By Samantha Crockett

College students and recent graduates fortunate enough to have landed a summer internship during the COVID-19 pandemic might be wondering what the experience will look like outside of a traditional office setting. For many interns, this is their experience in any workplace, ever—and knowing where to start is probably intimidating!

Virtual internships may come at the expense of face-to-face time with your coworkers—but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a productive internship that helps to further your career goals. Follow these tips to ace your summer internship—whether you’re an intern—or the boss. 

1. Establish Clear Working Hours: Whether you’re working 15 hours per week or 40, you’ll need to work with your supervisor to establish clear times and days that you’ll be working or available via email or phone. Be sure to stick to the routine throughout your internship—but communicate any necessary changes to your supervisor at least two weeks in advance—or preferably, at the start of your internship! 

Supervisor tip: Check in with your intern periodically to make sure the working times are still ideal for both parties—feel free to adjust as needed.

2. Expectations for Communication: Every office has a different work culture—and this culture will reveal itself during a virtual internship just as it would in-person. Be sure you know how quickly you should be responding to emails or texts (24 hours or 48? ASAP?), your supervisor’s preferred method of communication, and how often you should be checking in with your supervisor. 

Supervisor tip: Model these expectations for your intern through your own communication—and be sure to respect the interns working hours when sending emails or texts.

3. Ask for goals—and feedback: Every supervisor has a different benchmark for success and offers feedback differently—but all employees need goals and feedback to guide their progress and grow professionally. If your boss does not set out his/her goals for you from the beginning of your internship, propose a few of your own and ask for their opinion. For example: If you are researching information, what is the minimum amount and what is the goal.

When you’ve completed a task, ask your supervisor what you are doing well and what you can improve on. Make it clear that you value their feedback and specifically request it if you feel like you don’t understand how to make a project or task even better the next time around. 

Supervisor tip: Goal-setting for your intern should start early on—and be a two-way street. Be sure to find out what your intern hopes to accomplish and learn during their time on the team. Put everything in writing. 

4. Ask the right questions at the right time: This matters a lot during an in-person internship—but it might just matter even more for a virtual one. You’re almost guaranteed to have a conversation with your supervisor where they outline a task—and you’re not 100% sure about every next step. Asked to curate a list of job opportunities for an employment resource document? Find out how many your boss expects you to produce, what the timeframe looks like—and maybe ask how the task fits into the bigger picture of your goals. Asking clarifying questions in-the-moment and keeping careful notes during your conversation will help make sure you know what’s expected of you.

It’s natural to have follow-up questions as you approach a task—but make sure you do the work of trying to find the answers yourself before reaching out. If you do have to circle back with your supervisor, be sure to outline your own tentative course of action instead of asking them immediately for the answer. Always be solutions-oriented!

Supervisor tip: Be clear with interns about expectations when you assign a task. Remember, they don’t have the same context and depth of knowledge about their workplace as you might. 

5. Zoom like a champion: Whatever platform your organization uses to stay digitally connected, make sure you spend some time getting to know it—before your first meeting! Whether it’s setting up a Zoom background, testing the microphone, or finding the perfect place in your home for a peaceful call, doing the work ahead of time will save you confusion and frustration when it comes time for a meeting. Many platforms will allow you to record your meetings—you might find this helpful to recalling tasks or assignments if necessary. If you aren’t meeting weekly with your manager, ask if this is something you can work into your internship!

Supervisor tip: Pass along any links or resources you might have from your organization’s technology team that could help your intern troubleshoot issues or learn how to maximize the platform. Set regular weekly check-ins to both build trust and facilitate open communication. 

The bottom line for those tackling a virtual internship? Communicate, communicate, communicate! Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to a fruitful career. 

Samantha Crockett is the College to Career Manager at KIPP NJ, where she supports KIPP high school students and alumni as they transition into the workforce and find meaningful careers.

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