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Virtual Internships: What are they worth?

By Joe O'Brien, on 2 June 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Emily Oliphant, Recruitment Selection Adviser at UCL Careers.

The value of practical, in-house internships was summarised well by the then Director of Resourcing at Deloitte in 2018 – “It’s a win-win. Students find out if that career is for them. Companies get early access to talent.”

Given the situation we are in, there has been a requirement for companies to make a shift towards offering virtual internships in order to comply with the social distancing advice from Government. Consequently, the questions that have cropped up most often in relation to virtual internships during my student appointments have been, ‘Are they worth the effort?’ and ‘Surely there are more benefits in waiting and applying for an internship in a practical setting itself, instead of completing an internship from my bedroom?’.

After speaking with a few students who are currently undertaking virtual internships and from looking at the benefits from a recruiter perspective, I will outline 4 reasons why virtual internships are definitely worth your time and what they can offer you during the lockdown period.

  1. Flexibility and comfort

Undertaking standard working hours in a typical in-house full-time internship often involves a commute, at a time when you are likely to still be studying or conducting research alongside your internship.  Being able to save time on the commute and embrace the flexible working practices that have been adopted by many companies during this time, you may find it easier to handle the various workloads whilst gaining valuable skills and thereby boosting your CV.

Some students may feel pressured at the prospect of meeting the whole team on their first day of an internship.  However, speaking with a student who had experienced this initial apprehension in past in-house internships, they noted that the introduction procedure is somewhat different in a virtual internship.  Instead, most companies assign a specific manager or supervisor to either individual interns or groups to introduce you to the set up.  This gentle introduction would serve you well if you are particularly anxious about undertaking an internship or if this is your first internship experience.

  1. Technology and adaptability

With the advancement of technology playing a huge part in how companies were operating even before the lockdown, being at the forefront of the technological change and being able to witness how companies are now dealing with these unique circumstances could prepare you well for a shift in standard working practices.  Key commentators are beginning to question whether some companies will introduce remote working as a more common option or even default position, such as the estate agency company Purple Bricks for example.

The Big Four companies that many graduates find so attractive have had a long-standing positive approach to working from home, even in junior positions.  A student who has undertaken a virtual internship with an app-developing company also explained that the use of remote technology has been very useful for learning new software and technical skills.  Using the screen share option on video calls allowed her to receive one-to-one visual learning sessions that may not have been so in an office environment.

Having had the experience of working remotely and using a plethora of software to do so will provide you with experience and a skillset that could serve you well in a role that offers this benefit in the future!

  1. Develop skills in a professional setting

Working remotely offers you the opportunity to develop key skills, that perhaps a practical setting may not be able to offer as easily.  Organisation, self-motivation, adaptability and independent working skills are critical in making sure that you are dealing with your responsibilities efficiently – especially in a virtual capacity.

Many competency-based applications these days require you to outline examples of when you have demonstrated adaptability, worked effectively in a team and when you have succeeded independently.  The application of a strong example of working independently in a professional setting (rather than academic) is something that is less common in student applications as junior/graduate roles rarely involve a great deal of independent duties due to experience levels.  A virtual internship would be a great way of demonstrating that your independent working skills have been developed, beyond the remit of your studies.

  1. Commitment and resilience

Not everyone is going to apply for virtual internships.  Some people may consider waiting until in-house opportunities are available will be the best use of their time. Therefore, as a recruiter, to see that a student has undertaken a virtual internship will inevitably boost your credibility when you are explaining your commitment to your chosen career path. It will demonstrate that even in the challenging times, you were prepared to develop your skills and garner knowledge in an industry you want to achieve in.

So, my advice?  Get stuck in!  If you discover there’s a virtual internship available, giving you an opportunity to explore an industry you’re considering pursuing a career in, I advise you apply and try to get the most out of it!

Next steps

If you have an application in mind and want further advice, please do book an online one-to-one application advice appointment (via Microsoft Teams) through the UCL Careers website to talk through your application, CV and/or cover letter.

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