College Advice Blog

Mar 16, 2012

Should You Consider a Virtual Internship?

The world and the workforce are now more connected than ever, with the internet and smartphones creating opportunities to stay up-to-date with the home office and perform tasks from wherever you might be. Even internships are becoming virtual, as more and more companies look for ways to employ students without overstuffing their office. And from the perspective of a student applying for internships, there are tons of positives to the virtual working environment. You can save commuting costs and work from home. Or you can take on several tasks at once and handle your internship while on the go. Telecommuting has become a valid working arrangement for most corporations, and whether it's a full time employee or a part time internship, they often will make that a viable possibility. But before you focus on applying solely to virtual internships, make sure you understand what you're signing up for.

What situations or tasks can work scheduled as a virtual internship? If you're focus is computer programming or non-profit work, a virtual internship could be perfect. On large projects that receive a lot of input, you can perform your specific task and stay linked with the other team members easily through virtual scheduling. Just make sure you do your homework on the company offering the internship. You don't want to get caught up in a situation where shady businesspeople are simply trying to get free work from a student, and you don't end up with the resume-building experience or college credits you require.

How will you know what you are responsible for? One of the primary benefits of interning within an office is becoming a visible, connected part of their team. And since you're close to your boss, he or she can guide you through the position and add tasks as necessary. Sometimes in the virtual world you can end up just floating along, not getting as much as you possibly could out of the experience. Make sure you receive a crystal clear job description, packed with details. You're going to want to know what's expected of you, what will dictate success or failure, and what additional tasks you could turn your attention to once the obvious ones are out of the way.

Are they set up to manage the projects? Make sure that the company providing your internship is properly set up with some sort of online project management software. There are plenty of free ones, such as Office 365 or Google Docs, that can keep you connected with the rest of the team. You want to make sure that your work can easily be overseen. After all, if you're not getting feedback in a consistent, useful manner, your internship could be a pointless exercise.

Can there be some amount of face-to-face interaction? The flexibility of a virtual internship is certainly attractive, but you don't want to work in a void. Make sure that there can be consistent, in-person meetings, whether once a week or every other week, so you are fully integrated with the team, and can gain experience in project planning and regular review of your work. If the virtual internship isn't local, at least make sure they can set up video meetings, whether through Gmail chat, Skype, or an in-house resource. The internet makes all things possible. You can now attend graduate school from home and earn an online MBA degree. So if the company isn't tech-savvy enough to set up regular videoconferencing, your virtual internship could end up in trouble.

About The Author 
Evan Fischer is a contributing writer in the areas of education and personal finance. He is also a part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.

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