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Pandemic Year in Review: An Interview With EMP’s Remote Interns

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Real-world experience: Colleges talk about it. Students expect it. Employers look for it on resumes.

College juniors and seniors most commonly get real-world experience through hands-on, in-person internships. So, what does real-world experience look like during a global “new normal”? Glassdoor estimated that half of the internships in the U.S. were canceled in the spring of 2020, and internship hiring on Glassdoor for April of that year fell 39% compared to April 2019. A recent Forbes article described how “a casualty of campus shutdowns was the college internship, long regarded as one of the most beneficial forms of student engagement, valued as a high-impact experience that immerses students in environments where they learn and practice the crucial soft skills of employability.”

Adapting to Change at the EMP Office

Collaboration is essential to any creative team. Marketing campaign brainstorming sessions, content strategy planning and brand-guided design meetings were daily occurrences in our Poughkeepsie office before New York’s shelter-from-home order was announced in March, 2020. As a tech-savvy team of marketers, programmers, designers, writers and client success managers, our entire office pivoted to a work-from-home format immediately. While thousands of businesses lost their ability to utilize interns, Liaison’s EMP team continued our internship program across multiple departments and developed a new communication method between employees at all levels.

Internship programs present a mutually beneficial proposition to both industry professionals and the students they train. As a higher education marketing and tech firm, high school and college-age students are not just our primary target audience, they are also vital in our decision-making process and market testing. Interns support our creative efforts, provide invaluable insight and directly relate to the audience we interact with most, Generation Z. In March 2020, halfway through the Spring internship, our office went dark as laptop screens lit up from home. The Spring 2020 interns had to learn to adapt to remote work and learning overnight, and since that time, we have hired nearly a dozen more interns from around the Empire State.

Remote Internships: The Student Perspective

We sat down with three of our recent copywriting and content strategy interns to hear about their experiences during the last year.

What have you learned about remote work? What differences have you noticed compared to in-office work? What are the benefits and/or disadvantages?

Riannon Varney, Spring 2020: Interning from home has helped me keep a daily routine and has provided me with new skills that will be needed in the workforce after this pandemic. I look forward to working every week and seeing what has changed in, not only the higher education industry, but the marketing industry as a whole as well. Yet, I have faced many new challenges I would not have dealt with in the office. For example, sharing “office space” or in my case, the dining room table, with my mom.

I have learned virtual call etiquette and different ways to communicate while not in the office, including Microsoft Teams and Skype. In past internships, I have only communicated with my colleagues through email. Companies will be looking for students who are accustomed to working remotely, and those who built the skillset to transition back and forth. Moving forward, specifically in the near future, many conference calls and meetings will most likely take place virtually.

I now have a competitive edge to someone who’s never worked remotely before and may not be fully comfortable with the various platforms, skills or attention needed to perform and execute tasks.

Erica Gartelmann, Summer 2020: Though my experience as a remote intern for Liaison has been untraditional, I have learned a ton about copywriting, developed my writing skills and gotten a sneak peek into the working world.

Remote work doesn’t allow for as much collaboration, which I think I disliked the most. I’m the type of person who likes to bounce ideas off of other people or have a good brainstorming session before I work on my own. Nevertheless, this experience challenged me to be more independently creative.

One benefit of working from home is that the commute to work is much shorter; however, because of this, there’s no distinction between your workspace and home. I enjoy going into an office because seeing my coworkers and changing my surroundings helps my mind shift into a different mode. Overall, I think there are pros and cons for both working at home and in an office. In my ideal scenario, I think I would want a balance between the two.

Sabrina Molinaro, Fall 2020: There were both good and bad things about working from home. The convenience, of course, was a huge plus. Waking up five minutes before I had to clock in was a very different experience from my last internship, which was a thirty-minute commute each way. I’m also not much of a morning person, so it was especially nice for me not to get up and get ready every morning.

That being said, I did miss being in an actual office and being around people. Once you sit in your dorm for three days straight, you start to miss the outside world, even if I would have had to wake up earlier to get there. Overall, I didn’t mind working from home, but I definitely missed being in a work environment and getting to know the other people there.

Looking On the Bright Side

What are you most grateful for despite the unpredictable end to senior year?

Riannon Varney, Spring 2020: I am most grateful for my internship despite the end of my senior year. I know a lot of people whose experience was cut short because their jobs just could not be done remotely. It was such a relief to still have some sense of normalcy throughout this crazy time. Beyond just learning how to work remotely, it’s given me an escape and something more important to focus on — especially because I didn’t have an extreme workload from regular classes. I also have created new work habits that I don’t think I would have made in the office.

Erica Gartelmann, Summer 2020: I’m most grateful that my family and I are all healthy and safe. Sometimes I’ll get a bit frustrated knowing that classes are online this fall again or that I had to celebrate my 21st birthday in quarantine, but at the end of the day, what really matters most to me is that my loved ones are okay during this pandemic.

In addition to that, I am immensely grateful that Liaison offered me the opportunity to be a remote intern this summer. Scrolling LinkedIn toward the end of May, I noticed how many of my friends were losing their internships due to COVID-19. It made me realize how lucky I was to continue to gain professional experience during such an unprecedented time.

Sabrina Molinaro, Fall 2020: This semester I took on two internships, which I would never have been able to do if I had my usual class schedule. I only felt comfortable doing this because I knew I would have so much extra time on my hands, so the added benefit of this unpredictable year was using my downtime to get more experience. While this was often stressful, it taught me a lot about time management and prioritizing different areas of my life. Although it was difficult, I am grateful to have done it and wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without the added element of everything being remote.

Continuing to Learn and Evolve

While there is an end in sight, we still have a long way to go before COVID-19 is a distant memory. As colleges and universities adapt to a constantly changing environment, it is paramount that internship coordinators across various industries do the same. Liaison’s EMP team is fortunate to attract, hire and retain above-average talent from around the tri-state area. As we continue finding solutions to challenges caused by COVID-19, we reflect on the incredible work our interns put in every day.

To truly understand prospective college students, we need to learn from current ones. The combination of marketing professionals, higher education experts and current college students all working together to improve our clients’ enrollment is what distinguishes EMP as one of the best in the business. Not every EMP intern transitions to a full-time employee, but each one of them leaves a lasting impact on the future of higher education marketing.

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