17 Tips to Get the Most out of Your Virtual Internship

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Summer internships are an important part of a lot of students’ college educations. Unfortunately, they’re not exempt from the confusion the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on every aspect of our lives.

The good news: Most employers are keeping internships going this summer. Only 22% of employers planned to revoke some internship offers as of May 1, according to a poll by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Instead of cancelling them, NACE reports, “In general, employers are adapting their summer 2020 internship programs by moving as much programming to a virtual space as possible.”

At least 83% of companies in the poll intend to adapt their internship programs to respond to social distancing and stay-at-home orders this summer.

That could mean your internship offer is still on the table — but that table might be in your kitchen.

Don’t let the switch ruin your summer internship experience. Here’s how to get the most educational, professional and networking opportunities out of a virtual internship.

How to Make the Most of an Internship From Home

An internship is a rich opportunity to learn and even to land a full-time job. Turning it virtual doesn’t have to take away those opportunities.

Follow these tips to get as much education and opportunity out of your virtual internship as you could get in person:

1. Surface the Right Strengths

Some fields are more adaptable to remote work than others. If you had planned to spend your summer doing anything but working at a computer, you might have to find new muscles to flex.

Like, if you booked a political internship focused on knocking on doors or talking to people on the street, you’ll probably have to shift gears to social media marketing. If you were going to work with kids in child care or educational programs, you’ll have to get comfortable engaging them on-screen.

Draw on all your classes to put peripheral strengths to use in a virtual internship, even if the work isn’t what you expected.

Things like writing and blogging, graphic design, communications, coding, digital marketing and social media, and data analysis translate well to remote work. Be prepared to take them on this summer — and learn job skills you didn’t think you would!

2. Set a Schedule

You have to show up for work from home just as much as you would in an office. Keeping a daily schedule will help you be fully present during work hours and also disconnect when you’re not on the clock.

Don’t roll over in bed and log into email on your laptop at 9 a.m. Develop a healthy morning routine, so you show up to your work fresh and ready to focus. Get dressed. Don’t let housework, pets or Netflix creep into your work hours just because they’re right there.

3. Set Boundaries With Family and Roommates

The people you live with might mistake your being at home with being available for chores or socializing. Set boundaries early, so they know this isn’t the case.

Let everyone in your house know your work schedule before you start, so they understand why you don’t have time for them during the day.

More important: Enforce the boundaries. When they stop by to chat you up, let them know you have to get back to work. When they ask you to help fold laundry, turn them down, and let them know you can do it after 5 o’clock.

4. Set up a Dedicated Work Space

A home office is displayed in this photograph.
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Designating a work space will complement your schedule — and boundary-setting efforts.

Settling into the same place to work each day signals to your brain that it’s time to work. And creating a space your house mates recognize as a work space helps remind them when you’re at work.

It doesn’t have to be a home office or anything major if you don’t have access to that kind of space. Just choose a place you can work comfortably and with limited distraction. A porch with a little shade could be a perfect summer office!

I recommend avoiding your bed, because it’s too easy to become sleepy. And I recommend avoiding the kitchen table if you live with a lot of people, because kitchens are busy spots. But do what works for you.

5. Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health

Working from home eliminates some natural opportunities a workplace usually offers for physical activity and socializing. You’ll need that kind of self-care to stay creative, productive and focused during your internship.

Remote work can be tough on your mental health under any circumstances. A pandemic only compounds it.

Take care of your mental health during a virtual internship by:

  • Talking to a therapist online or through teletherapy apps like BetterHelp and Talkspace.
  • Meditating with YouTube tutorials or apps like Headspace and Calm.
  • Going outside for fresh air and sunshine.
  • Decompressing at the end of the day through exercise, journaling, social media, reading or something else relaxing.

Getting exercise and moving around is also helpful for your mental health, just as much as it is for your physical health. (My advice: Start now. Your hips will thank you when you’re older.)

Check out these products to stay active and healthy while working from home.

6. Become Familiar With the Tech

Companies often expect students to be tech wizards — but being a digital native doesn’t mean you know how to use every tool out there. 

If an internship is your first foray into corporate work, you might have never used remote work technology before.

Familiarize yourself with the company’s tools right away. Take time on your first day to log into your accounts, explore the settings and address issues before they become an annoyance in the course of your work.

Some tips:

  • Start a practice call on a video conferencing app, and download whatever software it prompts you to. Set your video, mic and audio preferences.
  • Log into chat apps, like Slack or Skype, and fill out your profile with a name, photo and title.
  • Sign into your company email to make sure your password works.
  • Download video and chat apps to your phone, sign into your accounts and adjust your notification preferences.

7. Ask Questions

I’ve spent a lot of my career being the dumbest person in the room — and that’s a good thing. My biggest asset has been my willingness to ask questions.

Your coworkers expect curiosity from you as an intern. You’re there to learn! Don’t waste the opportunity trying to prove to professionals that you’re already an expert. You’re not.

A virtual internship might present less-obvious opportunities to ask questions — sitting in on meetings, running into coworkers in the break room or sharing a desk cluster with your team.

So you have to be assertive.

Pro Tip

Speak up in virtual meetings or follow up via chat afterward. Ask “why” a lot, even when you think you know the answer. Respond to your manager’s requests to clarify tasks they want you to complete.

Lots of experts and employees say asking questions is vital to turning an internship into a job offer, so don’t shy away from your curiosity.

8. Ask About Company Culture

An on-site internship might present opportunities to dive into company culture, like lunch-and-learns or wacky dress-up days. But companies might not make that effort with a remote workforce, especially if they’re not accustomed to being separated.

Be proactive to show them you’re interested in participating in the culture, not just the job. Join virtual activities.

