their questions when you aren’t available.
  • Confident - because they need to be able to make decisions on their own and feel comfortable taking direction and feedback from someone they’ve never met IRL.
  • Self-Motivated - because they have to want it. No one is going to be holding their hand through the internship.

CC Behind-the-Scenes Tip: What made our remote intern stand out from past interns was her genuine passion for our company. She was excited about Career Contessa’s mission and had been following the brand for a while, so she already had a great understanding of our content, tone, etc. We got lucky. But so could you. If you have the opportunity to hire someone who is genuinely excited about what you do, DO IT.

ASK YOUR INTERN WHAT THEY WANT TO LEARN

Sounds obvious, right? Well, here’s another obvious point: people put more effort into things that interest them. So while it might be tempting to load up your intern with all those data entry projects you’ve been avoiding, don’t. Don’t be a soulless slave-driver who sends your intern into fits of minertia.

I’m not saying don’t give them any grunt work, because hey, we’ve all had to do things we didn’t want to during an internship. In fact, we do things we don’t want to do every day in our current jobs. It’s part of the experience, and it’s part of the real day-to-day of the company. But your intern is working remotely, K?

With a remote intern, you’re not going to be able to give them the “insider view” of what it’s like to work in your industry. The learning is done through screenshare tutorials and lots of Googling on their own time. If you give them soul-suck projects and they have to do that work from a lonely, AC-pumped corner of Starbucks? They aren’t going to think highly of the experience. And you won’t have done your job as a manager.

CC BTS Tip: I thought about projects in terms of what could be somewhat “self-taught.” Stuff that I needed to research in order to figure out, like setting up automated Google Analytics reports. It’s something I knew we needed to do, and even though I had a general understanding of how to do it, I would ultimately need to watch a few YouTube videos in order to get it done. Turns out Sruthi was very interested in analytics, and she dug deeper into the research than I probably would have myself. She learned something new and I checked something off my to-do list. Win-win.

Ditch every last bit of micromanager you have in you, and truly let your intern take the lead on things.

GIVE YOUR INTERN PROJECTS TO OWN

Remote interns take a little more planning on your part. It’s not as simple as running over to their desk when you reach critical mass or suddenly need serious help to make a deadline that just got moved up. Instead, you’ve got to think proactively and make a few educated guesses about what you’ll need done. You should be planning their tasks on a weekly or even monthly basis depending on how long the projects take.

I found that, right from the start, it helps to assign ongoing projects that your intern can take ownership of for the entire internship. Think about day-to-day tasks that you have to do, and be honest with yourself about what stuff you can actually let go of (i.e. “delegate” and yes, we know it’s hard).

The point of giving your intern projects to own is that it takes something completely off your plate—like out of your mind, don’t ever have to think about it. Plus, it gives your intern something to work on when you are running late on giving them their next round of to-dos.

CC BTS Tip: I put Sruthi in charge of scheduling all of our curated content on Pinterest. I reviewed the first couple times, and after I saw that she hadn’t pinned anything that would cause the Career Contessa brand to come crumbling down, I did something that the OCD-side of me hated: I let her have complete control. But the super busy side of me said, “Hell yes, I have a few more hours every week.”

The point of giving your intern projects to own is that it takes something completely off your plate—like out of your mind, don’t ever have to think about it. Plus, it gives your intern something to work on when you are running late on giving them their next round of to-dos.

KEEP IT STRUCTURED BUT ALSO KEEP IT LOOSE

Confused? Here’s what I mean: it’s a balancing act. As a manager, you need to have some structure in place, like weekly check-in calls, a project list with deadlines, and overall learning goals for the internship. But I also think keeping things loose helps a lot with a remote internship. Ditch every last bit of micromanager you have in you, and truly let your intern take the lead on things.

For example, discuss a range of projects with your intern and rather than assigning them deadlines, ask them when they think they can get the work done by. You can obviously give feedback, but I think asking them for deadlines lets them take ownership of the projects in a different way. You’re giving your intern something that is truly invaluable—showing that you trust them to get the work done in a timely manner. And trust goes a long way. You just might find that you get a higher quality of work back from them.

CC BTS Tip: I came up with ~10 projects that I thought might be interesting for Sruthi for the last month of her internship. I let her have complete control over which ones she wanted to focus on and when she would deliver them by. She’s ambitious, so she chose to take on all of them. And that, friends, is why our intern is so much cooler than yours.

Got more questions about working with remote interns? Ask them below. Meghan and Sruthi will be happy to answer them.