Are Virtual Internships Forming Part of our “New Normal”? – Student Experiences with Virtual Internships & Where to Find Them Part #1

With everything on a stand-still due to Covid-19, many organisations have had to rethink their talent pipeline management initiatives, consequently, this has resulted in drastic changes for many organisations. For some, this has included changing aspects of how their university internship programmes are run; some organisations have shifted their spring and summer internship programmes online and have re-worded it as “virtual”.

On the other spectrum, companies have had to cancel their internship programmes altogether. Perhaps, you are starting a virtual internship soon, or you are not sure what they entail, the purpose of this article is to inform you in a down-to-earth way about virtual internships through the experiences of students that have completed them. 

Virtual internships differ from an on-site internship, although there are some similarities. A virtual internship is an internship that is conducted remotely i.e from home.  Interestingly, virtual internships are becoming more popular perhaps because students have more time and want to upskill. I thought this would be interesting to explore further, for this reason, I have decided to contact a range of students from my network to understand more about their virtual internship experiences.

The students featured in this article:

  • Naznina Begum – “My name is Naznina and I am currently in my second year studying International Relations. I hope to pursue a career in Politics, specifically looking at the Civil Service and local government.”
  • Rianna Patterson – “My name is Rianna Patterson and I am recent Psychology graduate from the University of Kent. I am interested in working with a charity or within the business sector.”
  • Katherine Avery – “I’m Katherine, and I’m graduating from the University of York with an MSc in Molecular Cell Biology this summer. After graduation I had a 4-month placement at the lab I did my Master’s in planned, but it was cancelled due to the Covid19 crisis! As you can imagine I was very disappointed, but since moving back home I’ve been completing internships and other online courses so I can still gain experience while I hunt for a graduate job.”

Have you completed a virtual internship, if so at which companies and in which departments were they in? Why these in particular? How did you come across the virtual internship?

  • “I have completed 3 virtual work experience programmes with Accenture, Leo Cussen and Rate my Placement/DBL. I came across these opportunities through my career’s service at university which advertised the site run by Inside Sherpa, and how it had a range of different virtual work experience programmes in sectors such as finance and consulting. I chose to complete these even though they were not strictly aligned with my career plans or degree subject as I believed they could teach me skills that I would need for general employability such as problem-solving, research skills and the like.” – Naznina
  • “I recently completed the Information Technology Virtual Internship run by Bright Network. Companies such as Goldman Sachs, Accenture, Google and Bloomberg gave an insight into the tech industry. I think it was informative as I come in a non-technical background, I learnt a lot about the different languages used in tech as well as Agile software. I came across this internship through an email from Bright Network.” -Rianna
  • “This summer I signed up to two virtual internships with Bright Network; one for Technology and one for Business, Operations and Marketing. These internships were in sectors I’m not especially familiar with, and I wanted to learn more about the kind of jobs that are available and what they entail. I was actually recommended to them by a friend because she knew my situation and that I was looking for opportunities to gain employability skills. These internships were both free and a place was offered to anyone who applied, there were literally thousands of us tuning in, so I thought they were definitely worth a try!” – Katherine

Have you completed an on-site internship before, if so how did it differ from a virtual internship?

  • I have not completed a traditional internship before but I have done some work experience. The virtual programmes seemed much more focused on completing tasks and projects, whereas the work experience I have done before has been more around shadowing and learning what is done in a specific department. I enjoyed the virtual internship more as I was given more responsibility and actual work to do like analysing different information and making judgements from that. – Naznina
  • This is my second time completely work experience remotely, I think this was different as I networked with other students and had a chance to gain insight from different companies and learn how tech roles different in these companies. It was more of an overall experience. – Rianna
  • I have had some traditional internships before in various labs. An obvious difference with this internship compared to my others is that you are not immersed in a work environment, and any practical experience must be possible remotely. With an internship like these, you are also forced to be a lot more independent. As one of 6000, it is up to you to put the effort into the work and get as much as you can out of the opportunity. That said, as one of 6000 you also have the chance to meet so, so many more people than you would in a traditional placement when you may only be building valuable relationships with members of a small department. – Katherine

What is the main lesson you have learnt from taking part in a virtual internship so far?

  • The main lesson I have learnt from a virtual internship so far is that it’s okay to reach out for help or guidance. It can be isolating having to work independently so it is key to maintain communication with colleagues and points of contact. -Naznina
  • The main lesson I learnt how that anyone can get into tech once they have a keen interest in exploring this field I think top tips is not coming with expectations. However, do think of questions you look to be answered and definitely make use of the networking. – Rianna
  • The virtual internship I took involved a project that was very different from anything I’d ever attempted before as part of my degree. I had to come up with a project plan of how I’d direct two teams to develop a facial recognition feature for a banking app. But other than learning how to approach this new kind of task, I’ve definitely been shown the power of LinkedIn and platforms like Hopin as tools to connect and work with others. It was amazing to see how many great people I could work with and learn that I could still gain valuable experience all from the comfort of my kitchen table. – Katherine

Top tips for anyone planning on starting a virtual internship? Or for anyone currently doing a virtual internship?

  • A top tip would be to try to create a productive work environment at home. It can be difficult to stay motivated and keep up with a new workload during lockdown when you’re working at home. It can be hard to adjust so try to think about what usually helps you to work effectively at university, the library or your usual work spots, and try to recreate them at home as best you can. This can be done by planning a schedule for you to stick to or making sure you’re working at a desk rather than your bed. Whatever works for you is best. – Naznina
  • Network with the staff on the internship and get to know other students doing this internship. Network with people from various backgrounds (technical/non-technical) and if possible also learn from your peers and ask for help if needed. Make an effort to improve your commercial awareness and research the companies attending the event. – Rianna
  • I would say to go for it and give it your all! Especially if it was one like mine where it was so easy to apply and only for a brief period of time. You literally have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Make sure you keep your CV and LinkedIn updated with what you are doing- even if it is virtual the things you learn can still be very relevant. I’d say the most important thing to remember is that you absolutely get out what you put in. Like I said before with a remote internship, especially when you are one of many, it’s easy to remain removed and put in minimum effort. Make sure you make the most of it! Connect with the people you work with, use the resources you get given access to, put your best effort into the projects you can get set and try and learn everything you can! – Katherine

 

Links to websites offering virtual internships:

InsideSherpa

BrightNetwork

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