Virtual internships are new for all of us, which can make them feel intimidating. Part of the reason people do internships is to learn about the typical “day in the life” in one’s desired industry, but, well, days haven’t really been “typical” since March. A virtual internship doesn’t give quite the same experience as a regular internship would during normal times, but it can still offer you a lot of valuable workplace experience and the chance to make lasting connections. But how do you approach them? Check out these tips for making the most of a virtual internship.
Connect with Everyone.
Easily one of the best parts about internships is making connections: It’s so important to know people when you’re heading into the working world, and people you meet during your internships (from people at the organization to your fellow interns) can become some of your best contacts, or perhaps your best friends, in the years to come. So make sure that you connect with everyone in your department and anyone you work with beyond. That means introducing yourself at the start of your internship, adding them on LinkedIn, and checking in with the regularly throughout the course of your internship, whether you have a question about work or just want to see how they’re doing. Being at home makes making connections harder, but not impossible—so you’ll need to put that extra work in.
Attend Any and All Virtual Events.
It’s normal, in the course of a regular internship, to go to a handful of events—whether it’s a happy hour after work one day or a panel to discuss industry trends. If your virtual internship is also holding events (virtual happy hours, Zoom roundtables, etc.), it’s just as important that you attend these events—perhaps even more so—as it would be to attend in-person events. This is really for the same reason as above: It’s important to connect with people. And connections can be made during work hours, but it’s also important to make social bonds with people. So, while it can feel easy to skip outside-work events since no one’s actually leaving their homes, if you make the effort to join in, you will be rewarded.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Due Dates.
I’m thoroughly convinced that the regular rules of time have not applied since lockdown started. Half the time, I don’t even know what day it is, and I know I’m not alone. This is one of the reasons that it’s really important to watch your deadlines and make sure that you’re getting your assignments done in a timely fashion. While networking is a big part of internships, it’s so important that you do your best work as well. Time management is a crucial workplace skill, and it’s even more important when working from home, without a lot of supervision. So make sure you get all your work turned in on time!
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Clarification.
Is it just me, or is it easier both to be understood and to ask questions in real life? Since most everyone is working from home, it will probably be expected that you complete most of your assignments with limited oversight. So when you receive instructions on an assignment for your internship, it’s important that you ask a lot of questions to make sure that you understand what it is you’re doing. There’s nothing more frustrating (on both sides!) than completing an assignment and it not being what the assigner was looking for. You want to put your best foot forward in an internship, regardless of where/how it’s completed, so be sure you know all the parameters of your assignment before starting, and ask questions if you need to as you work—the end result will be all the better for it, and you’ll probably end up learning more about the business and your role in turn.
Make Plans to Meet in Real Life, If Possible.
It’s reasonable to assume that, if you’re doing a virtual internship, it’s because either city ordinances or the company itself has decided that it’s in people’s best interests to keep working from home for the time being. This is definitely the safe thing to do for now, but that doesn’t mean that you can never meet the people that you complete your internship with. If not at the moment (that’s dependent on your local reopening plan and your level of comfort with socializing right now), then certainly in the future when things feel safer. Near the end of your internship, try floating around the idea of meeting up for coffee or a happy hour down the road, almost like an “internship reunion.” I’m sure plenty of people would love to meet you in person, if possible!
Virtual internships present some additional challenges to the “normal” internship experience, but that doesn’t make it unnavigable—it just means you might have to put forth a little more effort to get the most out of it. But hang in there! A virtual internship can prove really valuable on your career journey, so keep an open mind and stay optimistic.