If you’re starting an internship right now, you may be in for a different experience than you anticipated, as many internship programs are now remote. A May 2020 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 46% of internship programs have transitioned to a virtual experience.
How can you connect with people at your internship and make a positive, lasting impression if you aren't working in the same physical space?
It's still possible to form relationships, gain knowledge and experience, and get all the other benefits that accompany interning while doing so remotely.
Speaking with The Balance Careers, Christine Yip Cruzvergara, VP of Higher Education and Student Success at Handshake, an online career community for college students, says, “Remote internships will be a new experience for almost everyone, so I encourage students to go in with an open mind, be their authentic selves, and take this opportunity to build a great skill set that will propel their future success.”
Tips for Making the Best Impression
Discover simple and highly effective strategies to help you make a positive impression during a remote internship.
You may be working out of a corner of your living room or on your kitchen table instead of from a cubicle, but it’s still important to act professionally and responsibly. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Dress appropriately: Most internships will take advantage of video-based meetings, through services such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype. That means your manager and coworkers will see you, so it’s important to dress professionally. For your first few days, err on the side of wearing business casual outfits. After you’ve been able to observe your coworkers' attire, you can dress to match.
- Practice good meeting etiquette: Make sure to keep your camera on during video meetings, Cruzvergara recommends. Otherwise, “it can give the impression that you aren’t giving the meeting your full attention.” It’s also a good idea to make sure the space behind you (which also shows up on the video) is office-appropriate. Finally, when you’re not speaking during a meeting, it’s generally considered polite to mute yourself.
- Be timely: Sign on to chat programs promptly in the morning and make sure to arrive at meetings on time as well. Also, answer emails promptly: Since people can’t see you in person, it’s more important than ever to show that you’re present, engaged, and working. If you will be away from your computer, let your manager know in advance.
Every company has its own distinct culture. Picking up on what’s appropriate for the organization where you’re interning might be more challenging when you’re not there in person, but it’s by no means impossible.
Be observant and mirror how most colleagues act during meetings and interactions.
For instance, at some companies, the chat feature in video meetings is widely utilized, with people making jokes and sharing links. At others, the chat feature may never be used.
Be Thoughtful When Communicating
Speaking to coworkers and managers over video chat, chat programs, and email may feel unfamiliar, or even uncomfortable, Cruzvergara points out. Still, don’t let your trepidation stand in your way. Instead, reach out to your manager from the get-go and ask what the best way to communicate is.
While some supervisors may prefer email, others would welcome chat messages throughout the day—and you’ll only know which camp your supervisor falls into if you inquire.
Confirming your manager's preferred communication style "will not only take the pressure off but also show that you are mindful of those around you and plan to be respectful of their time," Cruzvergara says.
And take advantage of chat programs—such as Google Hangouts or Slack—if your company uses them. These are more informal ways to communicate with coworkers. However, even though this type of conversation may involve GIFs and emojis, you should still strive to be professional.
One of the many goals of interning is to make connections and build up your network. For an in-person internship, that can be easy: Chance encounters in the kitchen and elevator can lead to conversations, followed by longer interactions at social events, lunch, or while grabbing coffee. But there are still ways to connect with others during a virtual internship program.
Try “scheduling a (virtual) coffee date with every person on your team,” suggests Los Angeles-based career coach Cynthia Orduña.
Having lunch together over video is another option, says Cruzvergara. Use these interactions as a way to get to know everyone. Along with making conversation about light topics (movies, hobbies, etc.), you can inquire about people’s careers, their thoughts on industry trends, any advice they have to offer, and so on.
Some internship programs may have instituted formal ways for interns to network with others. And at some companies, people may reach out on their own.
Take advantage of these opportunities, but if they don’t come up organically, be proactive about asking people to spend some time chatting.
Seek Out Feedback
Looking to impress your supervisor? Ask for feedback. Try this with coworkers, too. Taking the initiative to ask for feedback “shows that you’re eager to learn and grow,” says Cruzvergara.
If your manager is reluctant to share feedback or offers only vague statements, the Handshake VP suggests following up. “Ask for examples of how your supervisor would have done the work differently and how you can best improve on the next project you work on.”
At some internships, you’ll have a weekly one-on-one with your supervisor and receive feedback naturally. If that structure isn’t in place, Orduña recommends requesting feedback every week or two from peers and your supervisor.
Whether you’re interning remotely or in an office, it’s always a good idea to take initiative. Companies value employees who look for projects rather than waiting for assignments. “You should always ask your manager if there’s any more you can do,” Orduña says, adding, “Your goal should be to learn and take as much off their plate as possible to show your value and support.”
In addition to asking for additional projects and assignments, you can also make suggestions or volunteer.
For example, if someone complains during a meeting that they’re slammed with projects and struggling to keep up, ask if you can help. If you can, be specific about which project you can help with and in what capacity.
The best, most impressive interns are proactive, not passive. So don’t be shy about sharing your opinion. “As an intern, you have the upper hand at bringing a fresh perspective to the table,” says Cruzvergara.
That “outside” perspective can be helpful. “Whether you’re in a collaborative meeting or a brainstorm, feel empowered to speak up and contribute to the conversation,” she advises. That said, read the room: If no one else is offering suggestions during a widely attended meeting, consider following up with the appropriate person afterward.
Similarly, if you have questions or are confused about how something works, don’t keep it to yourself. You may find it easier to chat or email with one coworker—or your supervisor—individually, rather than asking for clarification during a team-wide meeting.
It’s a good idea to be appreciative and polite throughout your internship. Thank coworkers and your supervisor when they provide training, feedback, and insights into the company and overall industry.
On your last day, send a thank you note. You can send a team-wide message as well as individual messages to your manager and anyone else you worked closely with. “A thoughtful and personal message can have a big impact,” Cruzvergara notes. You can also add these connections on LinkedIn so you can easily keep in touch.