Working at Facebook is every student’s dream. By partnering with Paragon One during a very difficult summer for students, the social media giant made that dream a reality for dozens of young people, irrespective of where they lived or studied.
Can remote work actually bring more work experience opportunities of quality to students? Facebook decided to find out this summer, when it joined hands with Paragon One to give almost a hundred students the chance to work on a real market research project.
The experiment in experiential learning and remote work brought together a group of creative students of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the globe.
Paragon One’s team worked with Facebook to understand the company’s priorities for the assignment, created training that would prepare students for the specific tasks they were assigned and supported and monitored their work on a platform. Students also had facetime with the company on a biweekly basis, and top performers were selected to present their work directly to the team at Facebook.
“We wanted to be able to provide real world experience to students and give them a chance to see what it would be like to actually do projects that we work on at Facebook.”
- Tara Pettus, Disruptor's Team Industry Manager, Facebook
“Externs” were assigned a project on social media influencer research, and had the opportunity to present their insights to the team at Facebook after working remotely on the project for six weeks.
For students like Donald Lindsay, who is doing his MBA at the University of Michigan, the flexibility to work remotely on his own time, but still experience work at a top Silicon Valley firm, was invaluable.
“I absolutely wanted the chance to work with Facebook, but I’m married and have a toddler, so there were definite geographical constraints for me, when it came to looking for an internship,” he said.
“Then I found out about Paragon One’s remote externship that gave students the chance to work on a project for Facebook. I really appreciated the flexibility this experience offered. I spent the COVID19 lockdown with my family in Chicago and still lived out my career dreams right from my living room. Tech is a hard industry to penetrate and I’m a black male, so I’ve always felt underrepresented here. This was a powerful experience for me.”
As a company, Facebook aims to reach candidates from different backgrounds who embody its values. For the project, 21% of the students that Paragon One recruited came from underrepresented minorities and 65% were women.
“Paragon One brought us a great, diverse pool, not only in terms of educational background, but also diverse in culture, ethnicity and gender. I thought they all displayed the sort of values that we look for,” Pettus said. “The students were very curious and well prepared, very clear on the task assigned, asked really targeted questions and helped us create industry research that truly helped with our work.”
The COVID19 crisis has proved to be an inflection point for innovation in many industries, and while remote externships were particularly popular during lockdown, it stands to reason they will continue to be a valuable early talent identification tool for companies to assess student work on real projects at scale. And there are benefits for students too.
Remote externships allow students the opportunity to work in a virtual professional setting and give them the flexibility to work on a more targeted project - supported by task-specific training - than a general internship allows.
Jeffrey Li, a rising senior at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said he used the time management skills he had developed as an athlete to succeed during the externship, and appreciated the opportunity to work asynchronously.
“Remote externships really work for me because they allow me to manage work on my own time. I’ve done several and honestly, the Facebook externship I did through Paragon One was the best one I’ve ever had,” he said.
“The weekly Zoom calls where we reported the progress we had made with the Facebook Disruptors team was very, very motivational. I study government and policy and it just never occurred to me that I could apply my skills at Facebook or to a Big Tech job. This externship opened my eyes to new possibilities for my career.”
Nicole Trezza, a rising senior at Amherst College in Massachusetts, agreed.
“I’m a science major, but I realized I didn’t want to spend my career in a lab or go to med school, so it was important to me to take the summer to explore other options. I didn’t think I had the profile to be able to lock down an internship in marketing, much less one at a company that would add value to my resume.”
Fundamentally, the remote externship experience helped candidates understand the company’s recruiting process and the sort of work they would do as an employee and helped them build skills that will set them up for success in their future careers.