What I Learned as a Virtual Intern
Advice directly from Lehigh students who completed virtual internships. Learn from Taylor, Anna, Paige, Hannah, Sophie, Julia, Jess, Bryan and Sarah who share their stories and what they learned working remotely.
What advice do you have to help students successfully work remotely?
Communication is key. Ask questions often and give updates on your projects even if your manager doesn’t ask. Before I started asking more questions I did a lot of trial and error and wasted time that could’ve been avoided. It isn’t like an office where you're sitting right next to your team and can check in regularly, so you need to take the initiative to ask the right questions early on. It goes a long way! (Paige Sottosanti)
Take advantage of opportunities to get to know people, just like you would in person. At any internship your coworkers want to support you and help you learn. After you are introduced to someone, try to find a few minutes on their calendar to call and ask about their role and their experience. Although people are busy, they are generally happy to talk about their work and to find ways to connect to coworkers while working from home. One of the biggest losses from virtual work is the lack of casual discussion in the halls or before/after meetings, so you need to go a little out of your way to follow up with people and make real connections. I would also advise looking up everyone you interact with on LinkedIn right away to keep track of their roles and background and send them a prompt connection request afterwards. (Hannah Kushner)
Stay in contact with your fellow interns/team/boss as much as possible! Communication is so important for any internship, but for virtual internships especially, since you aren't able to walk across the hall to meet and talk with the people you work with. Even though we relied on messaging through Slack, I was still able to bounce ideas off of other interns, which proved to be a big contributor to the success of my work at Pals Socks. In addition to Slack, we had weekly video calls to stay up-to-date on everyone's tasks. This was a great opportunity to ask questions and bring up new ideas to the team, so I made sure to take advantage of this time! (Sarah Wecht)
Find a work/life balance. Working remotely is difficult because your home and work are blended, so the line between the two can be blurred. I wish earlier on in the internship I set a boundary for myself for when I would work on projects and when I would take time for myself. I encourage other students who pursue a virtual internship to create this schedule in the beginning of their internship so they do not feel burnt out and get the most out of their internship. (Taylor Pistone)
My advice to students to successfully work remotely would be to use a planner and focus on time management. Without physical obligations, it can be difficult to remember your work times, meetings, and other duties. Writing out your schedule at the beginning of each week and keeping track of your work can be extremely helpful. (Sophie Leighton)
When starting a new remote position, it's really important to ask your boss what their preferred method of communication is. Even if you are given a Slack channel or an email account, it is helpful to know where your team will be the most responsive. Using the preferred communication channels will allow you to schedule calls and get feedback with ease. For my current role, I text with my team often for quick updates and questions, but for sharing documents and more lengthy messages, we use email. (Julia Pardee)
My two biggest pieces of advice to students is to have an open mind and to be flexible. A lot of the work for interns had to be changed and most companies and managers are finding ways to make virtual work effective and productive. I recommend that interns have an open mind, ready to work with their managers and basically "roll with the punches" because everyone is in it together and the companies do want to make the internships successful! (Anna Sivinski)
How did virtual work differ from in-person work?
The most obvious differences were the lack of intern bonding events and site visits. I tried to establish a sense of being at work by having a dedicated, tidy room and desk set-up as my office and making it clear to my housemates that I was not available to them even though I was physically there. Likewise, even though I was not being closely monitored, I was still careful to arrive at my “office” on time, acknowledge when I didn’t, and be mindful of my breaks and online status. There are also benefits to working remotely, such as less time lost to meetings (since you don’t have to travel there), fewer distractions from coworkers (depending on your living situation), and the ability to work at your own pace with your own comforts (leggings, music, etc.). My company required everyone to report what we did each day at home. I found that keeping a careful log of what I worked on was really helpful, especially towards the end of the internship when I had to update my resume and report on what I learned, and wasn’t something I would have necessarily been compelled to do if I had been working in person. (Hannah Kushner)
Learning the different technical skills and industry/company specific vocabulary was difficult to get the hang of virtually. If I had been working in an office I would have been shadowing people to learn the different software but working virtually meant I did more learning on my own. During my internship my mentor shared his screen through Skype and I watched him use a website while messaging me or talking to me on a phone call. Also, because all the work is virtual, there's no chance to pop your head in and say hi to your mentor in the morning, so I got in the habit of texting him "hi" most mornings to check in. (Jess Pompeo)
Virtual work differed from in- person work because I was not able to gain an understanding of the company’s environment. Additionally, it was difficult for me to communicate with my supervisor and other interns without seeing them in- person. (Sophie Leighton)
I think that virtual work can be a bit more boring and less hands on. Since I was unable to get into the office or labs for the majority of my Co-Op rotation, I got a lot of spreadsheet or database work. It was slightly difficult but as a chemical engineering major I prefered being in the lab and doing research or projects. However, I do think that the work was valuable because I was able to be in a corporate environment and was actually able to attend more meetings because everything was virtual. (Anna Sivinski)
What did you do if you had a question or needed help with your work?
