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Rocking a Virtual Internship

Allyson Letteri


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed college life in countless ways. When classes went online last year, so did many of the jobs and internships available to students.

If your student is considering a remote internship this summer, it may not be the exciting experience they were dreaming about. But it’s absolutely possible for students to use the remote internship experience to their advantage. With a few strategic tips from you, they’ll feel empowered to make the most of it!

7 Tips for Rocking a Virtual Internship

1. Set goals and milestones with your manager.

One of the most important ways a virtual intern can set themselves up for success is to get on the same page with their manager about focus areas and the best way to measure outcomes throughout their time at the organization.

Your intern can make a great first impression by proactively suggesting projects to tackle and ways to measure success. They can propose weekly milestones, laying out what they want to accomplish by the end of each week of
their internship.

In any internship, new hires should not expect projects and expectations to be spoon-fed to them. This is particularly true in a remote format, when access to teammates is limited.

2. Communicate often.

In a virtual environment, your intern should never assume that people know what they’re working on. Instead, they should proactively share what they’re working on, give updates about their progress, and measure the impact of their projects.

A weekly update email to their team or manager is a great way to keep their team in the loop about their work. And if the opportunity is offered, encourage your intern to give an end-of-internship presentation where they share their learnings and wrap up their projects with the larger group.

3. Be engaged on Zoom.

We all struggle at times to stay focused during video meetings. Your intern might be tempted to multitask or zone out during long Zoom calls, but keeping their head in the game is important for both their professional development and for making a good impression.

Encourage them to find ways to stay plugged in and engaged! This might mean offering to take notes during a meeting and then sharing next steps with teammates — a gesture all attendees will appreciate. It could also be as simple as planning to ask at least one question or make a relevant comment over the course of the meeting. These simple tricks will help your intern stay alert during calls and positively impact their team’s success.

4. Proactively learn from your team.

It can feel tough to make genuine connections with team members when you never get to meet in person. Interning remotely means your college student will miss out on the chance to make small talk in the office hallway or over a quick coffee.

They can still get to know people — it just takes more effort in a virtual environment. Encourage your intern to reach out to people they’ve observed in company meetings who seem interesting and approachable. Maybe this is someone who could help them grow in specific areas or share information that could be useful for the projects they’re working on.

Your student can send a quick message with a brief introduction and request a 15-minute video call “coffee chat.” They should be mindful about others’ workloads and schedules, but most people are eager to help interns learn and grow.

5. Find a mentor inside the company.

After meeting a few new people through these proactive coffee chats, your intern might find that they really connected with a more experienced teammate. Perhaps this person comes from a similar background, has like interests, or works in a role that your student aspires to pursue after graduation!

Interns often find mentors during their time with an organization. If yours decides to ask a senior teammate to mentor them, encourage them to do their research, prepare thoughtful questions about their career path, and be respectful of their mentor’s time.

6. Connect with other interns.

Internships aren’t just about connecting with senior professionals. Encourage your college student to forge relationships with other interns; these friendships will make their day-to-day more enjoyable while also adding to their professional network. Today’s fellow intern could be the person who refers them to an amazing job after graduation, or even a decade down the line!

7. Take screen breaks.

An internship — especially one that takes place from home — is the perfect opportunity to practice balance and cultivate healthy habits. Sometimes your intern may feel like they “live at work” instead of “work from home.” Suggest they refresh themselves periodically by taking a quick walk or a true lunch break (away from their screens). They should try to fit exercise into every day, whether it’s before work or by taking walking meetings outside. If they end up with some evening work, they should find ways to time-bound their projects and set goals for specific tasks to complete so that work doesn’t take up the entire night.

During their virtual internship, your student can learn valuable lessons they’ll carry with them throughout their career. With encouragement from you to establish positive workplace habits, they’ll be well-equipped for whatever their professional future holds — behind a screen and in person.

Allyson Letteri is the VP of Marketing at Handshake, the leading career community for students. She began her career at the Boston Consulting Group in San Francisco and also worked at Intuit. Allyson holds a BS in Business Administration and BA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as an MBA from Stanford University.

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