Three ways to make the most from a virtual internship

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – As someone who dreams of a career in the music business, Amanda Montgomery had big plans for her summer internship – working in studios, going on shoots for music videos, maybe taking in some live concerts.

Thanks to COVID-19, her internship is looking a little different: Stuck in her Boston apartment in sweatpants. Welcome to the New Normal, circa 2020.

While many employers have scrapped internships altogether, the Berklee College of Music student snared one with NYC-based CAD Management, which handles a roster of artists and helps them with branding and marketing.

But it’s virtual, not in-person – and that takes some getting used to.

“Remote working isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely not what I thought was going to happen this summer,” Montgomery, 20, says. “I’m still gaining a ton of knowledge and experience – it’s just very different.”

Indeed, while her days aren’t spent in a 9-to-5 office environment, they look very familiar to anyone who works on a freelance basis. Lots of calls, emails, and Google meetings, with project-based assignments that she completes at her own pace. One recent task, for instance: Promoting songstress Melanie Iglesias and her new release “Mr. Magoo”.

In a recent survey, careers community Handshake found that 60% of companies are offering virtual internships. But it is not just interns who are having to adjust their career path. Companies are having to throw out their old playbooks, too.

Take brokerage giant Charles Schwab, which has a full slate of summer interns, 232 across the whole company. While the firm kept its commitments to every one, instead of ditching the program altogether, it has meant designing a new experience from scratch.

A few of the items on Schwab’s internship menu: Interacting with assigned mentors, participating in executive meet-and-greets, doing personal financial planning, and even arranging virtual volunteer events with Boys & Girls Clubs on the subject of financial literacy.

Most of those interns will return in the fall for their senior year of college, while some graduating students will stay on for full-time work. Elizabeth King, Schwab’s senior vice president of enterprise learning and talent management who oversees the internship programs, expects to learn a few key lessons herself after the nine-week program concludes.

“This is all a massive social experiment,” King says. “And by the end of it, we should know a whole lot more about how to engage employees and clients virtually.”

While this new landscape of virtual internships may not be ideal, you can still embrace the challenge and maximize the opportunity.

Some tips for making the most from this strange internship summer:


We may all be cooped up in our homes, but you still need to carve out a professional-looking space, because that image will be projected out countless times over the summer. Tidy up your bookshelves, add a low-maintenance plant and consider putting a ring light near your webcam so that you do not look like a ghost on video calls.

“You are letting your work world into your private space, so the reality is you have to maintain a level of professionalism, and sit up straight and pay attention,” advises Brea Giffin, marketing director for corporate wellness platform Sprout.


For those not accustomed to working in a home environment, one major challenge is the temptation all around you. Your snacks are in the fridge, your favorite shows are on the DVR, and your bed is calling you for a nap. That in mind, you need to develop a laser-like focus on the tasks that need to be done.

“It’s important to carve out dedicated time to meaningfully complete the work, rather than just doing the work piecemeal between other tasks,” says Handshake’s co-founder and CEO Garrett Lord.


One interesting thing King has witnessed, with most Schwab employees working from home the past couple of months: Video events can be even more draining than in-person interaction, especially for introverts.

“Back-to-back video meetings take a lot of energy, and many people find it very tiring,” she says. “So make sure to give yourself enough time throughout the day to take breaks and unwind.”

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