Back in December of 2019, I was accepted for a marketing internship at a large company near my hometown. I was so excited to experience a true office setting, meet new people and explore this new potential career path. However, due to COVID-19 and all of its effects, my internship became completely virtual.
I’m still so grateful to have had the opportunity, especially since many companies cancelled their internship programs altogether. The virtual internship was definitely a learning experience in ways that I didn’t expect. Here are just a few things I learned from my virtual internship this summer:
1. Virtual assignments require a lot of self-discipline.
When you’re not in an office setting, there’s nothing stopping you from getting side-tracked or distracted. That TV in your room or that phone on your desk can quickly turn a 15-minute break into a two-hour one. Deadlines are so important in a professional setting, so getting work done on time is critical. If you can get work done and have Hamilton on in the background, more power to you. If you’re like me and get easily carried away, having electronics or other non-work related items in your work space might not be the best idea.
2. Virtual collaborative work isn’t ideal, but it’s very doable.
I’m going to be honest, I had very low expectations for collaborative work during my internship. I just couldn’t picture how I was going to work with other people without actually being around them. Sure, it’s a lot easier to bounce ideas off of someone and collaborate on projects when you’re together in person. Still, working together virtually is surprisingly manageable, especially if you’re using programs like Google Docs or OneDrive that allow multiple people to work on one document at the same time. Professional messaging apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams make virtual communication relatively easy, and Zoom or other video conference softwares are great for brainstorming sessions or anything that requires sharing a screen.
3. Zoom has a lot more features than you think.
Everyone knows the fun Zoom backgrounds, but there are so many other features that can make meetings more interesting. You can host webinars, send out polls, share a whiteboard that everyone can draw on, break large groups into breakout rooms, and so much more. My program consisted of 85 interns, so activities that broke us into smaller groups always fostered a lot more conversation than one massive Zoom call. I definitely recommend suggesting this option to professors if you feel your class size is too large to have meaningful discussions!
4. Sweatpants during meetings are very acceptable. So are cats.
Clearly, this depends on your place of work. In my general experience, though, coworkers look forward to seeing each other so much that they don’t care what you look like. As long as you can get your work done on time, it doesn’t matter if you roll out of bed and don’t change out of your pajamas before starting the work day.
Also, nearly everyone apologizes when a pet crawls through their area during a meeting. Almost every apology is met with a resounding, “Please don’t apologize!” or “Can we see your cat?!” Even if we’re only meeting through a screen, we’re all still human, and with that comes a particular susceptibility to cute animals. So, don’t apologize for your pets! Show them off so they can get all of the love they deserve.
5. LinkedIn actually is as important as everyone says!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to be active on LinkedIn, and I’ve just brushed the comment off. I always knew in the back of my mind that it was important, but I always thought it was just for CEOs and other executives. Actually, it’s the opposite. LinkedIn is a huge recruiting tool for many companies, and even just having the right keywords in your profile can get you seen by the right people. Especially during the pandemic where in-person networking events aren’t possible, LinkedIn can be a critical step to your professional success.
While virtual jobs or virtual semesters can often feel disappointing, there is still value in them. This is truly a learning experience for everyone, and it takes great skill to be able to adapt to new and confusing situations. Do your best, learn as much as you can, and make the most of it!