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Fast Pitch: Why ‘Virtual’ Internships Can Be Better Than ‘Real’ Ones

December 13, 2010

The internship itself is a pretty new institution, so it’s tough to define any aspect of the experience as “traditional.’ But until recently, it was almost always associated with summer, like lemonade, bad TV and the skinny dude from The OC.

Don’t worry – most virtual internships won’t make you wear this headgear.

Now, however, there’s a new movement to extend internships throughout the year, including during the fall and winter academic semesters. Since students tend to have odd class schedules during the week and an often unpredictable list of extracurricular obligations, the “virtual internship’ – one that can be undertaken from anywhere with a broadband Internet connection – has become increasingly popular.

There are a number of reasons for it, but here are the four that we think appeal most to students:

1. Typically, virtual internships involve far fewer hours per week, so they still can be reconciled with your other activities. Even if the hours are the same as a summer internship,virtual internships may offer less rigid schedules,so hours can be worked in between classes or occasionally rearranged around social events.

2. Virtual internships can give you a stronger chance of eventually being hired full-time. A longer internship term simply gives companies more time to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. In a three-month or shorter stint during the summer, students might just be getting the hang of work software or procedures when it’s time to go back to school. Employers may feel that they’ve spent most of the internship bringing their interns up to speed and haven’t gotten a steady read on how effective they’d be as full-time employees.

A year-round internship eliminates these concerns, and it also means you can be hired right out of college without missing a beat. That makes you more attractive than an intern who did a good job last summer, because skills can lapse a lot in nine months.

3. You’ll have more freedom to explore a company or industry. With more time on the job, you have more time to decide whether it’s something you’d like to keep doing. After all, internships aren’t just a way to gain experience — they’re a testing ground.

Maybe you’ve found, after six months of interning, that graphic design isn’t really your thing. You could ask for a transfer to, say, a copywriting role. Your company is more likely to consider the move because your footprint on their weekly work burden is smaller than that of a full-time summer intern, so there’s less need to bring on a replacement.

4. There’s often less competition for similar opportunities. Demand for summer internships has skyrocketed to the point where some employers feel confident that they can get quality candidates without offering compensation, even in the form of stipends. But that’s less often the case with virtual internships. Companies might consider less experienced candidates during fall, winter and spring that wouldn’t have gotten a response for summer positions.

In summary, virtual internships have several key advantages that the traditional summer internship can’t provide. If you’re careful to select a trustworthy employer – and there are many listed on our site – you’ll be surprised to see how far they can carry you.

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