By Sam Coren
As the world becomes more connected, more students are considering the possibility of doing their internships “virtually.” Who wouldn’t love to roll out of bed and gain work experience in their PJ’s? Over the past decade more employers have begun to accept telecommuting as a valid working arrangement for full-time and part-time workers.
However, before you start applying for every “work from home” internship under the sun you should be smart about it. There are many cases where positions that are billed as unpaid “virtual internships” turn out to be for-profit businesses trying to get free work done rather than hire part-time help or contractors – this opens up a can of worms regarding labor law violations.
But there are instances where you can have a “legit” remote internship. For example, programmers working together on collaborative projects or students who choose to volunteer for nonprofits are cases when virtual internships can be more beneficial than traditional ones. To make sure working virtually is ideal don’t forget to do your homework on the company before you officially accept your virtual internship position so you know there’s nothing fishy is going on.
So let’s say you get an offer for a virtual internship opportunity that’s too good to pass up? How do you go about setting this remote internship up for success? Michael True, The Director of Internships at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. has 5 excellent tips:
Students need to be in a physical work environment with people with whom they interact on a regular basis. They need to learn interpersonal skills, office politics, and “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of a real work situation. In other words, they need to intern in a real world context. Some would argue that, with today’s technology, working alone in your dorm room is a real world context, but you understand what I mean.
If a virtual internship is set up, here are some components, which should be in place:
1. A Detailed Job Description in Writing
A clear, detailed position description which covers all expectations and which outlines what will constitute a “successful” internship.
2. Online Project Management Software
Using some type of online project management tool – Office 365, Google Docs, or something similar will allow the supervisor to go online and monitor the work which is supposed to be completed. The work is stored in the “cloud” (not on a single PC) so it is always available to those who need it to work on or review.
3. Frequent Reporting
A daily email report where the student provides information such as hours worked, challenges or problems encountered, results obtained, and any questions they may have.
4. Regular Video Meetings
A weekly virtual meeting on Skype, Gmail videochat or some similar technology. If that is impossible, then at least a phone conversation. This meeting may be used to affirm the student, correct any issues, and to catch up personally.
5. Face-to-Face Meetings if Possible
If the virtual internship is “local” – the site is not far from campus, but the employer says the student can work in their dorm room or on campus somewhere, I require employers to meet with the student in a public place like a Panera Bread once a week. This face-to-face meeting is a time for project planning, review of progress made, feedback, etc.
Have you had experience with a virtual internship? Share your story in the comments!