I was fortunate to work in a small unit of about 8 people. I met with my supervisor each Monday morning on MS Teams to tie up any loose ends from the week before and plan out the week ahead. He had me submit an agenda for this at the end of the week, which seemed weird to me at first but was super helpful for me to keep my projects, questions, and thoughts organized. Our group met weekly to have a similar check-in where we got major updates, company announcements, and to have some much-needed social time. I asked early on how each group member wanted to be contacted. We arranged that I would use Teams chat or a phone call if I needed something urgently, email if it could wait a little longer, and schedule a video call if I needed something in depth. It’s sometimes hard to gauge if you’re communicating the right amount, so I recommend scheduling recurring meetings with your manager on each project, sharing calendars with your teammates to recognize their availability (and notice meetings you want to ride along on), and asking if you’re really not sure. (Hannah Kushner)
I scheduled standing calls with my supervisor at the start and end of each week to give me assignments and feedback on my work. When I had difficulties outside of those times, I would text or email my question and potentially schedule a call if more support is needed. (Julia Pardee)
I was in contact with my boss and fellow interns on a daily basis through Slack, so it was easy to just reach out and ask a question. However, taking on a role that was fairly new to me, I found myself questioning the correct way to go about working on certain aspects of the project at hand. I decided to reach out to my boss on Slack and express my concerns. As it turned out, she was more than happy to answer any questions I had and review my work. Additionally, there were many times where I sought another intern's opinion or advice on a project, and it was as simple as sending them a message and asking if they could hop on a quick video call to get their feedback. Everyone I worked with at Pals was so easy to talk to and eager to help that reaching out to chat was never an issue. (Sarah Wecht)
Throughout my internship, I needed assistance on many tasks, but it is extremely difficult to receive help when you cannot walk over to your manager's desk. Thus, I made an effort to have a personal relationship with my manager and mentor to ensure it was appropriate to call or text him when needed. Also, I made strong relationships with the other interns at Novo Nordisk. This was extremely crucial to my success due to the fact they were in the same situation as me most of the time; we collaborated and helped each other as it was a new experience for all of us. (Bryan Novak)
I was always encouraged to reach out to my mentor, or anyone else involved in the project I was working on. I also paired off with another intern, so we were able to bounce questions off of each other. (Jess Pompeo)
What job boards or websites have virtual internships for students?
I found my remote Marketing and Communications Internship with Pals Socks on Handshake, but I have also been able to find virtual internships on sites like Indeed and in the jobs section of LinkedIn. (Sarah Wecht)
A silver lining to the pandemic is the accessibility to virtual internships, so there are many options for students to find them. I have used the common ones, such as Handshake, Chegg, and Indeed. In addition to these, I did a little more investigation to find other resources and I found this community called Remote Students, which is now called Ladder. They have a feature on it with internship/job postings that are in person or virtual. This is where I was able to find my virtual internship for this past summer. There is also another website I have used called Jumpstart that also lists virtual internship/jobs and allows you to connect directly with recruiters at companies you may be interested in. (Taylor Pistone)
I personally found my internship on Handshake. I have seen a lot of opportunities on Handshake as well as LinkedIn. I see new postings almost every week and I recommend looking at those places first as a starting point! (Anna Sivinski)
For additional virtual internship job boards explore the links on the COVID-19 Handshake resource page.
What was something you learned during your virtual internship that might be helpful to other students?
One of the most exciting aspects of starting a new job is experiencing your company culture and bonding with your team. In the office, you can make small talk in the elevator or by the coffee maker, and do activities with your team after work. Obviously these things aren’t possible if your team is working in completely different locations. I learned that it took effort to get to know my coworkers, but it was worth it. Schedule time on people’s calendars to make an introduction. Ask (intelligent) questions via Zoom or Slack, even if you might already have an idea of the answer. Try to speak up in larger meetings if it’s appropriate and keep your camera on. Attend any optional happy hours or team bonding activities (my team plays a virtual game called Werewolf each Friday). It makes the job much more enjoyable and zoom calls less awkward. (Paige Sottosanti)
After completing my virtual internship at Novo Nordisk this past summer, I would recommend always dressing up in business attire and putting your camera on in every meeting. These tasks may seem simple, but it can make a huge difference in your day-to-day work. This eventual habit will force you to be productive throughout the entire day. It can be difficult to maintain attention on a computer, but putting on business attire and showing your face throughout the day will demonstrate dedication to the job. (Bryan Novak)
What unique descriptions did you put on your resume to describe your virtual internship?
I had the unique opportunity to serve as a project manager for an assignment looking at companies in a lateral industry. This involved managing four other interns, guiding our research process, and ensuring we developed a document that was beneficial to the company. Given that it was remote, this included different skills than it would have had it been in person. For instance, the team members all lived in different parts of the country so I included in my resume about coordinating with people of different time zones and ensuring we remained on the same page. I also discussed how I organized meetings for us to discuss our ideas and ensure we were producing an optimal product. (Taylor Pistone)
How did you balance school work and other priorities with your virtual work?
With my remote work, I treat my responsibilities as if they are a class. I find allotting structured time in my schedule allows me to be more on top of deadlines. I also share my Google Calendar with my boss so she can see when I am available and easily schedule calls. (Julia Pardee)
What would you do differently now that you have had experience working remotely?
During one of my recent job interviews I was able to ask specific questions about the office culture while working virtually. Meeting etiquette varies between groups, whether they expect cameras on or having consistent daily check-in meetings. I've found that it makes a big difference to the "office" dynamic. (Jess Pompeo)