Virtual Internships: Navigating a New Era of Professional Growth

Virtual Internships: Navigating a New Era of Professional Growth

Virtual Internships: Navigating a New Era of Professional Growth banner

It’s no secret that internships can be beneficial both while you’re in college and after you graduate. Whether paid or unpaid, internships provide you with valuable, hands-on work experience that can prepare you for future career success. The right internship can also create professional networking opportunities that may lead to a job offer down the road. In fact, research has found that individuals who have successfully completed at least one internship increase their chances of getting a job offer by an average of 17.6 percent.

What if you don’t have time for a “traditional” 9-to-5 internship? Perhaps logistical challenges prevent you from completing an internship in person. These days, virtual internships are becoming increasingly common and can provide an excellent opportunity for people in many different fields.

What Is a Virtual Internship?

A virtual internship can be completed remotely from a person’s home computer, phone, or mobile device. With a remote internship, you do not need to physically be in a company’s office to perform your work. In some cases, the hours and days that you work may even be flexible—but this will vary based on the company and the virtual internship program in question.

While not all internship responsibilities can be performed remotely, many of them can. From answering phone calls to handling basic administrative tasks or customer service inquiries, an intern’s job duties often don’t require them to physically be in the office. As a result, virtual internship opportunities are becoming increasingly abundant for undergraduate students, graduate students, and recent graduates alike to gain some valuable work experience —all without leaving their homes.

The Rise of Virtual Internships in the Modern Workplace

If you’ve never heard of a virtual internship before, you may be wondering what has led to the rise in these opportunities and what kind of impact they have had on the global workforce.

Factors Contributing to the Rise

Although some companies offered virtual internships before the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality is that widespread virtual internships were a direct result of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. With businesses forced to close their doors, many pivoted to remote operations. Of course, during COVID, the need for workers and interns didn’t change; these businesses still needed to find help, even if they couldn’t meet in person.

As a result, more businesses began offering remote internship opportunities to college students and even recent college graduates. Today, even though pandemic-related lockdowns are a thing of the past, many businesses have continued to offer virtual internships out of convenience and as a cost-saving measure. By not having interns in a physical office, this frees up space while also cutting down on resources used. It also allows businesses to attract talent from further afield than in-person internships would permit.

Impact on the Global Workforce

The pandemic proved that with the right setup, remote work is viable in just about every industry imaginable. The same holds true for internships.

If anything, the rise of virtual internships has made these types of work opportunities more accessible to students and graduates who may not have had the ability to complete a traditional internship in person. Transportation challenges, scheduling conflicts, and other obligations may have prevented a person from completing an internship in the past—but with virtual internships, these opportunities for professional development are available to almost anyone. This levels the playing field somewhat, allowing everyone a more equal opportunity to gain the experience they need to join the workforce.

Structure of a Virtual Internship

The structure of a virtual internship can vary greatly based on the position, the employer, and even the industry itself. Virtual internship opportunities are common in industries such as technology, software engineering, and even sports management. Both entrepreneurial startups and larger, established companies are taking advantage of virtual internships as a means of filling staffing gaps in a way that’s affordable and convenient.

In general, virtual resources still include some sort of team or collaborative component that keeps interns on the same page as the rest of the internal team. This might include, for example, a daily or weekly meeting on Zoom, Skype, or some other video platform to discuss goals and progress. Typically, virtual internships last for a few months at a time and may be renewable, but this will depend on the company.

As with any other type of internship, a remote internship may also be paid or unpaid. For an unpaid internship, the main appeal would be the promise of valuable work experience and the potential for networking opportunities. In some cases, a virtual internship may even end with a formal job offer from the company.

Advantages of a Virtual Internship

Compared to a traditional in-person internship, there are many potential benefits of completing a virtual internship for graduate students and recent graduates alike.

