The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about Virtual Internships

Published: Apr 06, 2010

Topics: Education       Grad School       

A decade ago, the concept of a virtual internship was borderline baffling. In place of the typical nine-to-five daily grind, virtual interns complete all tasks remotely--no office, no desk, and no warm-blooded personal contact. Yet recently, virtual interning has been enjoying a rise in both interest and legitimacy. More young adults have been taking on these opportunities than ever, and places like Columbia and George Fox University have established virtual internship programs and centers.

There are several reasons for this surge in popularity, not the least of which include the benefits to both the employers and the interns themselves. For an employer, a virtual intern can help cut costs even more than a traditional one. Not having to provide office space and a computer, for instance, can be especially meaningful for small and mid-size companies. Add on the fact that the generation graduating right now is more computer and internet-savvy than ever, and it makes sense that many companies would maintain a virtual internship program.

There are also several benefits from the intern’s point of view. And on that note:

The Good

  • A virtual internship can give you the opportunity to work in a field that would normally not be available to you for geographic reasons. Ten years ago, for example, a senior at the UT Austin would not have been able to work in Washington DC politics. Now, instead of taking on a conventional internship, he or she can work remotely.
  • For the most part, a virtual internship works around your schedule. If you’re taking classes, volunteering, or just prefer to sleep from 4 am to 12 pm, you can schedule your working hours accordingly. At a virtual internship, the concern is less when you work and more whether you get the job done.
  • It is virtually impossible for your boss to ask you to make coffee or copies.
  • Say you wanted to take an unpaid internship in New York City, but you’re from Alaska. You're really excited about the company or organization, but you can’t afford to live in New York City for a week, much less three months. A virtual internship would allow you to stay at home, save your money, and still take your dream gig.
  • In the same vein, you can work anywhere: in your living room or a cafe;, on the bus or the toilet. It doesn't matter, and no one will ever know (unless, of course, you tell them).

That said, virtual internships aren’t all sunshine and roses. Even in a well-established, well-managed program, there will most likely be a few kinks.

The Bad

  • Interning remotely makes it nearly impossible to network. Though you will foster a relationship with your boss and maybe a co-worker or two, it is significantly more difficult to meet, much less charm, people in an industry where you may someday want to take on a full time position.
  • A virtual internship breaks down the work-life barrier. While you can work anytime you want, in another sense you are also always on call.
  • It is much more difficult to solicit feedback. Since you won’t be working within shouting distance of your supervisor, there will be far fewer opportunities for informal (or, to be honest, formal) chats concerning your performance. What’s more, asking a simple question can become considerably more involved when you’re not in the same room.
  • Virtual Interns have to be especially motivated and deadline-driven if they want to get anything done. The key here is to know your own work habits. If the fact that your boss may walk by at any second is the only thing that deters you from playing Snood or watching that YouTube video with the upside down cat and the trampoline, a virtual internship may not be the right choice for you.

And the Ugly

  • Pajamas, rumpled hair, and that three-days-since-you-last-showered stench.

--Posted by Madison Priest