Hormel Foods, the Company Behind SKIPPY and SPAM, Has One of the Highest-Ranked Internship Programs in the US. This Summer, its 60 Interns Will Work Completely Remotely — Here’s How.
In the face of a pandemic, Hormel Foods had a decision to make.
The global food behemoth, known for helming popular brands like Skippy and Spam, is ranked by Vault.com as having the second-best internship program for retail and consumer products in the US.
Like many organizations that had planned to offer in-person opportunities to summer interns, its team needed to pivot as coronavirus threatened the workability of traditional internships.
While many companies ended up cancelling their summer programs and even went as far as rescinding post-college job offers, Hormel decided to honor their commitment to the 60 college students nationwide who had already been accepted into the company’s internship program, which usually receives more than 3,000 applicants.
“Our hire rate is upwards of 70% for students completing the internship program, so it’s a big part of building the future of Hormel Foods,” said Amy Sheehan, the company’s director of talent acquisition.
But there was one catch in moving forward with the offers on the table: All interns would need to work remotely.
Sheehan and four of the incoming Hormel interns shared with Business Insider a behind-the-scenes look at the revamped, first-ever virtual internship opportunity.
Bringing the internship home
Interns who are joining Hormel’s summer program have a full agenda awaiting them in their various remote locations across the US. Sheehan explained that because the curriculum will provide more virtual training than the company has ever offered before, this will allow managers to address a plethora of professional development opportunities in detail on screen, such as time management skills, Excel tips and tricks, and remote work foundations. It will also include job-specific training such as how to manage a P&L statement and working on state tax filings. Sales interns will receive additional product training.
“The sales interns will be able to cook up Hormel products in their home for product trainings with their teams,” Sheehan said. “They will focus on learning the features and benefits of the products and best techniques when selling these products to our customers.”
To connect team members in their distributed home-based locations, Hormel will utilize Microsoft Teams and Webex to include interns in regular meetings and projects. The company will also use these tools to conduct product trainings, including “product cuttings,” where staff will teach interns about Hormel’s products, their features and benefits, and — like the sales interns — even have them cook up the products in their own home.
Sheehan identified one of the highlights of the program as Hormel’s intern orientation day, where the student group will get to meet the company’s CEO virtually and have an informal Q&A with him to learn more about the organization’s culture. Former interns will also be invited to participate in a virtual panel discussion, with virtual breakout sessions offered for online networking.
“The ability to be connected without being in-person is critical, and the way we have organized this program will allow for this interaction across all levels,” Sheehan explained.
Another unique component of the virtual internship will be hosting weekly virtual “lunch and learns” with various functional areas of the company, including Hormel’s international division, the corporate innovation team, and the mergers and acquisitions team.
Measuring effectiveness and success of the virtual program
Sheehan explained that the first step in having a successful virtual internship program involves offering training to the company’s managers regarding how to manage a remote team. Each division is working on creating a structure that will provide interns with exposure to leaders, business initiatives, and networking opportunities.
“Each division will be hosting weekly events that will give the interns the opportunity to network with other team members and interns,” Sheehan said. “These events could include virtual game nights, scavenger hunts, and trivia contests.”
In terms of measuring the success of Hormel’s virtual internship program, one area will match what the company has done in the past for traditional internships: conducting 30-day and final intern feedback sessions with every intern.
“This allows interns and supervisors to have open dialogue throughout the internship on the work that they are doing,” Sheehan noted. As part of this process, the recruiting team will also meet with each intern halfway through the internship program to gather feedback on the experience they’re having and areas that the students believe can be improved.
Another way that the company is measuring success is by using their offer rate and acceptance rate percentage.
“We measure the success by the number of full-time offers we are making and how many of the interns are accepting these full-time offers,” Sheehan explained.
At the end of the internship, each intern is responsible for delivering virtually a final presentation.
“This is an opportunity for them to highlight the work they’ve done throughout the summer that has impacted the company,” Sheehan said.
