In March 2020, first-year MBA students and their prospective internship employers faced an unprecedented challenge: What to do about summer internships during a global health pandemic?

Some students seeking internships saw potential leads fizzle; others who had secured internships during the previous two months began receiving phone calls about internship cancellations. Difficult choices were made all around as organizations and students scrambled to pivot in a landscape that remained uncertain.

Yet, for Humana, a Fortune 500 health insurance company headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, the path forward was clear. Interns would be joining the company that summer as planned, and while recruiting had wrapped up, there could even be room for more.

The Flexible Culture at Humana

The path forward at Humana would be a virtual internship program, which could be accomplished with relative ease given a company culture and infrastructure that supported remote work.

Tiffany Layfield, Graduate Recruiting Lead at Humana, shared “A large percentage of our workforce already worked from home. Therefore, it was a no brainer to continue bringing on interns.” In fact, pre-pandemic 47% of Humana employees across a variety of functions worked remotely and in January 2020, Humana was ranked 15th most flexible workplace in the U.S. by FlexJobs.

Humana has earned this reputation by offering remote work arrangements, using a variety of web platforms to keep employees connected, and providing a wealth of resources for leaders to keep remote employees engaged. With this training engrained within the company, Humana managers were ready to bring interns in smoothly and integrate them as members of the team.

Why Virtual Recruiting Worked

Humana was primed to welcome 20 interns but started to hear from other students inquiring about internship opportunities. Knowing there was potential to bring in more talent, the Humana recruiting team acted quickly to set up virtual interviews which led to six additional interns joining the class in summer 2020.

Looking ahead to recruiting for summer 2021, the Humana team jumped at the chance to extend their recruiting cycle again. “Typically, we start with Consortium hiring in the summer and then kick off fall recruiting with top tier schools. Internship interviews are generally in January and then we close up the process in February so we can manage the logistics of housing and travel. However, virtual recruiting and virtual internships allowed us to be more flexible with our timeline,” said Layfield.

A virtual process also allowed for Humana to engage executive leadership in information sessions and calls with potential candidates. While on-campus schedules often didn’t align, the virtual environment offered flexibility that ultimately benefited Humana’s leaders and future interns. “When you see members of the management team taking time to have informational calls, it’s proof of the company’s commitment to talent,” Layfield noted. “Students can see that we aren’t just recruiting for an internship, we’re looking to bring them into a career at Humana.”

Furthermore, the talent pool was immediately expanded when the internship location was not a factor. “I love living in Lousiville, Kentucky,” Layfield shared, “but when we are recruiting from schools on the east or west coasts it may not be the most desirable location. Now we can focus on talking about the people, opportunities, and culture at Humana instead of focusing on location.”

The results of their virtual recruiting efforts – a record number of Graduate MBA Interns (31) for summer 2021.

Why the Virtual Internship Worked

Reflecting back on the virtual internships of 2020 as well as the current virtual internships underway in 2021, Layfield highlighted elements that have made the program work well.

“We’ve made changes to onboarding over the years and have now moved to an on-demand onboarding process instead of a big onboarding day or a two-hour set time on day one. The Graduate Program Manager designs a day for each intern that allows them time to set up their computer, meet with colleagues, and access video trainings on benefits and details of their new role.” This onboarding process was very successful in getting interns the information they needed and building connections without being overwhelming.

In addition, site visits to the pharmacy distribution center and call centers that had been a mainstay of the internship program were reimagined with help from business partners across the company. “We created a virtual tour experience that allowed interns to see the facilities in a different way in 2020,” said Layfield. “In 2021, the internships will be largely remote as well, but we will be incorporating visits to the corporate headquarters and other local facilities.”

Humana was also able to successfully pivot their project presentation day into a virtual event. Interns take on meaningful projects across different functional areas, and the goal is to be able to offer full-time employment to interns at the end of the program. Therefore, the presentations have always been a critical opportunity for students to showcase their work. In the virtual environment, senior leaders across the organization were able to view presentations from anywhere giving students more visibility. Presentations were also recorded so they could be shared afterwards with those unable to attend live.

The Everchanging Environment of Healthcare and Recruiting

Humana operates its’ business in an environment where the only constant is change. Advances in medicine, changes to policy, and the implications of shifts in global health require that the company remains nimble, and it’s a challenge they welcome.

Likewise, making adjustments to recruiting, onboarding, and management to bring the best talent to the organization is seen as mission critical across all departments and functional areas.

“Humana is an agile company, able to quickly and effectively transition to changing circumstances,” Layfield said. “We took this as an opportunity to showcase our strength in the market.”