By Helen Green, Director of Career Confident
As university winds down for 2021, many students will be taking internships over the summer. Securing an internship is a fantastic opportunity for students to gain relevant work experience, fulfil course requirements, make professional connections, learn about themselves, and importantly, get a feel for the industry or sector they are contemplating working in after they graduate. However, with an increasing number of interns working remotely for some or all their internships, student interns must adapt to a changing workforce to make a positive impression.
The pros and cons of a remote internship
Taking any internship is an opportunity for students to use their initiative and demonstrate resilience. Some clients taking virtual student internships have told me they have enjoyed getting to know staff in an informal way online (such as meeting their pets). Senior staff can seem less intimidating in their home environment than in a structured office setting.
Some students have loved interning remotely, with the time saved helping facilitate a better balance between work, study, and leisure. Virtual internships have opened opportunities for students living in remote regions around Australia too. As the way we work is changing rapidly, in part due to the effects of Covid-19, working virtually for at least part of the time, will be more common — a virtual internship prepares students for this.
Young people today can expect to have five or six careers and work will become increasingly interdisciplinary. Prospective employers will be interested in employability skills — these include communication and teamwork, creative thinking, problem-solving, digital literacy, resilience, and self-management. A virtual internship will also help to develop these skills.
Most people would agree it is more challenging for anyone starting a new position remotely. There is less opportunity to be visible, and have face-to-face interactions with supervisors, colleagues, and clients as you would in a typical work setting. The office enables casual interactions with co-workers, whether before or after meetings, while grabbing a coffee in the tearoom, socialising after work or walking to meetings. Nothing replaces face-to-face contact when it comes to observing people, work culture and group dynamics.
With most university students studying remotely for the last few years, the prospect of taking a remote internship may be less appealing — though students can make it work for them and still impress the host organisation or employer.
Tips for success during a remote internship
There are many ways students can stand out positively, learn, and be remembered for the right reasons. Here are some tips I pass onto students undertaking a remote or virtual internship:
- Be professional. Respond promptly to online meeting requests and submit tasks on time. Dress appropriately for meetings, have a background computer image suited to the work or aligned with what others in the organisation are using, remove home distractions as much as possible and have your phone on silent during meetings. Do a test run to check the computer technology works and during meetings, make eye contact and smile, even if you feel nervous initially.
- Show up on time. Join team meetings a few minutes early as there might be the chance to engage in informal conversation with colleagues. Be curious, show interest in others and their work and ask them how they are — just as you would in an office setting.
- Show initiative. Come to internal meetings prepared and if time permits, get familiar with the profiles of others attending (an organisational chart is very handy for this purpose). Observe, but do not be afraid to share ideas or ask questions, especially if invited to contribute. Be prepared to introduce yourself, but give the meeting's convenor the opportunity to do this first. Practise your introduction, keep it brief and do not be afraid to show your personality. You might like to share the nature of the internship, the course you are studying, what interests you about the organisation and what you hope to learn or contribute. Prepare as you would for your first team meeting with colleagues in person.
- Show interest in developments taking place within the organisation/sector and always show willingness to collaborate with others — this includes helping and working with other interns. Remember, it is highly likely that interns have skills and perspectives your employer will want to utilise.
- Ask questions. While showing initiative and resourcefulness is great, it is important to clarify any tasks that are unclear so you can put forward your best work. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on completed work. This demonstrates interest, good judgement, and a willingness to receive constructive comments. Remember, the supervisor was in likely in the intern’s shoes once.
- Express interest in any online training, professional development or planning sessions offered by the organisation that might be appropriate to attend. This may be dependent on the nature and duration of the internship.
- Be proactive about catch-ups. If the supervisor hasn’t arranged a regular meeting, suggest this. It may be worth asking if it would be possible to have a brief chat with some key people working in different divisions within the organisation to learn about their various roles. Aside from providing an additional opportunity to meet people and impress, this broadens your professional network and provides insights into future work opportunities. If it is appropriate, connect with them on LinkedIn. Do not be offended if some staff are too busy to meet, but do thank those who share their insights.
Students should remember they are learning. It’s important not to be hard on yourself if you make mistakes — it’s how you respond that is most important. Enjoy the experience and pay it forward if you are hosting interns in the future.
About the author
Helen is a qualified careers consultant, careers writer and professional member of the Career Development Association of Australia. She has over two decades’ experience working in senior education and career program management roles, particularly within the tertiary sector where she has assisted many students. She now runs her own careers consulting practice, Career Confident, in the South-East suburbs of Melbourne and has children at university.