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Virtual Internships!?

February 17, 2010

An “internship” where you’re completely telecommuting doesn’t usually give students the opportunity to learn as much as traditional internships. But in a brief piece by Lindsay Elias, public & media relations assistant for Come Recommended, she offers some interesting insights.

Virtual internships can be daunting — interning for someone you have never met. Instead, the entire interview process and internship itself take place over the Web from the comfort of your own home.

It is happening all over the country. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, virtual internships, while still rare, are becoming more common career experts say, fueled by improving technology and the growth of social media. They cut time and travel, clothing, food and other costs, as well. All students need is reliable Internet access and a computer; a nice quiet desk space wouldn’t be bad either.

The most popular types of business offering virtual internships are small to midsize companies and online businesses. Virtual internships are a great way for prospective interns to get their internship experience without having to relocate.

For a company to have a good virtual internship, they need to have a key staff person to contact or oversee the program. The intern should have frequent interaction with the company, like being involved in weekly staff meetings. The intern also needs real tasks to complete, and a variety of them.

The down side to virtual internships: The distance limits the view on how the business actually works. Interns don’t get to attend meetings in-person or observe fellow employees in their daily routines. However, programs like Skype allow interns to have virtual meetings with their employer and co-workers.

It is also hard to build personal relationships and show certain skills because the intern is not physically present.

As told to the Wall Street Journal: “Some people might want to be in an office so that they can feel like they’re in the thick of things,” says author Lisa Orrell. She has hired four virtual interns in the past two years to help maintain her MySpace and Facebook pages and to promote her book, Millennials Incorporated, which advises companies on managing younger workers.

Once they actually receive the internship, there are a few things interns should ask. Request detailed explanations of the hours and tasks interns will be expected to complete. Interns should also make sure they will get feedback and mentoring. Especially if the internship is unpaid, this is where the real value comes in.

You should not expect to be as closely mentored by an experienced professional as you would be if you were in the office. However, a good virtual internship program will still provide relevant, résumé-building work experience.

A virtual internship is a great new way of getting experience. With the right companies and right interns, virtual internships benefits all parties involved.

Check out our own AU virtual intern’s experiences. Ellie Brown, posting on our AU Intern blog.

Photo by Lee Hopkins.

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