Internships help students get practical experience in their field of study and can be a useful way to transition from college to the workplace. The pandemic forced many companies to shut down their internship programs, with some moving them online. If you’ve been looking for regular internships, you may have come away disappointed.
Virtual internships can be the answer.
Many employers are now offering virtual internships in place of in-person internships. They work the same way as conventional internships do, except that they are conducted over the phone and the internet.
So, how do you find virtual internships?
Start with your school
Colleges administrations realize that important conventional internship avenues have dried up, and have responded by getting in touch with alumni and different local businesses and companies to arrange to have their students intern virtually.
While students can’t be particularly choosy about what kind of internships they will accept, these opportunities are available. All you need to do is to ask at the career development office at your school.
Look at the job sites every day
Career websites put college students in touch with virtual internship opportunities at companies around the country. Some of these websites you can explore include:
Some of these are micro internships — short-term assignments that are usually completed remotely. Micro internships, while short, still allow students to explore different career paths and industries. They can be an excellent way to try to get into companies that don’t visit your campus on recruitment drives.
You can try nonprofits, even if those internships don’t pay. Also, note that many colleges have budget allocations with which to offer stipends to students interning with nonprofits. Check with the career center at your school.
It doesn’t hurt to reach out to companies that you would like to virtually intern with, including small startups. They don’t need to have advertised virtual internships. Be a problem solver: Offer creative ways in which you may be able to contribute to them through an internship.
Any other company
Also, search the term “virtual internship” for a company you’re interested in. For example, searching “virtual internship jpmorgan.com” (no quotation marks) brings up this page. While you may not reach a company’s dedicated virtual internship page with that search query, you might get related results, like this TD Bank’s news page which can help you continue your search.
Craft your resume for a virtual internship
Just as you would for an on-site internship, it’s important to outline your digital skills for a virtual internship on your resume. You want to portray that you are tech-savvy and competent in the online world.
As a college student, you don’t have much work experience to put on your resume, but you did just complete half a semester of remote learning. Hone in on some skills that you learned during that time. Highlight any accomplishments you had as well, like maintaining your relationship with your professors and classmates.
These little details sound minor, but they’re actually what hiring managers are looking for in candidates when trying to fill the position for a virtual intern.
Crafting your resume is stressful as it is, here’s a resume template to get you started
Advantages of virtual internships
A virtual internship can seem like something you would choose only when you don’t have other alternatives. It can come with some unique advantages, however.
The pandemic caused a global shift to remote working, and many companies will continue with this practice at least in part. By interning virtually, you gain skills and experience directly related to working successfully online.
You won’t waste time on menial duties. When you get accepted to a regular, in-person internship, often a considerable amount of your time each day is spent filing paperwork, getting coffee for everyone, or on other work that doesn’t offer a learning experience. This obviously won’t happen when you’re working from home.
You’ll even save time (and money) because you won’t be commuting to the office. Plus, a virtual internship doesn’t limit you to your current location. You can work for companies wherever they’re located, nationwide or globally. This accessibility exponentially expands your networking opportunities and allows you to gain cross-cultural competences.
Disadvantages of virtual internships
Certainly, a virtual internship comes with downsides as well – you get less support and training from your boss, and you may find it hard to manage the lack of structure, in-person training, and guidance. You will have fewer opportunities to build relationships with your colleagues.
The bottom line is, that in an environment where regular internships are hard to come by, virtual internships do provide a valuable source of work experience.
Tips to excel at your virtual internship
Even if the pandemic has forced you to take online classes, giving you some experience with remote learning, working virtually can be challenging. This is especially true when you’re an intern, and everything about the job is new to you. Here are some tips that can help you succeed in your virtual internship:
1. Once you’re hired, get oriented right away
Everything you will do in a virtual internship will be online, on a Zoom call, or on the phone. You won’t meet the people you work with in person, or get to know them. It would be a good idea, then, to do a little homework to learn what you can about them. Read through the staff bios on the company website, and communicate by chat or phone instead of email wherever possible, in order to get to know your colleagues a bit better.
Forging strong relationships with colleagues is a great way to build trust. The more you can be open with the people you’re working with every day, the more likely they are to give you more opportunities or help you even when it’s not convenient for them.
2. Be scrupulous with deadlines
When you’re working at a physical office, it’s easier to stay on track with projects. You’ve got your boss and colleagues on hand to chat about upcoming due dates, and how the work is going. When you work from home, however, you’re on your own. You may procrastinate and find it difficult to meet completion times.
There’s a reason college professors try to preach the importance of deadlines. In a work environment, turning work in on time is just as important as producing quality work. Even if your boss seems easygoing, you need to do everything you can to honor every deadline.
If a deadline is too hard for you to make and you make this realization early on, make sure you talk to your supervisor to come up with an extended deadline or some form of mediation in which they help you reach your deadline.
3. Don’t take on more than you can handle
When you work from home, there is no clear end to each workday. You may be tempted to accept more work than you’re able to handle, figuring that you could work extra hours. If you bite off more than you can chew, however, you may find that it affects your ability to either complete those assignments or to get your schoolwork done.
Rather than try to impress everyone at work with the quantity of work that you’re able to get done, it would make sense to aim for quality.
Keep in mind, working long hours is not always commendable. A lot of young professionals fall into the “hustle and burnout culture” and actually struggle with their mental health as a result. Be aware of how much you are working and don’t overdo it just because you have nothing else to do.
As much as you may like the idea of figuring things out on your own and not bothering your colleagues with novice questions, it’s important to remember that you are an intern. You’re there to learn.
While you don’t want to pepper everyone with too many questions, it’s important to ask for some help when something isn’t clear. Asking questions is better than making unnecessary mistakes.