  • Flexibility – A virtual internship offers unrivaled flexibility, saving you the time and hassle of commuting to an office each day. In some cases, you may even be given some flexibility with your schedule so you can work on your own time while keeping up with your studies.
  • Global Exposure and Diverse Opportunities – Virtual internships also offer global exposure and the potential for more diverse opportunities than a local internship. Rather than being restricted to internships that are located within commuting distance, a virtual internship can be completed from just about anywhere in the world. This means you can have more diverse and cross-cultural work opportunities to choose from.
  • Cost-Effectiveness – Whether the internship is paid or unpaid, completing it virtually can be more cost-effective because you won’t have to worry about the expenses associated with commuting to a physical workplace. This can help you cut down on fuel costs, bus fees, parking, and even wear and tear on your vehicle.
  • Enhanced Time Management – Many college students also appreciate how a virtual internship enables them to improve their time management skills. As opposed to trying to juggle schoolwork and an internship with strict work hours in place, many virtual internships offer greater flexibility that makes it easier for busy students to manage their coursework and internship at the same time.

Considerations of a Virtual Internship

While virtual internships undoubtedly present notable benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider if you’re thinking about pursuing this kind of work opportunity.

  • Limited Face-to-Face Interaction – By their very nature, virtual internships don’t offer much (if any) face-to-face interaction. For more extroverted individuals, this can detract from the overall experience. Not being able to stop by a person’s cubicle and ask a question or strike up a conversation with a coworker may be a major drawback for some. The good news is that many virtual internships have systems to keep workers in communication while encouraging collaboration. Tools like Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams make it possible to set up live video chats and meetings, keeping everybody on the same page and allowing them to interact in real-time.
  • Technology Issues – Another possible disadvantage to consider with a virtual internship is that of technology issues. Internet connections, software, and hardware aren’t 100 percent reliable. If you encounter a technology issue during the middle of your workday, you may be unable to complete your work as expected. Ongoing problems could affect your reputation, your reliability, and the quality of your work—so it’s vital to ensure you have stable internet and dependable technology in place if you want to complete a virtual internship. NOTE: Yes, you need reliable internet – but many companies provide laptops, monitors, etc. and also IT services.
  • Communication Barriers – In a virtual workplace, communicating with others can also be a challenge—and it can be difficult to stay on the same page. This may be especially true for global internships where not everyone speaks the same language.

Tips for a Successful Virtual Internship

If you’re thinking about pursuing a virtual internship, here are a few things to keep in mind so you can make the most of the experience.

  • Communication – First, make sure you have a plan in place when it comes to communicating with both your supervisors and managers and fellow interns and other coworkers. Will you plan to catch up with a video chat every Friday? How often should you check in throughout the day? Establishing these rules for communication ahead of time can help set you up for success.
  • Dedicated Workspace – Create a space in your home that you can dedicate 100 percent to your work. Ideally, this will be a desk with a computer and a reliable internet connection, as well as anything else you may need to do your job well. A designated workspace can eliminate distractions while increasing productivity, helping you get the most of your experience.
  • Time Management – Brush up on time management techniques and strategies to make sure you can effectively juggle your internship and school.
  • Organization – It’s just as important to keep your workspace neat and organized as it is to have a dedicated workspace in the first place. At the end of each day, set aside a couple of minutes to tidy everything up and prepare for the next workday.

Professional Development in a Virtual Internship

A virtual internship can offer some excellent opportunities for professional development, but you’ll need to take a proactive approach, too.

Building Connections in a Virtual World

To maximize your networking opportunities in a virtual internship, make sure you have a LinkedIn profile set up and fleshed out as extensively as possible. This professional platform is the best way to connect with peers, colleagues, and others around the globe, especially as remote work becomes increasingly common.

The Future of Virtual Internships

Only time will tell what the future holds for virtual internships—but if the past few years are any indication, remote internships are likely here to stay. Looking to make the most out of your graduate experience? Explore JWU’s Master of Business Administration degree, which is available 100 percent online and can be completed in as little as two years.

For more information about completing your degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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