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5 Tips for Succeeding at Online Internships

career planning
internship
Published on January 14, 2021

If you are an international student hoping to build your professional network and develop in-demand skills that employers are looking for, consider a virtual internship!

An open laptop on a desk shows four colleagues on a videoconference speaking to an international student during their online internship

Much like an in-person internship, a remote or online internship gives you the opportunity to work for an organization, apply the skills you have learned in the classroom, and gain real-life experience in your industry. 

With a virtual internship, instead of heading into an office and working alongside colleagues, you conduct all of your work online. You still build both hard and soft skills. You still gain valuable experience. And you still work alongside colleagues, only now you are doing so in a videoconference room instead of a physical one.  

Working remote, of course, comes with a unique set of challenges. Here are five tips you can use to make the most of your virtual internship and set yourself up for success. 

1. Prepare for a Virtual Internship with a Career Counselor

CAP Premier, an add-on program to the Career Accelerator Program (CAP), gives you access to additional professional development programs and training workshops that will help you prepare for an online internship. You will also be able to apply for eight-week virtual internships. 

For Dari, an MBA student at Adelphi University, CAP helped her improve her resume and practice her “elevator pitch” introduction to professionals from various fields. The team also helped her prepare for interviews, dusting off old skills she had not used while she was focused on her studies. The preparation paid off when she received an offer to intern at the UN. While she started in the internship before COVID-19, the work quickly went online. 

One of the key ways Dari knew about the UN opportunity was through university career counselors. “They take into account all the complications, such as visa limitations,” she says. “It is comfortable for international students to rely on what they have to offer; if they advertise it to you, you can do it and you are eligible.”

University career counselors can help you find opportunities for online internships, too. Much like CAP, these professionals can identify opportunities, make professional connections, and introduce you to industry experts. 

2. Know Your Supervisor’s Expectations

As an intern, you are gaining valuable experience, but you are also a member of the team. That means you need to understand what is expected of you — and expectations may be different between your supervisor, team, and organization overall. What daily requirements do they have for you? What do they anticipate you will accomplish over the course of your internship?

Work with your supervisor to set goals for your internship and schedule time to check in along the way.

Communication is important in any internship, but it is especially important when working remote. Talk with your supervisor before your internship starts to work out the logistics, such as what hours they expect you to work. 

If you are working in a different time zone from the majority of your teammates, do they need you to work some hours where you and the rest of the team are online simultaneously? Do they want you to check in each day or have a certain way they prefer to communicate (email, a chat program, phone video chat, etc.)?

Ask your supervisor if they use different forms of communication for different needs. For example, if you have an urgent question that is preventing you from making progress, do they prefer you to send a message via a chat program or send it in an email? 

Find out if there is any software you need to set up on your computer, or any other programming you need to set up. For example, if the organization gives you an email address, make sure you sign in and set it up in advance if possible. The more you can do before your start date, the more ready you will feel to get started on day one.

Before your first day, review everything you researched during the interview process, including the organization’s mission and how your work may fit into it. The “About” page on the company’s website is a good place to find this information. You may also get insight into the workplace culture on the “Careers” page, too. When you meet with your supervisor, ask about the organization’s goals and how your work can help achieve them. 

3. Get to Know Your Colleagues

You can build strong relationships with your colleagues, even when working remote. Knowing your coworkers is essential — through them, you can learn how different roles fit into the larger organization and you will have contacts you can turn to when you have questions. Creating lasting professional relationships will help you build your career. 

In addition to participating in any meetings with your team and colleagues, you can also ask individuals or small groups to meet for lunch or an afternoon coffee break. Instead of eating at a restaurant, you will be eating in front of your computer on a video chat, but the conversation is just as valuable! Ask colleagues about their career paths and if they have any advice for how best to work within the company. 

Request an organizational chart from your supervisor or Human Resources so you have a better idea of how the company is organized, who you will be working with, and who you may want to connect with to learn more. 

4. Meet Your Deadlines

Working from home means there is less structure to your day. For example, you are not commuting to an office and have all the distractions of home, so it is easier to lose track of time. If your organization does not require you to work specific hours, it may be even more difficult to stay on track.

Set a routine that works for you and stick to it. Unless you get work notifications on your personal phone, turn it to silent and keep work alerts on your computer. You will also want to schedule out tasks you need to complete each day. Add deadlines to a digital calendar and add alerts at key points so you hit any milestones. 

When in doubt about your top priorities, ask your supervisor. If a colleague has a task that is dependent on you completing your task first, make sure you are communicating on the status of your work as you go. 

Where you work in your home can also help you stay focused and meet your deadlines. While you may be limited in your options, try to carve out a dedicated workspace.

And while you need to hit your deadlines, watch how much you are working. Sometimes it is easy to start work and continue working much longer than you would in an office. There are no cues of people leaving to alert you to the end of the day.

5. Ask for Guidance

The most successful organizations in the US encourage their employees to collaborate and help each other reach common goals. So, when in doubt, ask for help if you get stuck or have a question. When you have the information you need, you can do your job better and, in doing so, contribute to the company’s overall success. If you do not ask for help and make an assumption, you may end up heading in the wrong direction! 

Beyond asking for help when you hit a roadblock, set up weekly check-ins with your supervisor (if they are willing). Stay organized throughout the week, and keep a list of any questions or topics you may want to discuss with your supervisor. If possible, share this information before the meeting. 

Ask your supervisor for feedback during these meetings, though you can also ask your supervisor and colleagues for feedback immediately following a presentation or a project. The more you know about what you are doing well or where you can improve, the more valuable the internship will be. 

And, of course, if you find you have additional time, let your supervisor know! Similarly, it is also important to tell them if you have too much to do. It is always helpful to come to your supervisor with a potential solution. 

For example, if you have too much to do, come prepared with a timeline for when you can accomplish everything on your plate. If you do not have enough to do, bring a few ideas for projects or tasks you could help colleagues with or perhaps a completely new idea that you could execute.

No matter what, enjoy your online internship experience! It is a great opportunity to build your professional network and get valuable industry experience that can help you determine what you want to do next and your potential career paths for the future. 

While you may not have spontaneous conversations with colleagues in the company kitchen, you can still create these opportunities and build lasting relationships. The more effort you put into your internship, the more you will get out of it. 

Shorelight’s Career Accelerator Program can help you find an internship. Learn more >>