Going virtual – again.

For our current students: you have just completed the most unusual semester in Penn’s history, filled with not-so-great firsts.  Since March 16, advisors in our office have been available virtually – and despite challenges of quick relocations, moving classes online, living with family and/or friends and all manner of other upheavals – we have been continually impressed by your resiliency and ability to pivot into an unknown time none of us would have imagined.  Now that classes and finals have ended – and with many congratulations to 2020 graduates! – the time has come to pivot again – into the realm of a “virtual” or remote internship.  (And hiring is still happening!  Check out our guide to remote work for resources!)

For some employers, this may be the very first time they’ve ever had virtual interns.  I’ve been encouraged by the dedication and creativity intern-program managers are applying to make the most of this summer.  However, there is also a component to your success only you can bring – so, ask yourself:

What can I do to be the best possible intern – virtually?

A review of some trusted resources and Q&A with colleagues in recruitment yielded the following encouragements:

BEFORE YOU START

GEAR-UP:  Do you have an appropriate work space, stocked with pens, paper, plug for your charger/laptop, a calendar or planner, and a great backdrop for video calls?  Something I’ve learned – lighting and the height of your camera is key to a good video meeting…so consider advance-testing your set-up with a friend!

GET ONBOARD:  Does your organization have an on-boarding process?  If they’ve sent you equipment (i.e. computer or other company resources), have you checked to ensure it all works properly?  If you have an IT problem, do you have a contact to ask for help?  Do you have the date and time (careful of time zones!) marked for your orientation and/or first day?  Do you have any pre-assignments to complete?  (Before launching this summer, one firm we work with distributed swag-bags by mail to hundreds of interns – and asked the interns to send back their best TikTok video wearing that swag.)

GET INTO A SUCCESS MINDSET:  Have you given much thought to what you hope to get out of this experience?  Every manager will be assigning their interns work – but also expects a level of personal initiative and professional growth from their staff.  When you’re looking back at this summer, what do you want your takeaways to be?

AS YOU START

DRESS FOR WORK:  It might sound silly to get dressed for the office when you’ll be visible only from the waist-up and working from your bedroom or couch, but many studies and anecdotal evidence from remotely working professionals confirm that attire matters!  It’s hard to feel your best and find your motivation when you’re alone in your pjs, so while a suit may be overkill, make a conscious decision to look the part each day for the sake of your confidence and productivity.

OVER-COMMUNICATE AND DOCUMENT:  Hopefully on day 1 you’ll learn the preferred engagement style of your team and/or manager.  Is there a Slack channel?  MS Teams?  Does your manager prefer email, or want a regular – perhaps even daily – phone or video check-in?  Do you know what your daily/weekly/monthly/summer expectations are?  How will you document your work towards those?  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or for clarification – but a best practice is, unless it’s an emergency, make yourself a running list that you can bring up when the time is right.   What should you do if it IS an emergency?  Being on the “same page” as your manager and/or colleagues will go a long way towards maintaining your productivity.    I myself have weekly check-ins with individuals on my team, but that is BY FAR not the only time we’re in touch over the week and should something feel like an emergency to them, I am accessible!

SET BOUNDARIES:  It’s *really* easy – speaking from experience here – to lose track of time when you’re working from home.  Without the expectation that you “arrive” by a certain time, and having a clear end-mark to your day, coupled with being able to work just about anywhere and on any device, your work hours could balloon over the day – to the point where you’re working more than you should.  It’s certainly appropriate to put in extra hours when you have a deadline or if that’s the culture/expectation of your group or organization, but do your best to work smarter, not harder or longer, as a way to prove your value.  And for your own well-being, make sure to take breaks, stretch, eat as well as possible, HYDRATE, and maintain the best work-life balance you can.  A little sunshine and a lunch time walk on a summer’s day will make a difference!

FIND A MENTOR:  Your employer may “match” you with a mentor – usually someone other than your direct supervisor, perhaps a younger staffer or someone in another group who can serve as an impartial sounding board and resource to you throughout your experience.  If one is not assigned – or even if one is – ask for recommendations of people across the organization that may want to talk with you!  It might be a 30-minute video-chat-over-coffee just one time, or an ongoing conversation throughout the summer, but the opportunity to develop relationships and build your network is a happy by-product of most internships, virtual or not.   Ask people for their time – this is not the time to be shy, and most people actually like being asked what they think, about themselves and about their experiences!  Let others have the enjoyable opportunity to support you.

KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR:  Working remotely is a big shift for many people, and it’s not always going to be a perfect day at work.  I regularly fight for Wi-Fi bandwidth amongst my family, mute myself to shush children during Zoom presentations and meetings, and have introduced my kindergartner to more students and colleagues than I can count when he’s popped into my kitchen-table office.  I’ve had co-presenters mute themselves for the incessant beep-beep-beep of a truck reversing outside their apartment, or for their dog barking, or laugh out loud when their cat jumps on their lap!  This stuff will happen, probably when you’re trying to be your most composed, professional self, so control what you can (see above for ideas 🙂  and laugh it off, remembering we’re all humans living together in a crazy time.

With your virtual internship, you’ll have hopefully the most unique if not unusual experience of your career, and I’d love for you to look back with pride on how you made the best of it!

By Jamie Grant
Jamie Grant Senior Associate Director, Engineering Jamie Grant