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What Is a Virtual Internship?

Wed, Feb 22, 2012

Internship Information

The concept of internships has been around for a long time. Hundreds of years ago, apprentices worked for free (or sometimes even paid to learn a trade) so that they could one day be master craftsmen in their own right and earn a living. Parents have trained sons and daughters to take over family businesses. And more recently, companies looking to get a leg up on the competition have started recruiting college interns in a bid to find the best and brightest coming out of the university arena. This is great news for college students, as well, who can use the opportunity provided by an internship to gain some valuable work experience, add an entry to their résumé, and possibly even nab a job offer straight out of school. But the world changes and we are dragged right along with it. And it seems that these days, the hottest new trend is virtual internships.

A virtual internship is pretty much what you might expect; it takes places entirely remotely, which is to say, by phone and internet communications. Virtual interns will rarely (if ever) have to enter an office in pursuit of their work. They will apply, interview, and intern off site. Now, this may be a little hard to wrap your brain around. How are you supposed to learn a trade properly if you can’t shadow the pros and watch what they do? And how will they teach you everything you need to know when you can’t speak face-to-face? In truth, virtual internships are not viable for every profession. But they can work for businesses that are conducted largely online anyway, like those in the fields of research, journalism, graphic design, and technology, just to name a few.

And thanks to modern communications technology it’s easier than you might think for these internships to progress in a rather traditional manner, despite the fact that the implementation is far from conventional. For example, training in computer programs can easily occur remotely, as long as everyone involved has the proper equipment. With nothing more than a webcam and a Skype account, an intern can receive real-time training from an employee in the office. Each can work on their own computer, and the intern can drop completed files into a virtual drop box where the employee can immediately retrieve it. By the same token, an employee can video conference with an intern all day via smartphone so that the intern is virtually shadowing the employee’s every move. And if interns are given tasks to complete on their own, all they have to do is email or text for help when they need it.

In many ways, this system could be superior to traditional internships, for both students and the businesses that offer them internships. Students can save some time on commuting to an office and in some cases set their own schedules for completing tasks (which is great since they have a busy lineup of classes, homework, and possibly even a job to work around), while employers don’t have the liability of an untrained intern underfoot. And for an instant gratification, “click here” generation, what could be better than a point-and-click internship?

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