How Virtual Internships Work

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Virtual internships are internships done entirely via email, online chat, or phone. They typically offer a great deal of flexibility and remove the necessity of having to live in a certain geographical location.

Virtual internships, which are also called remote internships, are easier to fit into a busy college schedule and offer students an opportunity to gain experience without having to commute to a specific location at a specific time.

Finding and Applying

Many virtual internships exist in the fields of IT, sales, journalism, marketing, and software development. Jobs in those areas lend themselves to remote work, but you can find opportunities for virtual internships in other types of employment as well.

Although the structure of a virtual internship may be different than that of a traditional internship, the application process is usually pretty similar. First you will probably be asked to send in a resume and cover letter and perhaps some supporting materials, such as writing samples. If the manager likes what they see, you will be interviewed by phone.

Before you accept a virtual internship, there are several questions you should get answers to.

  1. What tasks will you be doing and what will your responsibilities be?
  2. Will training or supervision be offered only at the beginning or over the course of the internship?
  3. How many hours per week are required for the internship?
  4. Is the internship paid?
  5. Can you receive college credit for the internship?
  6. Will you receive an evaluation or recommendation letter at the end of the internship? Will your supervisor be able to act as a work reference after the internship is over?
  7. Could the internship lead to full-time employment at the company?

    Pros of a Virtual Internship

    There are positives and negatives about doing an internship remotely. Some of the advantages are:

    • You can intern for any company, regardless of location, without relocating: Internships are typically for a short period, whether it’s a few weeks or a few months. It can be difficult to relocate your life for the short period of an internship—though many students do it because they want to intern with a particular company. A virtual internship enables students to work for their dream company without undergoing the hassle of relocating.
    • The hours tend to be more flexible: Because you're working remotely and not reporting in to an office, you may be able to work the hours you want rather than those of a typical workday.

      The flexibility to work when you want is a great benefit on its own, but it can also free up your daytime hours to work at another job. That situation would be especially helpful if your internship is unpaid.

      • You may be able to earn college credits more easily than with a traditional internship: It's typically harder to fit in an internship during a spring or fall semester, when you would have a class schedule to work around. Because the hours for a virtual internship tend to be more flexible, it should be easier to manage your class schedule and internship schedule in a single semester.
      • You won't have to commute: With a virtual internship, you don't need to pay for a car or public transportation to get into the office at a set time. You also avoid wasting time spent tied up in traffic.

        Cons of a Virtual Internship

        Some of the disadvantages of a virtual internship are:

        • There might be a lack of structure and support: An internship can become like a mentorship if your boss excels at providing structured supervision and support. You probably won't get that same feeling of having been mentored if you're communicating only by email and phone.
        • There might be less job training and guidance: Similarly, you may get less training on and guidance about the duties of the job from your boss and colleagues at a remote internship than you would if you could see them face-to-face.
        • You won't experience the office environment: You also won't be able to learn successful work behaviors such as following office etiquette and understanding and responding to a corporation's culture. You will miss out on the daily experiences of life in a professional setting.
        • You will have to be more self-motivating: Without an in-the-flesh boss to answer to, you will have to muster the motivation to do your job from within.

        Offsetting the Cons

        As with any internship, what you get out of a virtual internship is commensurate with what you put into it—or push to get out of it. If you're concerned a virtual internship might be a lesser experience, talk about that with the person who would be your boss before you accept the job. If your future boss is able to convince you the internship will be worthwhile, go for it.

        Similarly, while you're interning, do what you can to make sure the experience lives up to the expectations your boss established. In a professional manner, ask for more guidance and support if you feel like they have been lacking.