Travel restrictions and an international pandemic ruining your dreams of building real-world experience? What is the current generation of internship seekers to do? A virtual internship, of course! A virtual internship is a work experience program where the intern is able to acquire professional experience without having to be physically present at the job location. Communication is done via email, project management tools, and the wide array of other communication apps and methods at our fingertips today.
These types of internships were virtually unheard of (pun intended!) until recent years due to the rapid growth of technology and the ease of remote communication. Now more than ever they are becoming common, with many start-ups and small businesses utilizing remote talent to fill holes in their workforce.
Read more: 10 Best Virtual Internship Programs
Virtual internships are great for professional development, relationship building, and skill sharpening. A fun way to develop real-world experience that will broaden your career and personal goals while not interrupting your current commitments. Imagine interning remotely for top companies in other states or even countries!
While a great way to get hands-on experience in your future field of work, it is important to understand the pros and cons of virtual internships before sending in your application.
PRO: You will gain real-world experience
A virtual internship gives you the opportunity to hone practical skills in your field of choice before finishing school. This is a huge asset when entering the workforce and will ensure you stand out. Additionally, you’ll gain firsthand experience working remotely, which, given the current climate, is likely to be a mode of working that continues into the future. Working remotely requires a different skillset than being physically in an office, so you’ll get practice using remote working tools and technologies, as well as time management and communication skills.
CON: You don’t get the “in-person” experience
While you will be able to accomplish tasks assigned to you, due to them being designed for the virtual experience, there is something to be said for the loss of “in-person” interaction. So much of what makes up a workplace culture is found in the small moments dealing with coworkers, chatting in the lunchroom, or even socializing at the end of a workday. These are soft skills that are vital for success in a multi-faceted professional environment. The use of social media and apps like Zoom can help you actively pursue conversations and support from your colleagues, regardless of location.
PRO: You can explore your career of choice
Internships are a wonderful way to test the waters of a position and industry before signing up for a full-time job. This is beneficial because you may realize a specific career or field of work is not for you. If you are still in school, this will allow you to reconsider your degree or to begin thinking about other options. Internships are like dating - you take each other out and see if you get along. At the end, hopefully both parties had a good experience and if there is no longer interest - no hard feelings!
CON: They may overwork you
The thing about remote work is that it is easy to work around the clock. Since you never physically enter or exit the office, you may clock many more hours than agreed upon initially. This may work the other way around in that your employer may overburden you, due to the ease of off-loading projects to an unseen intern. Be sure to ask for a clear dictation of duties when you begin so there are no surprises along the way.
PRO: You’ll grow as a person
Albert Einstein said “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Whether taking a gap year or signing up for an internship, you will meet new people, learn new skills, and learn more about yourself. The exposure to different personalities, communication faux pas, and the general hubbub of co-working will prepare you to deal with a multitude of situations. This is beneficial at every phase of life and will make you a strong candidate for future employment.
CON: You might not be paid much, if at all
Many internships are unpaid and simply offer college credit. The ones that do pay are often full-time for minimum wage or less. This is the price paid for being able to add real-world experience to your resume before actually being qualified to do so. It’s important to create a plan and budget for how you will be able to accomplish the work without burning yourself - or your bank account - out.
However, paid internships are not impossible to find! You might find some paid internships abroad here, so check to see if any of them match your interests.
PRO: You will make professional connections
One thing that has stood true throughout my professional life is that networking is king and many opportunities come directly from those I have worked with in the past. Arguably the biggest gain from a virtual internship is the connections you will make. If you do your job well and impress your boss and co-workers, you are setting yourself up for a strong entrance to the job market.
CON: You may not do the work you thought you would
While job responsibilities are outlined at the beginning of an agreement, you might find yourself doing work much different than you expected. This is simply possible due to the company’s changing needs, familiarity with using interns, and enthusiasm for helping their interns grow. This may lead to you reconsidering your involvement. Even when the tasks don’t meet your expectations, be sure to complete the job well and with grace. Just as internships can work for you in the future, they can work against you if you fail to show enthusiasm and don’t complete the tasks assigned. But also remember to advocate for yourself. If you find that most of the work you’re asked to do is administrative in nature so you’re not really getting a feel for the industry, talk to your supervisor to see if you might be able to take on tasks that are more aligned with your goals.
PRO: You will build up your resume
Today’s fast-moving world means experience is key to entering the job market. With remote internships, you can open up a world of possibilities for resume-building while still continuing to work a normal job or finish schooling locally. This is one of the biggest benefits of the virtual experience.
Are you considering a virtual internship?
Whether you seek to intern locally or dream of gaining experience with a company abroad, virtual internships have many pros and cons, so be sure to explore your options carefully. Take advantage of this time and use it to acquire real-world experience in the field of your choice. Happy interning!