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Internships Go Virtual

While internships have traditionally required the in-office presence of the intern, today's college students are increasingly utilizing the work-from-home advantages of the virtual internship. A Jan. 18 article for Bloomberg Businessweek explores the rising popularity of virtual internships, which allow students to work for an employer remotely, using Internet technology like e-mail and video conferencing to conduct most or all of their communication and work assignments.

For students with hectic schedules, like Columbia University student Kenneth Durell, who found himself juggling a full-time course load in addition to a busy extracurricular schedule and part-time work responsibilities, a virtual internship was an ideal opportunity to gain internship experience without the lengthy commute to an office.

"My work space was essentially my dorm room and if I had a computer and Internet connection, I was essentially at work," Durell says in the article.

Career-services officers and intern job-search boards have seen an uptick in virtual internships, according to the article, especially among small businesses and startups. However, larger companies are also beginning to warm to the idea. The article reports that the U.S. State Department recently launched the Virtual Student Foreign Service, which assigns "eInterns" positions at U.S. State Department offices and overseas diplomatic posts.

In addition to convenience and flexibility, virtual internships can also provide a more level playing field for students with limited financial resources, who otherwise might not be able to afford an internship in an expensive location like New York or Los Angeles. Employers benefit from this type of arrangement as well, the article indicates, because they can choose from a much larger pool of interns, and can assign work without the hassle of delegating office space.