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Virtual Internships: Getting the Experience You Need Online

Posted April 07, 2020 by Daniela Pico - Director of External Relations - Riipen

Students globally are experiencing new, unprecedented changes to their studies as COVID-19 has restricted in-person learning and collaboration, moving classes, lectures, and even standardized testing to at-home, online formats.

These times can be intimidating, but there are still opportunities for you to continue thriving in your educational experience. Though standard, in-person internships are most likely on hold for a while, virtual internships can provide you with the experience you need to continue learning and adding to your growing portfolio.

How They Work

Virtual work experience can take a few different forms. Depending on where you are in your career or educational journey, you can try just one as a great standalone resume builder, or you can take on several as a way to build a richer portfolio.

You can participate in a challenge or hackathon. These are short experiences that usually happen over a few hours—perhaps over one weekend. Some of them are technical, but others can be focused on tackling social problems, brainstorming new ideas, or trying your hand at short tasks related to a role you want to secure in the future. There are a wide variety of opportunities, like the 2018 Thales Student Innovation Championship, and KSAI Insight’s Social Media Strategy Challenge.

Project-based learning in the classroom. Another way to get relevant experience is to talk to your professors about working with industry projects as part of your coursework. These opportunities can be virtual, which would allow you to connect with organizations around the world—something that is otherwise difficult to do in person. This will look a bit different depending on what you are studying, but the idea is the same. Instead of just learning about theory, you also get to put that into practice by working with a company on a business problem they’ve identified. For example, if you are studying human resources, you are likely to learn about on-boarding employees--why not put that theory into practice by working with a company to design a new employee on-boarding plan?

Credit-bearing field placements. Field placements are similar to project-based learning in the classroom. If you attend post-secondary school, it’s possible that your institution has at least one course that is a field placement. A field placement is like an internship, with the added benefit that you get course credit for it. During a field placement, you work alone or on a team to do research on behalf of a company, solve a problem for them, help them evaluate their internal processes, or come up with a new product.

Every field placement will look a little different, especially if you will need to do yours virtually. Virtual field placements provide many of the same learning opportunities that an in-person experience might, with just the physical presence missing. Getting real work experience is possible online. Northeastern University’s Curricular Project and Schulich School of Business’s IMBA Internship are both great examples.

Paid virtual internships. Paid virtual internships are just like internships that happen in person, except you work from anywhere you have internet access. They are supervised, structured work experiences that can take place at any point during your academic program, or after all of your academic work has been completed. Internships can vary in length but range anywhere from a few months to a year. During an internship, you work in a position clearly designated as an internship by the host organization, and perform tasks similar in nature and skill level to tasks done by entry-level employees in the organization.

How to Make the Most of Your Virtual Experience

There are a lot of differences between a virtual experience and an in-person experience, particularly when you are preparing to graduate or starting your career. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are working remotely.

1.Get Your Work Done.

When you are working remotely, it’s very important to get your work done in a timely manner. Your leaders and teammates won’t be able to see you working, so they will rely on the work you complete as a measure of your success. It’s important to not get distracted and focus on the task at hand.

2.Be there to help others get their work done.

When you are able to, offer to help others with their work. This will not only make it easier for you to get exposure to other areas of the business, but it will also help you connect with your co-workers in meaningful ways, especially since you don’t have the opportunity to connect physically. One important caveat⁠—always prioritize the job you have been given before pursuing special projects.

3.Be present over video to help others build a stronger connection with you.

When you are working virtually you don’t get the chance to communicate with people in your office like you would in a physical space. There is no coffee machine or break room to crowd around to meet new people. Try to show up via video whenever possible and suggest video calls as a way of creating that connection with your colleagues. Even when you are working from home, make sure you are dressed for work. This will not only help your routine and productivity, but it will help you make the best (virtual) impression possible.

4.Always document and communicate with care.

When working virtually it is important to document and over-communicate. Digital communication is different than in-person communication. You have to be extremely clear and take extra care with the tone of your messages. Misunderstandings are common in virtual communication; avoid them by writing attentively and reviewing your emails and messages before sending them.

Daniela Pico Director of External Relations Head Shot Daniela is a passionate advocate for improving education and supporting youth. She is currently the Director of External Relations at Riipen, a technology platform enabling transformative opportunities for companies to collaborate with post-secondary students on real-time, real-world experiences.