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Virtual Internships On The Rise

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
October 19, 2009

Virtual internships, in which interns work outside the office using a computer and Internet access, are becoming more popular as technology and social media improve.

CNN reports that one of the benefits of virtual internships is that they allow students to sample a wider variety of jobs without having to relocate. "It's very exciting to think there's this shift going on and that location is not going to be as important," noted Cari Sommer, co-founder of New York-based Urban Interns, which matches interns with small businesses. Last month, 24 percent of openings posted on its site were for virtual positions.

Small businesses benefit from the arrangement as well. "Virtual interns allow business owners to connect with a talent pool that's not in their area," Sommer said. "That's especially useful in the small business community, where a lot of organizations don't have the budgets to fly around and hire people."

Students are also drawn to the flexibility that virtual internships can offer. "I didn't have to dress up. I didn't have to sit at a cubicle for hours," said Natalie Ann Roig, a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who completed a marketing internship last spring researching and blogging about corporate workplace benefits. "It was more like work at your own pace and get the work done," she told The Wall Street Journal.

But some career specialists caution that interns may not gain as much from the experience as they would being present in the workplace. "A tremendous amount of value comes from interacting with practicing professionals, something that simply can't be learned over a home Internet connection," noted David Asher, a career specialist who was quoted in Philadelphia Metro. "So much has to do with the culture of an organization and its unwritten rules."

Some interns agree. Princess Ojiaku, a graduate student studying biology at North Carolina Central University, worked as a virtual intern for Scientists & Engineers for America in Washington, D.C., and told The Journal that the experience helped her learn about the legislative process. But she also admitted that being able to attend committee meetings or watching lawmakers' daily routines would have probably given her a better sense of what it would be like to work in Washington.

Moreover, even with fast Internet connections, virtual interns can face a communication barrier. "You don't have the tone of voice and the body language and things like that. . . ." noted Jed Cohen, who works in New York as a virtual intern for the social media Web site Squidoo.com.

But others point out that working virtually helps interns work independently. "There's not always someone there to tell you how to do something," said Ting Ting Gua, a Columbia University student working as a virtual intern with Urban Interns, who was quoted by CNN. "They give you a guide and help you develop your own way of doing things, and that's made me a more efficient worker."

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