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Sagnik Saha, a mechanical engineering student of Techno India Salt Lake, applied for a social media marketing internship during the lockdown. It was his first virtual internship and even though it was unpaid, Saha is positive that the experience would add to his resume. But he points out that if the circumstances were different, he would have opted for a regular
internship. He reasons, “You learn more, get better exposure and connect with more people.”
Nayanika Chatterjee also landed a virtual internship with Contezy, a content marketing company based in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She says, “For content-based internships, it does not matter whether you’re working from home or office as long as you’re writing.” She had no apprehensions about virtual internships anyway. After all, the world is going digital.
The pandemic has massively impacted the summer internship season from April to July. Most companies either cancelled or postponed their summer internship programmes. Some companies, however, chose to adapt to the situation and turned them into virtual internships. Many even created virtual internships for the very first time.
“The work-from-home internship requirements by employers has increased by three times since we reported the first Covid-19 case in India. This trend shows that even if the students couldn’t pursue their summer internships, a lot of opportunities to intern virtually have emerged over the last four months,” says Sarvesh Agrawal, founder and CEO of Internshala, a portal that provides internships and links aspiring interns to possible employers. “There has also been a steep rise in the number of students seeking virtual internships. We observed a rise of 442 per cent in the number of students applying for work-from-home internships from February to May,” he adds.
As part of their curriculum, many B-schools and colleges add eight to 10 weeks of compulsory summer internships. Nitish Jain, president of SP Jain School of Global Management, says 95 per cent of his students completed virtual internships in the last four months and Banti Biswas, head of the corporate relationship programme of Calcutta’s Globsyn Business School, says that this year 360-plus corporates offered virtual internships to their students.
Agrawal talks about how virtual internships are always a popular choice as students can pursue them alongside college. “In the last three years, the virtual internships attracted three times more student applications as opposed to in-office ones,” he says.
In the pre-Covid phase, employers would hire virtual interns for only certain profiles such as IT, content writing, programming, journalism, social media and data entry — areas in which it was easier to coordinate and perform remotely. Now, with almost everyone forced to work remotely, this has changed. Says Agrawal, “Employers are now hiring virtual interns for profiles such as business development, marketing, design and core engineering profiles too.” According to Internshala’s data, students are applying for virtual internships in app development, sales and human resources as well.
Pre-Covid, Nayanika did several in-person research and development internships in pharmaceutical companies. “When we compare virtual and regular internships, the experience differs based on the nature of the internship. Content writing can be done remotely but if it is a wet-lab task, medical assistance or anything that requires physical presence, there will be a significant impact when internships are switched to the virtual mode,” she explains.
Virtual internships are a great alternative during these testing times. Students can learn new skills while adding experience to their resumes from the safety of their homes. But, just like everything, it has its share of pros and cons.
According to Biswas, in a regular internship, a student needs to travel to the workplace and spend eight to nine hours working. But with virtual internships, one saves money, learns to adapt to new technology and develops multitasking skills. “Virtual internships also teach students necessary professional skills such as taking complete ownership of their work, forward-thinking and planning,” Agrawal adds.
The biggest pro, says Nayanika, is that “virtual internships allow you the freedom to work at your own pace, space and time.” Jain adds, “With flexibility, meetings can be done at a convenient time. You can save commute time too. It also helps improve self-discipline.”
Coming to cons, students miss out on the professional environment and work culture. “An internship is like a test drive. Even though students are introduced to the work culture of the organisation when interning remotely, it can be challenging for them to understand the same as they don’t experience it first-hand,” Agrawal says.
Then there is the absence of peer-to-peer learning. “Organisations would have several interns from different B-schools and a virtual internship takes away that experience,” says Jain.
“Physical internship gives an employer a better understanding of the person they have hired,” he points out.
Another disadvantage arises if any organisation fails to curate or design the virtual internship well — in terms of deliverables, mentoring, communication and engagement with the interns. This can demotivate students and hamper the eventual outcome of the internship experience.
Also, organisations are hesitant about giving internships in areas where there is confidentiality involved, such as client data.
Although the home setting provides a certain convenience, an office setting provides the right environment to scale up productivity and efficiency. At home, the laid-back attitude might negatively affect focus.
Will virtual internships now become the norm? Says Agrawal, “We did a survey and found that 54 per cent of employers are now planning to implement policies of work-from-home. This trend is an indication that a virtual internship on a student’s resume is nothing but a great value addition. This could give a student an edge over his or her peers by highlighting that he or she is also a competent candidate for working remotely.”
Both Jain and Biswas feel that employers will adopt a hybrid model of virtual and in-person internships in the future.
To find the best virtual opportunities, Agrawal advises students to update their resumes and internship applications by adding relevant skills that would help them work virtually. “Good communication, time management and high ownership are the top three skills that employers seek in a virtual intern. They also look for creativity, tech-savviness and agility,” he says.
“Other than the subject matter you are interning in, basic computer knowledge is important. You don’t have to be a tech genius, but a basic understanding of MS Word, Excel, and Powerpoint can go a long way. Also, business writing for professional emails can help you stand out from the competition,” says Nayanika.
Biswas emphasises, “In the post-pandemic world, communication will change with digital meetings and calls. Students will need to work on their engagement skills to hold maximum attention and engage people during meetings. This kind of up-skilling is extremely important, not only for virtual internships but also for final placements, because eventually most recruiters will focus on how a student has utilised these past few months.” He hopes that companies will soon acknowledge the role of virtual internships and award pre-placement offers to students, just as in regular internships.
To conclude, an internship is an internship — regular or virtual. In both cases there is learning involved as well as is skill development. It does not matter how or where you have interned, your gain from the internship is what will count on your resume in the long run .