Keeping Virtual Interns Informed, Engaged Leads to Strong Conversion Rate for Cigna

June 10, 2021 | By Kevin Gray

Abstract laptop image with connections

TAGS: best practices, coronavirus, Internships, nace insights, operations, technology,

Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

Although Cigna’s early careers team was unsure how conducting its internship program on a virtual platform last summer would impact its conversion rate, it was thoughtful about implementing a strategy designed to mitigate some risk caused by the unique circumstances.

“In the end, the number of conversion offers accepted by our 2020 intern cohort indicates that our strategy was successful,” explains Kathleen Idehara, Cigna’s early career program leader.

“Overall, 97 out of 110, or 88%, of the conversion offers Cigna extended were accepted.”

There are crucial elements of Cigna’s strategy that Idehara says contributed to the company’s success in converting its virtual interns into full-time hires, including:

  • Clear and consistent communicationThe goal of Cigna’s intern communication and engagement strategy was to ensure all interns felt connected to the company’s mission, values, and organizational culture from their first interaction, throughout their internship, and beyond. “Before their internship started, we sent customized welcome boxes that included a welcome note from our chief human resources officer,” Idehara says. “We held pre-engagement events via WebEx. The intent of these sessions was to ease the interns’ transition into to the workplace and provide a support system.” Once the interns joined the program, they were kept abreast of updates and events through an intern newsletter, ensuring that they were provided with consistent messaging throughout the summer. These newsletters also included articles on initiatives that were occurring within the company, employee spotlights, and location highlights. “We also made sure to include our interns in the enterprise-wide diversity strategy through engagement with our enterprise resource groups, diverse guest speakers, and DEI-focused professional development sessions, again helping to make connections and build a sense of community,” Idehara points out.

  • Leader engagementIntern leaders played a crucial role in the overall conversion strategy, so it was important to gain their buy-in early on. “We encouraged leaders within the organization to include interns when reviewing their overall talent strategy and to ensure there was an opportunity to make a conversion offer upon successful completion of the internship program,” Idehara says. “We also hosted bi-weekly intern leader meetings leading up to and throughout the program to ensure leaders felt prepared to provide a meaningful experience for their interns. Through these exchanges of information, we found ourselves closely aligned with one another and better able to provide an exceptional experience for all interns, regardless of function or department.”

  • Tools and resourcesAn important part of Cigna’s conversion strategy was providing tools and resources to both interns and intern leaders to ensure they had the information they needed to be successful in their roles. “Our intern orientation and onboarding consisted of learning modules, guest speakers, technology walk-throughs, and more to give them the tools to start contributing when they joined their teams for the summer,” Idehara says. “Onboarding sets the tone for the summer and creates an energy around starting that gets interns and their managers excited about the program. It also provides interns with the knowledge of the business, as well as visibility into the connections they may find useful over the summer.” For intern managers, Cigna’s early careers team created a resource page on the company’s intranet called the QUAD, outlining the functions of the team and providing a library of helpful documents and links. The QUAD serves as a one-stop shop for leaders about everything related to early careers. In addition, the early careers team developed an intern manager toolkit that was distributed and reviewed in detail during bi-weekly leader meetings.

This summer, Cigna has welcomed more than 280 interns across the organization to its internship program, which, once again, is completely virtual. The duration is 10 to 12 weeks, depending on the leadership development program or team with which the intern is working.

The foundation of Cigna’s summer internship is six pillars:

  • Onboarding/orientation;
  • The Leadership Speaker Series;
  • Professional development;
  • Networking opportunities;
  • Volunteerism; and
  • Meaningful project work.

There are key lessons that Cigna learned last summer—when it hosted 221 virtual interns—that it is applying to its virtual internship program this summer.

Idehara says that there are two common themes that emerged when she and her team reflected on last summer. First, networking is extremely important to Cigna’s interns.

“They want to meet other interns outside of their teams,” Idehara explains.

“Being in a completely virtual environment made that challenging last year. We provided several networking touch points like coffee chats and intern trivia, but we realized we needed more.”

This summer, Cigna has launched a robust networking strategy built around two networking programs: one geared toward social networking and the other focused on professional development.

“Both programs place interns into cross-functional groups that they will meet with throughout the summer, helping them make meaningful connections,” Idehara says.

The second theme that emerged addresses engagement.

“Interns participated in numerous events over the course of last summer, and because we were completely virtual, those events were held over Zoom or Webex,” Idehara notes.

“Interns spent a lot of time listening to speakers and interacting mostly via the chat function. We knew that engagement was not as high as it could have been, given the nature of working virtually. This summer, we are using technology to our advantage and implementing tools that increase engagement through the use of polls, word clouds, voting, and live Q&A sessions.”

Another key element of attaining successful conversion of virtual interns is the offboarding process.

“At the conclusion of the internship, we deployed a robust ‘keep warm’ strategy that included multiple touch points from the early careers team as well as intern leaders,” Idehara says.

“The ‘keep warm’ strategy let students know they were still a valued member of the Cigna community, even after they returned to school.”

The touch points included everything from messages from the early careers team, to check-ins from intern leaders, coffee chats, and gifts. These were instrumental in fortifying connections between Cigna and is virtual interns and enabling them to endure, even after the internships concluded.

“The multiple touch points were well received and helped to keep students engaged and feeling connected to the organization,” she says.

Idehara recommends three key strategies for achieving strong conversion numbers from virtual internships this summer.

She says: “Three ideas [to incorporate] in terms of easy wins when it comes to your conversion process in a virtual environment are building a sense of community that ties to your organization’s mission and values, being consistent and creative with your engagement with interns and leaders, and being that trusted resource and partner who can guide your interns and leaders through the conversion process.”