The Pros and Cons of Virtual Internships

The thought of getting to work from home is appealing to many people. But when it comes to an internship, is taking one virtually the best way to complete a learning experience?

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The Upside

Internships provide students with valuable learning experiences that can help prepare them for their future careers. But sometimes demanding coursework on top of trying to handle a paying job can make it difficult to squeeze in an internship. In cases such as those, virtual internships can help solve the problem. They offer you the flexibility to complete it on your own time instead of trying to figure out when you can make it into an office.

A virtual internship might also give you the chance to expand your options. If you're going to be doing everything virtually, you could intern for a company on the other side of the country. Having that sort of variety on your resume will surely look attractive to potential employers.

As with any internship, it will also provide you with the opportunity to make additional professional connections. If you go to school in Florida but think you might want to work in California, a virtual internship could be a good way to begin establishing connections there.

The Downside

James Ernst, a former virtual intern, wrote in a Public Relations Society of America post that he found himself being treated like an actual employee rather than as an intern. This can make it difficult to have the internship be a true learning experience. Instead, the student feels extra pressure as he or she tries to be perfect every time.

It becomes an ineffective learning experience if the employees you're working with don't understand that you're an intern who still has something to learn. As an intern, you need the opportunity to ask questions and get real guidance. This can be difficult if you're working from home and don't have the opportunity for real interaction. Even though you can communicate through instant messages or e-mails, it still isn't the same as sitting down for a one-on-one conversation.

So Should You Give it a Try?

As you try to decide if a virtual internship is right for you, there are a few things you should consider. First of all, is this your very first internship or do you already have one or more under your belt? If it's your first, a conventional internship might be more likely to give you a genuine learning experience complete with supervisor feedback and instruction. However, if you've completed internships before and are just looking for another experience to put on your resume, you might not need as much instruction so a virtual internship would be fine.

You should also think about what kind of learner you are. Do you learn better by having someone explain a task to you or do you prefer to read instructions? Your preferred method of learning could make a difference in how successful you feel at a virtual internship.

And are you disciplined enough to get the work done without being in a formal office? While some can be very productive in a home office setting, others need the structure provided by having a physical place to go to. If you know there are too many distractions at home, it might be difficult for you to find success in a virtual internship.

If you're still on the fence about pursuing a virtual internship, maybe there is a compromise to be had. It could be worthwhile to find an internship that would allow you to complete some of your hours in an office and the rest on your own time.

You can also use the Internet to get tours of notable places. Take a virtual field trip of The Vatican.

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