With many internships and jobs turning to the virtual space, navigating work online is a new challenge for students and recent graduates. The senior associate director of career services spoke to students about how to make the best of internships during the pandemic.
When preparing for his “Taking Advantage of Virtual Internships” presentation, Ross Wade turned to one of his favorite resources – Elon alumni. After consulting with Arlette Hawkins G’20, who interned virtually over the summer with Cosmopolitan Magazine, Wade presented advice, insights and tips to students attending the Unity in Communications’ Jan. 19 Zoom meeting.
“When COVID hit, a lot of companies – including Elon – changed their policies with remote internships,” said Wade, senior associate director of career services in the School of Communications. “Over the past 10 months, we’ve had to learn how to make it work.”
A graduate of the Interactive Media master’s program, Hawkins landed her Cosmo internship through the T. Howard Foundation, an organization that helps minority students secure internships in the media and entertainment industry. While her experience looked different than she had planned, Hawkins spoke with Wade about her interview process, her responsibilities, and working remotely.
In virtual internships, meeting colleagues for lunch and having a supervisor present are no longer part of many students’ experiences. While being more autonomous and having less social interaction can be challenging, Wade said engaging virtually during a remote internship is just as important as engaging during in-person settings. Whether it is emailing a supervisor to get clarity on an assignment or going to a Zoom coffee break, communication online is key.
“I think one thing you should ask your supervisor early on is how they would prefer to communicate,” said Wade, mentioning email, phone calls, FaceTime and Slack. “That way, right off the bat, you’ll learn the best way to reach out to your boss and ask questions.”
There are plenty of challenges facing students in virtual internships, but Wade said there are also advantages. Students who may have not previously been able to participate in internships in locations like New York or Los Angeles, may be able to intern at these faraway spots in a virtual setting. Hawkins said that she was excited to intern for Cosmo virtually because relocating to New York was not an option.
“(The pandemic has) changed the landscape of how remote work is being seen,” Wade said.
When students secure a virtual internship, they must consider how to plan for their first day and how to stay productive at home. Dressing up to sit at home may initially feel strange, but Wade said wearing proper attire sets a good standard. Interns can also stand out by arriving to meetings early, staging a virtual gathering, keeping their cameras on, and using a background that is well lit.
“Have a professional background, be well lit, look into the camera — all of these things make a positive impression as you’re engaging with employers and colleagues,” Wade said.
At the end of a virtual internship, Wade said he recommends reflecting on the internship and staying connected, just as an intern might after an in-person opportunity. For Hawkins, staying connected allowed her to continue a relationship with Cosmo, where she now freelances.
“You want to stay connected to the people that you work with,” Wade said. “It can be as simple as liking something they posted on social media, or seeing that your agency got a new client and sending your supervisor a congratulatory email. Or you send people that you worked with a Happy New Year’s email. All these small gestures can add up, so you stay on their radar.”