Use Virtual Internships To Advance Your Career

Mar 22, 2013
  |  by Jennifer Cook

The more I study the career landscape for college graduates, the more I think internships are critical to finding a job after graduation. A lot of companies use internships as a tool to recruit, and you’re much more likely to have a position lined up for after school if you’ve had one, if they don’t hire you on part-time immediately to assimilate you into the organization.

As someone who works in online education, I’m particularly excited about how companies are now using telecommuting to their advantage when it comes to recruiting interns. Virtual internships are seeing serious growth as employers become more comfortable with allowing certain positions to work remotely. Internships.com has thousands of virtual internships all across the country.

What is a Virtual Internship?

The option to do simultaneously gain job experience and college credit is a huge opportunity for adults who are already working (a significant portion of online students), or who want to gain experience with a type of position that simply isn’t available in their area. All you need for most positions is an Internet connection and a laptop.

Many of the pros and cons of virtual internships are the same as those for taking courses for an online business degree or certificate, and I think online learners are ideally suited to cope with the challenges and take full advantage of the upsides.

Benefits of a Remote Internship

Obviously, working remotely means you’re not tied to the internship offerings in your city. You can get experience anywhere; geography is not a barrier. That means no commuting costs, and no lost time driving or taking mass transit between home, school work and your internship. You may or may not have as much time-flexibility, though depending on the job requirements. But for the most part, remote positions require only that you get the work done and clock your hours accordingly.

All of those points make it possible for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit an internship into their busy schedule to get valuable on-the-job experience that they otherwise wouldn’t. And, as I said before, that can be critical to finding a job once you graduate, not to mention shape the direction your online degree program can take.

Drawbacks of Working Remotely

One of the problems with telecommuting is enforcing accountability for remote workers. How do you make sure people are getting their work done? A virtual internship could mean additional work to quantify the value you’re bringing to a company. In some instances, this can lead to some heavy micromanaging coming from supervisors.

You’re also sort of isolated when working from home. You get limited, filtered interaction with your coworkers and superiors, which can make it hard to get help, learn through collaboration and make connections with your coworkers.

You don’t pick up the little things, like corporate culture, professionalism or workplace etiquette. And the often informal nature of our online lives can creep into office communications, especially when you’re working from a laptop in your PJs. With lessened communication and face time with your supervisor, they can often forget about you, giving you too little or too much to do.

How to Succeed as a Virtual Intern

None of the challenges I just mentioned are insurmountable. In fact, breaking through those problems to really prove yourself will make you stand out to an employer who may be watching to see whether you’re the kind of person they want to hire on full time. At the very least, standing out as a stellar virtual intern will get you solid recommendations and add valuable people to your network. Here’s how to make your virtual internship a success:

  • Be a proactive communicator: If your supervisor isn’t checking in with you, check in with her. Clearly define everything you’re expected to do and document all the work     you complete, sending a weekly or bi-weekly report to let her know you’re on top of things. When you run into a problem you can’t solve without help, don’t just wait for someone to get back to you; email multiple people and get the answers you need to do your job.
  • Establish relationships with coworkers: This is a big part of the internship, and you should talk on the phone with at least a few people so that you register as an actual person rather than some faceless source of email. A lot of these people may determine whether you get a job offer later on.
  • Get a full definition of your role: If your responsibilities aren’t explicitly spelled out at the start of your internship, make sure it’s clearly spelled out by the end of the first week.
  • Stay disciplined with your schedule: Just because you’re working remotely doesn’t mean you don’t need to meet deadlines. Try to establish a regular time that people in the office will be able to reach you and stick to that schedule so they can rely on you.

Have you ever done remote work during an internship? Has your office ever worked with an intern who worked remotely? Let us know how it went.

Author bio: Jennifer Cook covers topics ranging from online education to career building for Strayer.edu. If she could do it all over again, she’d do a virtual internship for an up-and-coming tech start-up that values savvy remote workers. 

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