by Nefertari Elsheikh
8 Tips to Make the Most out of a Virtual Internship
Internships are an irreplaceable opportunity to get real world experience in an area that interests you. This year internships look very different as the pandemic forced the emergence of remote internships. But, do not worry; you can still have a rewarding and memorable summer experience. Keep reading for 8 tips on what you can do to make the most out your virtual internship.
1. Establish preferred communication methods and utilize that method frequently.
Since you are working remotely, you will have to rely on methods such as email, phone calls, video chats, text messages, and other chat systems like Slack to communicate. At the beginning of your internship, establish with your supervisor what is their preferred method of communication and make sure to utilize that method frequently. It can be difficult to clearly communicate assignment descriptions when it is not face-to-face, so ask clarification questions (using the communication method you identified at the beginning of the internship).
If your supervisor wants to communicate via video chat or phone call make sure to schedule weekly meetings to be in constant communication. Come to each meeting with an agenda, so you don’t forget what you have to discuss. You may want to send your agenda or a brief overview of what you will be discussing at the meeting to your supervisor in case they need to prepare or look over something. If your supervisor prefers email, make sure to constantly email them when you complete projects and with any other updates since communication may be more sporadic without scheduled video chats or phone calls.
2. Send weekly recap emails
Even if you are communicating with your supervisor at weekly meetings, it is also helpful to send a weekly email recapping the week. You can separate the email into three sections: completed projects, where you list all the projects you completed throughout the week, ongoing projects, where you list the projects you are currently working on, and an updates/questions section, where you list any questions or additional notes you have. Dividing your email into three clearly defined sections makes it easy for your supervisor to read through the email and see what you have done and what you are working on.
3. Check email and other communication tools frequently throughout the day
When you are working in the office, your supervisor can come to you if they have an urgent question or want to make sure you received an email you haven’t responded to. However, your supervisor cannot do this remotely, so make sure to check your email (and any other communication methods that you use) frequently throughout the day in case something pressing arises. At times when you have a particularly time-sensitive project, make sure to check your email even more frequently in case there are any updates or changes. You can even set a reminder on your phone to check your email every couple of hours if you think you may forget.
4. Ask for consistent feedback and help (when you need it)
You may not be meeting with your supervisor in a formal setting as frequently during a virtual internship, but it is still important to receive feedback on your work. If you know that you will be doing a recurring or similar assignment for the duration of your internship (for instance, a weekly blog post), ask your supervisor if you can have a phone call or video chat to discuss your first assignment. This way you not only know how you can improve, but you can also use that first assignment as a template for future assignments, so you don’t make the same mistakes again. Ask for advice and feedback, so that you don’t make the same mistakes over and over again!
At beginning of the internship, also establish how you should contact your supervisor with questions (especially if they are time sensitive). You should try not to wait until the last minute to ask a question, since it may take longer to respond through remote communication. However, sometimes, it is unavoidable, so establish how you can quickly reach your supervisor with a question.
5. Create a makeshift home office
Yes, it may sound nice to be able to work from your bed but setting up a space specifically dedicated for work will allow you to get in the work mindset and help you be more productive. This will also allow you to separate your work from your home life because even though a remote internship may have less structured hours, you still should try to dedicate specific hours in the week to your internship. When finding a place, make sure it has good lighting (especially if you are going to frequently have video chat meetings).
6. Ask for additional work once you have completed an assignment
A remote internship requires even more independence than an in-person internship because your supervisor won’t be able to see when you finished your work. It is also harder for a supervisor to remember to give you work since they aren’t seeing you every day. They may accidentally forget that you are there, so make sure to take initiative and make it known that you are there. It is up to you to ask for additional assignments if you feel that you have nothing to do. If you want to take on more writing projects, for example, express that to your supervisor, so that you can still get what you want out of the internship. If you notice you are completing assignments quickly and have free time, talk to your supervisor about more work because they won’t know that you have availability unless you tell them.
7. Network, network, network
I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” While that isn’t always true, it definitely helps to know people, so use your virtual internship to network with people in the field you are interested in. Now more than ever, it is easier to talk to someone no matter where they are located because everyone has become accustomed to using Zoom. Ask your supervisor to connect you with people you are interested in talking to or reach out to them on your own whether it be via LinkedIn or email.
8. Treat your virtual internship just as an in-person internship.
Just because you aren’t getting an in-person experience doesn’t mean you can’t get a lot out of your time, so make sure to treat this experience just as seriously as any other internship. Treat your video meetings and other interactions just as you would in person meetings. This means dress appropriately, be on time, and take notes, if necessary. You should also make sure you have a good background for any video chats (a solid wall is best). You still want to present yourself in a professional manner even though you are working from home.
Bonus: Give yourself a break!
This is a new experience for everyone (your supervisor included)! It may take time to adjust to a remote internship, so give yourself time to adapt. And always remember to communicate any problems or suggestions with your supervisor because they are learning with you.
Nefertari Elshiekh is the 2020 Washington Council of Lawyers Summer Intern.