Interns are grateful, though some are disappointed to miss out on the company culture
Hailing from the University of Maine at Farmington, Emma Payson is one of the accepted students awaiting her Hormel virtual internship, which will be as a category development analyst intern reporting into Hormel’s corporate office in Austin, Maine. Payson will be based in her hometown of Cumberland, Maine, during the internship.
Payson expressed that she was “incredibly grateful” that Hormel Foods decided to move forward with the internship.
“I was looking forward to being able to immerse myself in the culture at Hormel, and I am excited to see how that culture will translate in an online format,” she said. “This virtual internship also gives my peers and me a future advantage with a unique online experience that will help pave different ways of working and connecting with others.”
Payson said that she looks forward to navigating the same opportunities and benefits associated with working from home that other associates at the company are currently experiencing. While curious about the tools the company is using or has developed to help interns stay connected and informed, she feels confident in her online skills — including Skype, Zoom, and screen sharing — to help contribute to the “new normal” of online working.
Cecelia Nancarrow of Kansas State University will be serving as a foodservice sales intern through Hormel’s Kansas City sales office. She will be working from home in Overland Park, Kansas. Nancarrow admitted that although she felt “saddened” by the fact that she will not be moving to Dallas, Texas, to participate in a true outside sales role, as had been the original plan for her internship, she felt excited to still complete similar work in a virtual format.
Nancarrow added that she hopes to have the opportunity to virtually shadow Hormel’s sales representatives, via phone calls or video conferencing tools, to see how they communicate the value that Hormel’s products have to offer to their customers virtually.
“I think it will be interesting to hear how the sales representatives have adjusted their sales cycles during the COVID-19 crisis,” Nancarrow said.
Preparation for interns starts before their first day of work
University of Georgia’s Kenyatta Hutchinson is set to serve as a consumer product sales intern. Like Nancarrow, Hutchinson will report into the Kansas City sales office, but she will be based in Greensboro, Georgia. Hutchinson shared that she has witnessed many friends and classmates have their internship offers rescinded.
“My heart truly aches for them and everyone who has been affected by this situation,” Hutchinson said. “So I am extremely blessed to still have an offer because it has been my one constant in the midst of the chaos.”
She shared that she appreciated the company’s transparency throughout the process and extra efforts in getting the virtual internship ready for her start date.
“The process started at the end of March with my recruiter informing us that Hormel is assessing whether the internship would be on site or virtual while ensuring interns will still be paid,” Hutchinson said. “I thought it was comforting and thoughtful when my recruiter went the extra mile and checked in on my mental health and how I was processing all the changes that were happening in my life.”
After hearing confirmation at the beginning of April that her internship was going virtual, Hutchinson has been in “constant communication” with her regional supervisor, who updated her team about the major project they will be working on this summer along with their normal duties. Some current employees have also arranged a virtual meet and greet with new hires, past interns, and incoming interns — and more recently, Hutchinson has joined some of the other interns who have started a group chat to stay connected and network with one another.
Monx Cullen from the University of Tennessee, who will be working virtually from Knoxville, Tennessee, as a consumer product sales intern and reporting to Hormel’s Bethlehem sales office in Pennsylvania, confessed experiencing “a wave of thoughts and feelings” about having a virtual internship.
“On one hand, I’m disappointed because my primary driver for joining Hormel was the phenomenal culture and inspirational people, and I am sad that I will not be able to experience this first hand or collaborate with these employees in close quarters,” Cullen said. “On the other hand, coronavirus has acted as a catalyst across all industries by promoting changes that have been a long time coming.”
Cullen also felt excited to be part of this inaugural class of interns that’s navigating the question, how do we excel in a digital environment?
“As an adaptable person working for an innovative company, there is a lot of opportunity for both parties to be creative, to grow, and to pioneer not just [consumer packaged goods], but the nature of how work is done,” Cullen said.