All About Virtual Internships

While it may sound like something out of the Jetsons, virtual internships are a legitimate way to get resume experience.

Elizabeth Hoyt

February 11, 2015

All About Virtual Internships

While it may sound like something out of the Jetsons, virtual internships are a legitimate way to get resume experience.

More and more companies are utilizing them because employers find them beneficial in a variety of ways from a larger applicant pool to saving time, space and money on utilizing workers only when necessary.

In short, the virtual internship is growing and thriving, especially because of improving technology and the growth of social media, which is exactly why you shouldn’t count these opportunities out of your internship search.

What Exactly is a “Virtual Internship?”

A virtual internship is exactly as it sounds – it’s just like a regular internship experience, except the intern gains his or her job experience while working remotely, rather than being physically present within a “typical” office environment or a job location.

How Do Interns Communicate with Employers in a Virtual Internship?

In a virtual internship setting, the virtual interns typically communicate with an employer through various means of communication technology including emails, video chat, phone conversations, instant messaging, text messaging, etc. Which Fields Offer Virtual Internships?

Certain fields are more likely to offer virtual internships. These fields include (but aren’t limited to): IT (information technology); sales; social media; journalism, research and freelance writing; video creation and editing; software development; search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing and graphic design.

These are just some of the many fields, which commonly offer virtual internships – but remember, they aren’t the only fields which do.

Are There Advantages to Virtual Internships?

There are also great advantages to you, as an intern, when working virtually.

While virtual internships are still fairly new on the scene (according to Wikipedia, the first was Columbia University’s virtual internship program in 2009), their growth is continuous, and advantages seem to allow students to accomplish other important tasks in the interim.

The following are just some of the advantages of virtual internships:

Intern for any company, regardless of location, without relocating

Internships are typically a short period, whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months. Typically, it’s difficult to relocate one’s life for the short period of an internship – though many do it because they want to intern with one particular company.

A virtual internship allows a student to work for their dream company without having the hassle to relocate.

Hours can be more flexible (which means, if it’s unpaid, you have time for a paid job, too)

Flexibility and freedom are two of the main attractions, especially for students who obtain unpaid internships –the majority of which are.

Since the majority of internships are unpaid, a virtual internship allows students to obtain part-time jobs in addition to their internships, where they can check in, anytime, anywhere.

Attend school and earn internship credit at the same time

Many high school and college students are forced to wait until winter and summer breaks to obtain internships because they cannot attend regular office hours with classes, too.

Virtual internships allow the flexibility to balance both, as long as students speak with their employers and communicate that they are in school.

Many students arrange a weekly hour schedule with their employers and clock hours per week, rather than a structured daily schedule, which means they can work as they have free time.

What are the Arguments Against Virtual Internships?Lack of structure and support

Some people believe that the point of an internship is for an employer to provide structured supervision, guidance and support to an intern – similar to a mentorship.

No office environment

The other down side is that students aren’t able to learn successful work behaviors such as office etiquette, corporate culture and experience life in a professional setting.

Certainly, there are fewer insights into daily life within the working world and fewer interactions with professionals – which means missing out on valuable networking opportunities as well. Unless, you can do so virtually. Can you?

Less job training and guidance

As a result, virtual internships have been criticized for not providing the necessary elements an internship requires in order to be classified as an internship.

There can be little-to-no training but that really depends on the employer. Again, depending on the employer, there can be a lack of guidance.

When you think about it, aren’t many of these aspects entirely based upon the employer-intern relationship, regardless of physical presence? In short, if an employer wants an intern to learn and become productive, he or she will likely give direction and guidance, regardless of time or place.

Yes, it may be slightly more effort for an employer to remember to check in when someone is not following you around on a daily basis (that is what schedules are for), however, when a job is computer-based anyway, why not select the best job candidate rather than the best local one?

What do you think? Does one have to be physically present to learn from an internship?

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