What is a virtual internship?

With the rise of digital technology, it’s no surprise to hear that many employees are working remotely from home instead of the office (see The Guardian’s post here). A virtual internship is just like that. These internship programs allow participants, also known as interns, to gain work experience in a remote setting. As the internship is solely completed online, candidates are not physically present at the job site.

Generally, remote internships are taken by students and graduates to help them gain and develop their skills in the career sector they want to pursue. It’s also a great opportunity to explore an industry or role that you might not be 100% committed to yet. It allows them to get the first-hand experience with companies on a global scale while working from the comfort of their chosen location. Some studies have shown that working from home reduces stress and increases happiness and productivity? These findings are definitely a benefit for organisations as they can focus on the employees’ health and wellbeing, increasing employee retention.

Similarities Between On-Site and Remote

You might be asking yourself: “How do I get work experience if no one is there? Wouldn’t a face-to-face internship be better?” There are actually similarities between an on-site internship and a virtual one. Let’s discuss this:

1. Part of a team

Whether you’re undertaking a face-to-face placement or a remote one, all interns get the best of both worlds. Right from the start, you will feel like you’re part of an inclusive community where you can ask colleagues any questions you may have, but also receive support throughout the entire program. For example, if you’re taking a marketing internship, you might be stumped on trying to create a Google ad. Not to worry, your mentor will guide you or provide resources to teach you so you can acquire the needed skills and apply them in your future career.

2. In constant communication with the team

Individuals who participate in internships will be in continuous contact with their team. You may have read online that internships, while providing valuable experience, throw trainees into the deep end, leaving them to figure out everything by themselves. Although the part about gaining invaluable experience is true, figuring things out by yourself is not. It’s likely you will receive support from your team members, hopefully creating a good rapport between them. Virtual internships also give the opportunity to work with a balance of using your intuition, and getting the necessary direction from a supervisor. The University of Iowa’s career site, for example, explicitly reminds students that their colleagues are there to help them learn new skills and provide you with opportunities to boost your teamwork and communication skills.

3. Supervisor/manager

A good internship should provide you with a supervisor or manager you will be reporting to. They will also work closely with you to develop a good working relationship. As a result, you’re learning new skills in order to gain confidence in your abilities, while meeting a range of people to build up some good connections.

4. Project-based work

You usually see on TV that interns perform trivial errands such as making coffee. Okay, maybe not the best example of trivial – many of us need caffeine in our system! However, you might find it surprising that you are designated and entrusted with important tasks on a project. Although internships can be quite daunting in the beginning, they do allow you to work on real-life projects for an organisation, giving you a taste of what the working world is really like.

Differences Between On-Site and Virtual

1. Transport

An on-site internship means you have to travel to the office. In comparison, online internships allow you to save time and travel costs as you work from a preferred location. Thus, you’ll have much more time to focus on the programme as you don’t have to worry about commuting, changing your outfit, or food (unless you’re a student, then it’s all about budgeting).

2. Cost

If online internships save time, then it also saves money – after all, time is money. Forget worrying about travel expenses and traffic, virtual internships understand your needs. If you’re already paying for rent, why not work from the comfort of your accommodation or any location of your choice?

3. Building virtual relationships

For students or recent graduates who cannot express themselves as naturally face-to-face, remote internships allow them to build up their confidence as they can collect their thoughts and articulate themselves better on an online platform. Thus, these individuals can benefit from the remote internship. How? A more fluent online persona means you’re more likely to excel in written communication, and thus, build a better rapport with the organisation you are interning at.

4. Building in-person relationships

This is something that is extremely important for the development of an individual. Although many qualities can be taken from a virtual internship, there is still the need to develop your in-person people skills and have the ability to build and maintain long-standing relationships.

5. Communication

All interns communicate with their employers/host company via a number of methods. For example, on-site internships allow you to talk to colleagues via email and face-to-face methods, such as their desk or in meetings. In contrast, online internships offer a wider range of multichannel, including email, Skype, WhatsApp, phone, project management tools, and instant messaging. Understanding and harnessing new communication tools is one huge upside of a virtual internship – you will undoubtedly use this knowledge throughout your working life6.    Flexibility – A remote internship permits you to devise your own schedule. For instance, you can start your working day at 9 a.m. or 12 p.m. and work as flexible as you wish. Therefore, it’s not the usual 9-5 day where office meetings are held on a regular basis. Instead, meetings are generally done via video chat or phone. In addition, all assignments carried out are completed online. Don’t stress as you can plan meetings around your time, and finish tasks at your own pace. The choice is yours, and it’s fantastic.

Example of a Virtual Internship

Virtual internships are common in many areas, such as marketing, research, data entry, IT, politics, and law. For instance, you were undertaking an online digital marketing internship, you could learn about SEO, create advertising campaigns, carry out market research/analysis, handle the company’s social media, and write articles for a blog. However, most internships will first assess your needs to see what you want to gain from your internship. Thus, this allows them to tailor it to you while you learn, develop and obtain the necessary skills to become an effective digital marketer. For example, you could be generating ideas between colleagues, which shows that you’re good at teamwork and collaboration. Likewise, if you schedule the company’s social media posts at peak times, it exhibits you as an organised individual with a good foundational knowledge of social media marketing.

Ultimately, virtual internships are hugely beneficial and will very likely, leave a positive and lasting impact on your future career. You can apply for a Virtual Internship and get the process started.

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