If no one is coordinating them, suggest some ideas to your team — a wacky-dress day can be just as fun over Zoom as in the office!

9. Keep an Internship Journal

You might have to log your hours and write a paper about your experience to earn college credit for your internship. But even if you don’t, I recommend jotting a few notes in a journal at the end of each day to reflect on your experience.

This is a useful way to decompress, take in the experience and understand what you’re learning. If you end up with internship coordinators who aren’t super engaged remotely, this self-reflection could come in extra handy.

10. Stay Open to Opportunities

Flipping the switch to a virtual internship might present you with unexpected opportunities. You’ll showcase strengths you didn’t expect to use, and the company will likely have needs it didn’t expect to have.

Stay open, and say yes to opportunities. Don’t turn tasks or projects down because they’re not traditional to your field or they’re not what you expected this role to be.

An internship is a place to learn, and staying nimble to possibilities — especially during a time that’s stressful for everyone you’re working with — is vital to your education and development.

11. Make Yourself Critical to the Company’s Success

In any internship, you could easily come in, complete your work and disappear at the end of the summer. Working remotely makes it even easier for you to totally fade from everyone’s memory when your internship ends.

Get ahead of that by doing the job so well the company doesn’t want to live without you.

Note that doing critical work could be a legal problem for an unpaid internship, so know your rights if a company actually can’t function without the work you do.

Instead, focus on being a star by being curious, taking on challenges and fitting into company culture, so the company can see how much of an asset you’d be as a full-time employee in any role.

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

How to Build Your Network Through a Virtual Internship

A major benefit of internships is building a network of mentors, professionals and other students in your field. Working from home could make that seem impossible.

Follow these tips to build your network virtually:

1. Do Your Homework

Ideally, you researched the company before applying, so you knew what you were getting into; or before your interview, so you could make a good impression.

But if you haven’t yet, bone up on the company’s history, mission, structure, operations and leadership. It’ll help you carry on conversations with your coworkers — and it’ll give you a great education in your field, too!

2. Find Everyone on Social Media

No matter how hard we try, virtual teams don’t seem to socialize as much as those working in a shared space. To make up for the lack of office chit chat, connect with employees and other interns through social media.

LinkedIn is an obvious place to start. You can connect with anyone from the company there to stay in tune with professional chatter. But polish your profile before sending the connection requests!

Twitter offers a similar opportunity to connect with people, even if you don’t know them well. If professionals in your field are active on Twitter, it might be a more useful platform than LinkedIn to follow and engage with influencers in the company, because Twitter users tend to get on the platform more regularly.

Facebook and Instagram might be appropriate platforms to connect with other interns and employees you work closely with. People are more active and personal on those, so they could help you forge connections that last beyond your internship.

3. Organize Virtual Events

A group of people participate in virtual yoga.
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Kudos to your company if it organizes virtual networking and social events for employees and interns. If it doesn’t — and that’s more likely — take the initiative to set them up yourself.

Reach out to human resources reps, a social committee or your supervisor, and suggest some ideas for virtual social gatherings to keep employees connected. If appropriate (i.e. if it’s not already someone else’s job), offer to coordinate it.

Pro Tip

You can organize networking events with just fellow interns. Bonding with them will improve your experience and lay the bedrock for your professional network that’ll be valuable for years to come.

Consider these virtual social events via video conference:

  • Happy hours
  • Pub trivia
  • Game night
  • Yoga classes
  • Workouts or fitness classes
  • Sewing or knitting circles
  • Book club
  • Movie night (check out Netflix Party for Chrome to stay in sync)
  • Roundtable chats on fun or educational topics
  • Talent shows

The possibilities are broad; just get creative!

4. Dress to Impress (Including Pants)

Working from home is no excuse to look sloppy. You don’t have to force yourself into Spanx to smooth a pencil skirt over your thighs, but you shouldn’t show up to Zoom meetings in bottomless pajamas, either.

You’ll make an impression in virtual meetings just like you would in person, so dress accordingly. Brush your hair, and wash it occasionally. Wear a clean, comfortable shirt, and change it every day.

Getting dressed for the work day might feel silly, especially if you’re only on camera for a meeting or two.

But studies have shown what you wear impacts your creativity, confidence and attention to detail, Scientific American reports

5. Get on the Phone

I might be an old millennial, but I definitely don’t prefer a phone call if any other option is available. Still, I know they’re important.

You can forge a connection with someone over the phone — or a video chat — that you can’t via text or email.

If you find yourself in a complicated conversation over text, email or chat with someone on your team, suggest hopping on a phone or video call. It’ll help you find clarity and also provide an opportunity for small talk you’d probably skip over text.

You can also suggest purely social calls — reach out to coworkers, and ask to set up a call to chat and get to know them better. It might feel awkward compared to just bumping into them over lunch, but use the unusual circumstances as an excuse to be more assertive.

6. Take Advantage of Your Signature

Most of your communication with people at the company will probably be via email or chat. Use your signature or status on those platforms to showcase your personality and achievements, and show coworkers where to connect with you outside of work.

Some things you could include in your email signature and Slack (or other app) status or profile:

  • Your location
  • Emojis that represent how you’re feeling each day
  • An inspiring, positive or funny quote
  • Links to your website and social media profiles
  • Your career aspirations, like “Future human rights lawyer”
  • Your areas of focus, like “writing, design and social media”
  • A call to action to support your favorite charity
  • Your personality profile from Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, StrengthsFinders or other tests

Rock Your Summer Internship — From Anywhere

You don’t have to go into an office to have a valuable internship experience. Be nimble, stay positive and make the most of the opportunity you have.

Completing a virtual internship will give you a valuable skill set that might be in increasingly high demand in the future: knowing how to work from home.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.