1.1 Different types of virtual internship
Be aware that the name ‘virtual internship’ can be used for different things, including a simulated experience rather than a ‘real life’ one. For example, Juliet (2019) describes a virtual internship programme in the legal sector as aiming to:
give students an insight into what it’s really like to work as a lawyer, all without needing to leave the comfort of their own bedrooms. The ‘virtual interns’ complete a series of online tasks, most of which involve submitting a short piece of writing or audio file, then they’re guided through them by videos from senior lawyers at the firm. The tasks are supposed to mimic those that a trainee lawyer might be expected to complete and are usually based around a fictional legal case or client.
These internships are presented as ‘a way to learn more about lawyers’ work’ – so they do provide a potentially useful insight. Being more like an online course though, this type of simulated experience is no substitute for real work experience where you are given real responsibilities and deadlines and need to work with real colleagues.
Make sure you understand the purpose of the internship and have an idea of what will be expected of you before you apply.
Paid or unpaid
There are currently a range of different approaches to the virtual internship, including paid and unpaid opportunities and those where you pay a fee to be matched with an internship and receive career support at various stages throughout. Do your research so you can make an informed decision before you apply. If you are currently at university, you could discuss this with staff in your careers service.
What type of work might be involved?
Although the scope for this is vast, The Open University (no date), a pioneer of paid, virtual internships in the UK, has the following suggestions:
- undertaking background research to scope the viability of a project
- leading on the delivery of a specific short-term project
- developing communications or marketing materials
- management of social media campaigns
- designing website materials
- writing training material or online guidance
- event organisation.
Virtual internships often revolve around a specific project lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the arrangement.
In the next section, you’ll look at some of the potential pros and cons both for the virtual intern and the employer.