Virtual Internships

Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article about virtual internships that made it sound as though this were something new. In Raleigh, North Carolina, where I live and teach, students in my internship program have been doing virtual internships for at least the past six years.

I thought it might be useful to spend a few minutes talking about the advantages and disadvantages of virtual internships, which the NYT skims over. And let’s be clear: there are significant advantages AND disadvantages to doing a virtual internship.

First the 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 your own home, or your favorite coffee shop, or at the beach.
  • Find out if telework is something that you are comfortable with and sufficiently self-motivated to make it part of your career.

Now for the 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 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 questions or get clarification.
  • Struggle keeping the lines between home and work separate.
  • Will have to rely on technology for most communication.

Many corporations 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.