Interning from a Distance: Making the Most of a Virtual Internship Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way millions of people work. At the time, working from home seemed like a temporary solution. However, as the months passed and employees continued working from home, it was clear that, for many, work from home was here to stay. With a need to quickly adapt to the ongoing pandemic, many companies that gave out offers for Summer 2020 internships made the adjustments to switch their internships to a virtual format. Because of the success of so many of these programs, some companies are looking to continue offering remote internships in 2021 and beyond.

Like many students who were told that their Summer 2020 internship would be online, I was apprehensive about how I could gain real-world working experience within my home. However, my apprehension melted away early on during the internship. As a Finance Intern at Dell this summer, I had the opportunity to work on a high visibility project that provided my manager with insights on the allocations process. Despite the steep learning curve and the remote nature of the internship, I was able to receive the necessary guidance from analysts and managers on my team to complete the project. In addition to my project, I was involved in the Diversity and Inclusion Pillar. A small group of interns and I were tasked with planning and facilitating a Black Lives Matter Fireside Chat and a presentation on cultivating inclusion in the workplace. I was also able to partake in some courses and training sessions for tools including Excel and PowerBI. To learn more about the company and to build rapport with my fellow interns and the other Dell employees, I attended a variety of events from trivia sessions, to executive speaker series, to a Hula Dancing class. As I began to get a feel for the company, I became intentional about setting up informational interviews with people that worked in different roles and functions so that I could find which roles and parts of the company interested me the most. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the structure and the experiences that Dell offered through their remote internship and I felt as though I was able to get a good sense of the people, type of work, and culture at Dell.

While everyone’s internship experiences will look different, below are some tips and top takeaways that I would provide to anyone doing either a virtual or in-person internship.

  1. Set Goals and Expectations Early on
    Be proactive by contacting your manager before your internship so that you can discuss your goals for the internship and projects that you will be working on. By communicating early, managers may be able to tailor tasks and projects to your interests and help you develop your skill set. It is also important to discuss their expectations from you during the internship so that you are aware of your responsibilities.
  2. Be Communicative
    Often, managers are unable to keep up with what you are doing daily. A practice that I adopted during my internship was to update my manager either through email at the end of each week with the steps I took towards completing my project, tasks I have finished, and my involvement within the company beyond my role. I also provide a list of things that I plan to work on the following week to show that I am thinking ahead, along with any questions that I may have. By providing them with this information, managers will be able to easily recall what you have done when filling out your end-of-internship evaluations.
  3. Find a Mentor
    At some companies, you may be formally matched with a mentor. For those that do not have an assigned mentor, you can find them in a variety of ways. This can include seeking recommendations from your manager, meeting people at company events, or even networking through LinkedIn.  Mentors, especially those who were recently in your shoes, are a great resource to help guide you through your internship process since they can easily relate to your current experiences. They can provide advice and expertise on small tasks, such as how to approach your project, as well as help you establish short-term and long-term career goals. By meeting weekly or bi-weekly during an internship, you and your mentor can build a relationship that can last beyond the internship.
  4. Conduct Informational Interviews
    Conducting informational interviews is a great way to learn more about the company and the roles within it. In many cases, employees with all different levels of experience are happy to chat with interns about their experiences and can provide candid insights into the company. To keep the ball rolling on future informational interviews, I often ask the interviewee to recommend one or two people from their network that I can connect with to learn more.You can find some tips on how to conduct informational interviews here.
  5. Go the Extra MileIn a virtual setting, connecting with fellow interns and those who you do not work with regularly can be a challenge. Attending optional events is a great way to meet your peers and build connections within the company. Many companies that offer virtual internships will provide opportunities to participate in optional intern events such as trivia sessions, baking nights, virtual talent shows, and speaker series. Not only is this a great way to get to know your fellow interns and build rapport, but also to learn more about the culture of the company through these events.Many companies will also provide optional training sessions on tools and programs for their interns. Whether or not you will be using these tools and programs during your internship, you should take advantage of these training sessions to learn a new skill or earn a certification.

    Because your managers may not be aware of all the optional events and training sessions that the company is putting on, it is important to communicate your desire to attend these events. In most cases, managers are happy to have their interns take time out of their regular work duties to enjoy their full internship experience.

    A great way to show initiative and take on a leadership role during your internship is by volunteering to help out with the events. For those who are at companies with a less formal internship program, some of these events may not be already organized. In this case, you could even talk with your manager and offer to help create some events. Because internships are often so short, it is important to take every opportunity to get the most out of them.

    The offering of remote internships by many companies opens a world of opportunities for students to intern with companies all over the country, and even the world, right in their own homes. Whether your internship is virtual or in person, seize the opportunity to gain hands-on experiences, and jump-start your career.

Post Written By: Megan Chow, Student Peer Coach