By: Xochitl Castel, Peer Career Coach
If you are preparing to apply for an internship for the summer of 2021, chances are the position will be virtual. Having had a virtual internship myself, I would like to offer some advice to you to reduce the pressure you might be experiencing.
I would like to mention that I received my first architectural virtual internship pre-pandemic, in March 2019.. One of my mentors was looking for an intern to help with smaller residential projects while he took care of the more difficult projects. He offered it to me as a hands-off position, where I was encouraged to text him any questions and sometimes schedule an in-person meeting with him to get through some of the tougher questions I had. I accepted, and since then have learned many lessons about having a hands-off virtual internship. I would like to share some of those lessons with you.
Lesson #1: Accountability
In order of importance, accountability is the major lesson I learned while interning virtually. Like any lesson, it was something I had to learn after multiple mistakes. I once made the mistake of not trusting the accuracy of my work so I delayed asking for help while I mentally wrestled with myself about whether or not I was right. I had to ask my supervisor to review my work very last minute and almost missed my deadline to submit the assignment. Part of the accountability aspect is trusting your gut and not giving up when it gets tough because other people are counting on you.
Along with accountability, when I first started, I took the importance of the position I was given for granted. I falsely believed that the work I was doing was not as important to my supervisor so sometimes I would submit my work incomplete or a day late. What I wish I knew was, if I did the work right the first time I would be rewarded with greater responsibilities. You should aim to be as responsible as possible so that can translate to recommendation letters, future jobs, and an overall good relationship with your supervisor.
Lesson #2: Time Management
Having a hands-off position requires that you schedule time to do the tasks you are assigned. As college students, we might all be accustomed to having strict schedules, but let me tell you that I still found it difficult to schedule time to do work. Not homework, not studying, but actual work that will be submitted to my supervisor. At the beginning of this internship, I naively believed I could fit in time to do my work tasks during breaks from school work. The truth is, the work needs to be scheduled in with your other commitments. Treat it as one of your three-hour lecture courses. Personally, I found that working in thirty-minute to one-hour intervals was not enough time for me to fully focus on the task and make progress. To help me focus in those three hours, I would open my mobile timer app and start a stopwatch. Whenever I took a break to check social media or prepare a snack, I would pause the stopwatch so I could be honest with myself (and my supervisor) about the amount of work I was getting done.
Lesson #3: Professionalism
Although this position was not my first, it definitely taught me more about my professional image. I learned that ultimately, my image is not the only one on the line when it comes to doing a thorough job. It is my supervisor who hired me and trusted me with the task so if something goes wrong and it needs to be relayed to the client, my supervisor’s image may also be damaged. It is his signature that is stamped on the final project sheets to say that he approves of the work all his employees have done.
To summarize I would like to offer some final advice on how to have a successful virtual internship. 1) Make sure you set goals for the experience. Write down what you hope to accomplish and gain from the position and look back on those goals throughout your internship to ensure you are working towards them. 2) I cannot stress this one enough, ask questions! It is better to assume your supervisor knows the answer than to waste three hours trying to figure it out on your own. 3) Set a strict schedule to do the work and add it to your calendars. Set reminder notifications for yourself if you are just getting started. 4) Put your phone away to ensure you are staying focused. The less distractions, the more work you can get done.
Remember that every internship is different. This blog is intended to help you begin your first virtual internship. Best of luck to you with future internships.