While some employers have been canceling their summer internships, many have moved online. But these virtual internships come with a new set of challenges for interns.
Instead of impromptu brainstorming with colleagues and morning meetings with managers, interns face isolation, lack of camaraderie, and no in-person lunches with coworkers, making it harder for interns to stand out and to turn internships into full-time jobs.
“These interns need to really prove themselves and work harder than they expected to produce great outcomes and recommendations,” said Jill Tipograph, a career coach and co-founder of Early Stage Careers, “not to mention lay the foundation for future job opportunities.”
Here are the main challenges that virtual internships pose and how you can overcome them.
Do your homework
Your internship starts before the first day and some preparation might help your experience with the company.
“Start by reaching out to those you know who work at the company or even your recruiting manager for insight,” Tipograph said. “Understanding the mood and feedback to the new virtual culture will allow you to approach it with knowledge and make for an easier transition.”
Ask people who work there about the company’s work style and protocols for remote work and learn more about the best ways to communicate with your future colleagues. For example, get to know which application the company uses to conduct meetings — such as Google Meet or Zoom — and become comfortable with the settings for it.
This will help you minimize the company’s onboarding concerns by making sure you are well-versed in the tools they’re using.
Figure out who is who
Before diving deep into your objectives for the summer, you should learn more about your new team. One way to do this is to make sure you get to know your manager and your colleagues as well as attending any virtual intern events.
“Visit their LinkedIn profiles to learn about their professional and education tracks, and even their interests,” Tipograph said. “Create a short, professional request to spend a little time with them virtually (10 minutes) so that you can introduce yourself and get to know them.”
While listening and learning from your colleagues, use your down time wisely. One way to do that is to research projects and assist others with projects, review drafts of reports, or research competitors.
Create a structured environment
While you won’t be at the company’s physical office this summer, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one.
“Virtual work requires a structured environment,” Tipograph said. “If it needs to be your home bedroom, try to work at a desk or set up a small table and chair for you and your computer and cell phone.”
Think about the background of the room, whether sounds and distractions are minimized. Consider the lighting. The goal is to create a space that looks professional, but also feels comfortable. Don’t forget to ask for the dress code and make sure what you wear is appropriate.
“Professionals get dressed for the day, albeit more casual than perhaps the actual office,” Tipograph said.
Build transferable skills
Turning your internship into a job might be more difficult this summer with many companies reducing workforces, cutting budgets, and freezing new hires, but you should concentrate on making the most of the experience. One way to do this is to focus on skill-building.
“The goal is to build transferable skills,” Tipograph said. “Continue to increase your knowledge and practical application of amassed, new skills.”
Continue taking courses in key skill areas that employers are seeking and document them on your resume and LinkedIn. Additionally, don’t shy away from over-communicating and request feedback from colleagues and managers.
“Be proactive. Do not wait for others to wonder about you and your efforts,” Tipograph said. “Share your work ahead of the deadline, perhaps in stages, to ensure you are going down the right path.”
Make memorable first and last impressions
The last days of your internship are very important, not only for reflection, but also for thanking your managers and colleagues and requesting future recommendations.
“First and last impressions are memorable,” Tipograph said. “Reach out to those who know you well, for whom you did some work, and ask them to note your key skills, soft and hard, and contributions.”
Don’t forget to send thank-you notes to your manager and colleagues. Learn how you can stay within the company talent pipeline for future projects or jobs, because many companies look to previous interns as their preferred source of future talent.
Read more information and tips in our Advice section