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An intern’s view on virtual internships

April 23, 2010

by Alicia Landsberg

I guess you can say I’m a veteran intern. I’m a senior in college, scheduled to graduate in May, and this semester I’m doing two internships. Both internships are “telecommuting,' or what’s also called “virtual.'  The experience has unique advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional internships.

The most obvious pro to a virtual internship is the flexibility.  As a college student I’m not exactly wired to handle the nine-to-five traditional workday schedule, but by working from wherever my laptop is, I’m free to do my internship work at my convenience; in between classes, after homework and studying, and on the occasional weekend night when I’ve opted to stay in. 

I am currently working as an Editorial Intern for two online travel guides–Rollinglobe Media LLC  and Destination Guides. The work consists primarily of writing travel articles, reviews and maintaining a blog. Writing, like most creative work, is hard to compress within a rigid schedule. I don’t plan out the specific times I set aside for my work. I write when the moment is right, when my creative energy is at its highest and generally,I can’t predict when that energy will hit. Sometimes I get the urge to work right before I go to bed,other times, it’s during moments of procrastination while studying. For me, this type of work just does not flow on a traditional schedule.

Virtual internships can also help foster certain skills that are much valued in the workplace. For one, to successfully perform an online internship, you absolutely have to be a self-starter. The boss is an email contact, not a physical presence. There’s usually nobody physically peering over your shoulder, checking to see if you are on top of your work. For that reason, it is sometimes easy to lose motivation. On the up side, though, internships of this nature force you to be a self-starter, to complete your work to the best of your ability without the boss giving you constant face-to-face feedback. Also, because it’s the middle of the school year, my current virtual internships hone my multitasking skills, forcing me to balance and prioritize the responsibilities of two separate positions with the normal demands of school. 

It is difficult to fairly weigh the cons of an online internship, since my experiences are still in the working. So far, though, I have picked up on some shortcomings. I think the biggest negative is the ability to effectively network. A physical presence often makes a bigger impression than an online one. The closest contact I have had with my current bosses is through a few phone conversations. Contact is primarily through email.  For that reason, it is more difficult to get yourself and your work noticed by superiors. Even if they like the finished product, they did not witness the countless hours spent writing, editing and proofreading–the labor that went into producing a particular piece of work. Virtual Internships require an extra dose of assertiveness to make yourself visible to the people you hope to network with.

In the end, however, virtual internships are useful for building the skills necessary to succeed in today’s workforce: persistence, assertiveness, self-motivation, written communication, and organization. Considering our lives are increasingly digitized, it makes sense to experience a virtual internship and become accustomed to a style of working that more and more companies will likely adopt in the years to come.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

eastofeton April 24, 2010 at 2:08 am

I have never heard of virtual internship until this blog. I do agree though. Not “physically” being there is shortcoming. However, if you are an independent type of person, this type of work will be good for you. I hope the best for you and good luck.

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Rita May 4, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I would love to be a part of a virtual internship. Just getting the experience is wonderful. And I am an independent online person.

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Martha May 5, 2010 at 8:22 am

I would love to be a virtual intern. There are so many virtual positions that virtual interns makes sense to me. I am an online student and I believe it would work .

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alicialandsberg May 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm

I am definitely thankful for the experiences, so if you are independent and a self-starter and skilled at managing your time, it can only help!

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