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What our virtual summer internship taught us about nurturing the next generation

The director of university and recruiting programs at eBay shares lessons on professionally developing its young intern class.

What our virtual summer internship taught us about nurturing the next generation
[Source images: Gearstd/iStock; oatintro/iStock; koya79/iStock; Lepusinensis/iStock]

Slack channels dedicated to interns’ pets; Zoom conversations with leaders populated with clapping emojis and plus-ones in the chat box; webinars that explored identity and individuality.

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This summer, our virtual internship program was all about flexibility and building connections—and adapting to new ways of communicating and working that were tailored to Gen Z.

Over three weeks this spring, we revamped our entire summer intern program from in-person to virtual for nearly 100 interns across the U.S. Though this was a road less traveled for our team, it was one that turned out to provide unexpected and welcome opportunities. Were there days when we wanted to throw in the towel in developing this new, cyber-only experience? Absolutely. But from ramp-up through the 12-week program, we pivoted quickly, learned from our mistakes, and discovered new ideas that strengthened our ability to engage overall with this next generation, especially as the future of the workplace continues to evolve due to COVID-19. Here are our takeaways from this summer that will power us as we continue to nurture new and early-career talent.

Company culture as the main ingredient

From the start, our team focused on what is genuine and appropriate to our company’s culture and then took it to the next level. At eBay, we are all about community. This summer, we looked for different connecting points for interns and then magnified those virtually.

We hosted an average of three events per week, including a Zoom fireside chat with our CEO; a deep dive into our shopping verticals through an interactive fashion experience; and a diversity and inclusion training webinar.

Further, Slack channels based on mutual interests were a way to meet peers. Interns were thrilled at the constant flow of events and varied connection points, which we plan to keep in the future.

A fortunate caveat to virtual environments, keeping in touch with our interns even after they’ve left our program has become simpler. And recruiting enthusiastic brand ambassadors has allowed us to build on those connections organically.

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Thorough communication and planning

Be really clear who your stakeholders are and listen to what they need to make your program successful. This summer, we realized how valuable—and soothing—a flexible plan coupled with strong communication can be in providing a clear path forward during a time that otherwise feels uncertain to many. Communicate as far in advance as possible on all levels across your company, whether it’s assessing future needs from hiring managers, contacting interns before joining, mapping out processes with payroll, or sending out laptops weeks ahead of start dates.

Moreover, use technology and use it strategically. This past summer, we took Zoom to its brink of explosion, trying to use it to replicate an in-person event experience. We learned that not every leader or presenter connects and resonates with our intern audience, so we will provide additional support for them by incorporating more audience interaction and visual aids (such as slides and Q&As) in future programming.

Know your recruitment pools

We’ve found that our interns value individuality, authenticity, and diversity, so we’re leaning into these priorities in our outreach efforts. We’re exploring different platforms and services that cater to attracting untapped minorities and give us the opportunity to cast our net strategically wider. For instance, GradLeaders, Handshake, and Yello are a few of the options we used to connect with, engage, and evaluate candidates.

In addition, we’ve asked interns to share their involvement with campus student groups so we can create smaller-scale partnerships at colleges where we recruit already. We’re having eBay employees reach out—from our employee resource groups (known as Communities of Inclusion at eBay), school alumni, and past members of student organizations—which is much easier in a virtual environment.

And while there’s an opportunity for us to both broaden and deepen our reach virtually, a door has also opened on the student-based side. Colleges are reaching out more than before, worried their students won’t get visibility with employers, especially in tech. So they’re meeting us in the middle and asking what they can do to help disseminate information and connect us with students, and we will respond with services, information, and online opportunities that speak to their needs.

Outreach with a creative spin

In-person recruiting is all about meeting individuals, learning their story, and sharing excitement at potentially representing our company. How do we translate that to a screen-based experience? Our answer was to play off Generation Z’s comfort with social channels and digital platforms.

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To mimic today’s youth-facing apps, we’re creating an interactive marketing campaign that blends tidbits about our company and videos about our culture with questions to engage potential new talent. Using programs that might resonate with this generation, we’ll ask them to swipe left or swipe right, sharing information as a way of showing how they might have a place at eBay. If we hadn’t gone virtual, we might never have taken this more innovative approach.

As interns worked from home and interacted over screens, they found freedom and confidence to share their genuine personalities, build strong bonds, and create a sense of community. As we signed our notes to our interns (“We are here for you always, in all ways”), we hope our new virtual program created connections that highlight our culture and our strengths in ways that will long outlast this virus.


Cindy Loggins is the director of university recruiting and programs at eBay.

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