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What is a virtual internship?

Student Career Placement Consultant

In the internship classes that I teach, we always spend some time talking about the advantages and disadvantages of jobs that offer the option of working remotely—also known as telecommuting or telework. What it means to work remotely is that you don’t have to go to an office or other specific location every day; instead, you can work from your home, a local coffee shop, or even the beach or other place of your choice. While it’s good to think about your interest in a permanent position that offers a telework option, there are also internships that don’t provide any option for students to work on site. I call these “virtual internships,” and I thought it might be useful to spend a few minutes talking about the advantages and disadvantages of virtual internships. And let’s be clear: there are significant advantages and disadvantages to doing a virtual internship.

Advantages 

With a virtual internship, you can…

  • Save time by not having to commute to an office.
  • Save money on gas, parking, lunches, and (potentially) wardrobe.
  • Enjoy a more flexible schedule. For example, students can do their work in between classes or at 3:00 a.m. (or on the weekends).
  • Have the opportunity to work independently.
  • Experience less pressure to perform because no one is watching you work.
  • Work in the comfort of just about anywhere, as long as you can connect to the internet (in most cases).
  • Find out if telework is something that you are comfortable with and sufficiently self-motivated to seek out as part of your career.


Disadvantages

If you are working virtually, you...

  • May find it difficult to get instructions clearly and in a timely fashion.
  • May not get feedback on your work promptly.
  • Won't have a peer group or a mentor readily accessible to provide guidance.
  • May be expected to be available 24/7.
  • Must be motivated, well organized, and good at time management.
  • Will have fewer opportunities to socialize and network.
  • May receive less recognition for your work.
  • Will have limited face-to-face interaction.
  • May find it difficult to ask question or get clarification.
  • May struggle with keeping a good work-life balance.
  • Will have to rely on technology for most communication.

Many companies now allow some of their employees to work remotely, so if you think this is a desirable type of work environment for you, it’s good to try it out as an intern where the risks are not as significant to your future. What I’ve noticed over the years is that many students think that telework is ideal… until after they’ve completed a virtual internship for a semester. 






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