‘Be adaptable’: Inside my virtual summer internship at U.S. Bank

July 30, 2020

U.S. Bank summer intern Ben Stevenson writes about his experience working virtually amid COVID-19.

It’s 7 a.m.

I throw off the covers, roll over, and shut off my alarm.

My day starts like any other intern’s would have last year, or the year before that.

Wake up, get ready, and head to work. Only one thing is different.

For me, heading to work means pulling out my desk chair, and sitting down. Flipping open my laptop, and logging in.

I’m one of the more than 400 interns that U.S. Bank has hired for the summer. Although our internships look a little different than we expected, we also recognize that we’re the lucky ones. The latter half of my past semester was filled with disappointed friends relaying that their coveted internships had been cancelled. I still remember the feeling when I heard U.S. Bank announce that it would still host its internship program. Wealth Management & Investment Services intern, Annaliese Voss, summed it up, “To my surprise and relief, they decided to keep us!”

After weeks of waiting, we all “arrive” in late June. The first few days are orientation. We turn on our laptops, open up Webex (what U.S. Bank uses instead of Zoom) and watch as the Campus Recruiting team and other leaders introduce themselves and give advice on how to get the most out of our time here. Despite the lack of human presence, it’s exciting. They even bring in the CEO. “This is kind of cool,” I think to myself.

Given the global pandemic that’s happening in the background, the team who ran the internship did a fantastic job adapting. I can only imagine what it’s like to try to coordinate an internship program for more than 400 interns under the best of circumstances; in a pandemic, I think I’d go crazy. Kudos to Campus Recruiting.

Since we can’t be in person, all of our events are virtual. We have trivia night as our virtual social activity, webinars to teach us new skills, a case study competition that allows us to collaborate with interns across the nation, and even virtual volunteering.

And of course, the hallmark feature of the internship: “Lunch with Leaders.” Traditionally, interns only get to attend the lunch with their business line leader, the CEO, and one other session they select due to room capacity. This year though, we got to absorb the wisdom and knowledge of not just three leaders, but of the entire Managing Committee.

If there was ever a generation suited for this kind of 100% online, remote internship, it’s mine. Gen Z has an inherent advantage because we’re all bona fide digital natives. And that makes a difference.

While only having meetings via Webex or Zoom is tricky for some people, I’ve been using FaceTime practically my whole life. While not being able to talk to team members in person isn’t ideal for some, I’ve been using group chats to coordinate team projects as long as I can remember.

After talking to other interns, it seemed we all shared similar views. As Payment Services intern Carina Hebl said, “I think being a Gen Z made it much easier for me to adapt to new software and the virtual desktop because we’re constantly learning about and using new technology in our day-to-day life.”

Plus, it’s not like this was our first experience with online learning. Brett Braza, intern with the Chief Digital Office noted, “All of us had our spring semesters disrupted due to COVID-19, so we’ve had experience with video conferences and doing work online.”

That’s not to say it all went perfectly. Of course I missed the actual feel of going into an office, or being able to see my team face to face, or getting to hang out with other interns outside of work.

But what COVID couldn’t take away were two of the most meaningful aspects of an internship.

The first is the chance to experience actually working for a company. Despite being remote, I was able to adapt and still got a great taste of what it’s like to work at a Fortune 500 company. The lessons learned, the people talked to, and the experiences had have taught me more than I could ever learn in a classroom.

The second is the chance to network. As Payment Services intern Max Schickert told me, “I’ve learned that you can still make really good connections.” In fact, one could argue that – now that everything is online – it’s actually easier to network with interesting people. And the people at U.S. Bank are very interesting. Among those I talked to were someone who’d won an Emmy for their work in sports broadcasting, someone who was press secretary for a U.S. senator, and someone who retired from their job to road trip across the country (and then eventually ended up at U.S. Bank). And that was just in the first three weeks.

But none of that beats what I learned from Lunch with Leaders. As I sat at my living room table watching U.S. Bank’s leaders talk to us over lunch, I heard a lot of amazing advice. Wanting to make sure I remembered it all, I made sure to write down everything they said. From VC of Payment Services Shailesh Kotwal, I learned the importance of listening. From VC of Consumer & Business Banking Tim Welsh, I learned not to be afraid to speak up. From VC and CAO Kate Quinn, I learned how to ask good questions. From CEO Andy Cecere, I learned to take chances.

But among all the advice, from everyone I talked to, one piece kept coming up over and over again.

“Be adaptable.”

I didn’t need to write that one down. It’s a lesson I’d already learned firsthand.

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