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Remote Internships Are Here To Change The Face of Inclusive Hiring

DE&I-focused hiring efforts might have just got an unexpected boost from remote work and COVID19, as recruiters exchange visits to their regular circuit of campus fairs for virtual programs that reach a far more diverse pool of candidates.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

It’s 2020 and companies are actively thinking about how to reinvent recruiting so they can evolve into more diverse and inclusive workplaces. A noble goal, but one that is considerably harder to achieve when recruiters are flooded with thousands of resumes that they cannot possibly sort through equitably.

It is no wonder that HR has come to rely heavily on artificial intelligence to filter through job applications. While many argue that automating the screening of resumes reduces conscious and unconscious human bias, technology isn’t perfect. Because bots are trained to pick up on certain keywords, they could make it harder for diverse applicants who haven’t studied at a “prestigious” school or who don’t have a particular degree, to get face time with a recruiter.

Recruiting is a complicated process, and companies often default to picking candidates from tried-and-tested backgrounds, who come from schools with big brands, because they seem like the most sureshot return on investment.

The US Department of Labor estimates that the cost of a bad hire can be up to 30% of the employee’s wages for the first year. Further, an employee who isn’t up to snuff requires more manager time and supervision, which hurts productivity.

That’s where remote experiential learning programs come in. What if recruiters could assess applicants in the most fair way possible – entirely based on their performance on an actual project for the company – before they’re hired? 

Wait a minute, you say. That’s what an internship is for. 

But the problem with internships is that they aren’t easy to scale. Companies incur significant costs with finding and choosing interns, flying them out to headquarters and paying for their accommodation for a few weeks. 

Here’s how an early talent identification program that is remote could be game changing. 

Companies can assign a much larger number of applicants a remote work project that allows them to demonstrate their skill and commitment over several weeks. This suddenly breaks the dam on the size of a firm’s recruiting pool, particularly if they’re willing to hire for remote work in the long term. More importantly, it opens up work experience opportunities for all students, no matter where they live or study, which might be the biggest gift to diverse hiring that our workforce has seen in decades.

“Companies are understanding that the more diverse their workforce is, the more productive it is, and we are seeing that more employers want to hire diverse candidates because that is going to improve their business, not just because they don’t want to be sued,” said Steven Rothberg, founder of College Recruiter, one of the earliest online job boards that connected employers with students. 

“We’ve already seen that some of our employer customers have become completely school agnostic and even major agnostic when hiring. This is a great boost for diversity. When employers are looking for smart students, with skills like critical thinking or communication, it is because they know they can adapt to the needs of their businesses.”

Agnostic Recruiting

Dawn Carter, Director of Global University Recruiting at Uber, notes that the big shift in student recruiting over the last decade has been towards agnostic recruiting models, which is a step towards more inclusive hiring.

“This allows us to think of top students versus top schools,” she said.

“COVID19 really pushed the envelope on virtual internships. We don’t expect to be back at campus fairs next spring, but even if we are ready to return by fall, we plan to take learnings from this year’s remote internships and incorporate them into our future recruiting models.”

Every recruiter worries that they’ve overlooked the application of the perfect candidate for a job, simply because they were unable to mine through the slush pile of resumes they receive fairly and efficiently.

Because hiring the wrong candidate is so expensive and counterproductive, interviewing for a job has become a complex process, involving one-on-one time with multiple managers, case based interview questions and on and offsite rounds. The hope is that during the process of extensive interviewing, an employer has the chance not just to assess a candidate’s competency, but also their personality, style of working and how they might fit in with company culture.

A remote internship run over several weeks is a far more efficient way to get in the trenches with a future candidate and actually work alongside them, assess their output and other factors, such as whether they are regularly on time, can communicate well and show initiative.

It is also cheaper to run – an in-person summer intern typically costs companies between $6,000 to $7,000 – and helps firms reach and train more students.

“How do you take a 20 year old who has never been in the workforce, who might be working from their parents basement, and train and develop them, when your hiring manager is halfway across the country or in a different time zone?” Rothberg asks.

“Big companies have a huge problem with this and with remote work, employers have to find new solutions.”

Again, a remote program that serves as a prequel to a longer term internship or a full-time role, might be the best solution. It not only prepares students to work with a remote team, but also allows companies to assess multiple candidates at scale, before extending job offers.

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