Internships and placements

A student's guide to virtual internships in the UK

25 Jan 2023, 13:35

Discover how a virtual internship differs from an in-person one, along with where to find virtual internships and how you can make the most of virtual work experience.

Student using a computer: what is virtual work experience?

When lockdown hit, some employers in the UK were able to offer virtual internships. Since then, many employers have returned to offering in-person internships, but some are continuing to make work experience opportunities available digitally. This can be great news for students and graduates who don’t live near the employer, as it saves the cost of relocating for the duration of the internship and any commuting costs. But how do virtual internships work and is one right for you? Read on to find out:

  1. What virtual work experience is
  2. Whether virtual internships count as work experience
  3. What to do if you don’t have the right equipment
  4. How easy it is to get feedback on your work
  5. Whether virtual internships are worth doing and how to make the most of them
  6. How to put a virtual internship on your CV
  7. Where to find virtual internships
  8. What to do if you haven’t done a virtual internship during the pandemic

You can search for in-person, virtual and hybrid internships on targetjobs.

What are virtual internships and what does a virtual internship look like?

Simply put: a virtual internship (also known as a remote internship or online internship) is a way of undertaking work experience with an employer but done digitally and remotely rather than in person. From those we’ve spoken to, employers put real thought into making their virtual internships a meaningful experience for students. They know that you want to gain real learning and an understanding of the company and the sector and they are trying to provide this, despite the difficulties posed by the medium. Many virtual internships are, therefore, made up of:

  • learning and training opportunities provided via an e-learning platform – this is likely to be a mix of soft skills training for everyone and job-specific training for your particular scheme
  • distinct project work, either individually or as part of a group – this means that you are likely to work on single projects rather than helping out lots of people on smaller tasks (as you might do in the office)
  • one-to-one digital consultations and catch-ups with your manager and, if provided, your allocated buddy and/or mentor (a buddy tends to be a graduate employee there to make sure you are OK, while a mentor is usually a senior-level employee)
  • digital networking sessions with employees around the business
  • digital socialising opportunities with other interns, current graduates and other employees (expect ‘happy hours’, ‘pub’ quizzes and similar).

Employers are keen to capture those bump-into-people-at-the-water-cooler conversations and networking opportunities you might gain in a workplace and so try to facilitate this through online chat.

To understand virtual internships, it helps to first know what internships typically involve. In our other article we answer ‘What is an internship?’ and other internship FAQs.

Does a virtual internship count as work experience?

Yes – if the opportunity includes the features listed above, it is an equally valid form of work experience to a face-to-face internship. It will provide you with role-specific and transferable skills, demonstrate your interest in the sector and employer, expand your professional network and give you an understanding of workplace etiquette. Read on to discover whether virtual internships are good for getting a job after and how to put a virtual internship on your CV .

Some employers, such as Clifford Chance, have created bespoke online courses that they refer to as ‘virtual internships’ or ‘virtual work experience programmes’. These are designed to give you an insight into what it would be like to work for the company and complete tasks to practise solving some typical problems. Anyone can participate without going through a selection process and can work through the content at their own pace. They receive a certificate when they have completed it. This is different from an internship as it does not involve doing paid work for the company, receiving personalised feedback or speaking directly to employees – however, online courses are also a valuable learning experience that is worth adding to your CV. Learn more about using online courses to advance your career .

How do virtual internships work? What if I don’t have the right technology?

You might be worried about not having the right technical equipment. The technology and software needed will vary according to employers, but at least one employer that we know of (IBM) has previously provided interns with laptops. If you are concerned about not having the right technology for future remote internships, speak with your contact at the employer when the time comes (whether the recruiter or your intern programme manager). They may be able to help come up with a personalised solution.

Would I still get feedback on a virtual internship?

Another concern might be whether and how interns will gain high quality feedback. It’s worth noting that how managers and colleagues provide feedback does vary between and within employers running in-person internships, with good managers providing regular, specific, one-to-one feedback. Most organisations are now alert to the potential downsides of working in isolation and have put processes in place to facilitate regular contact and feedback, particularly for those still learning. So, if anything, you may get more feedback during a virtual internship than you would do face to face.

However, we’d always encourage interns to be proactive and ask for feedback – not just from managers but also from recent graduates and more experienced colleagues. The online chats should facilitate this.

Are virtual internships worth it? Are virtual internships good for getting a job afterwards?

Traditionally, most employers use their internships to recruit for their graduate programme, either offering interns a graduate job at the end of the internship or fast-tracking them through to the final stages of the graduate recruitment process. Can you expect the same for virtual internships?

When employers switched to virtual internships at the start of the pandemic, some of these used their internships as a selection method like they had done with in-person ones, perhaps with an additional assessment step built in (such as another interview). Others didn’t, but it is likely that they still encouraged impressive interns to apply for graduate vacancies.

Virtual work experience, like all work experience, is a fantastic addition to your CV and is likely to improve your chances of getting hired by another company if the employer you did the internship with is not able to take you on. As with everything, the best way to get the most out of a virtual internship is to throw yourself into it. For example:

  • Take part in all training modules open to you, even optional ones.
  • Contribute to online chats and networking sessions, even if you feel awkward. Other people will feel similarly.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from colleagues on your current work, your future career and so on.
  • Actively seek feedback and, whatever you do, learn from it and act on it. Ask questions but make a note of the answers, so that you don’t need to ask the same question again.
  • Work on your time management ( read our tips here ) so that you prioritise and complete tasks promptly.
  • Make brief notes of what you did, what you achieved and any feedback so that you can update your CV later (particularly keep track of numbers to help quantify and scale your achievements).

Our tips for what to do on the first day of your internship and how to become a star intern will help to get your virtual work experience off to a good start.

How can I put a virtual internship on my CV?

On your CV, don’t be afraid to say that it was a virtual internship; taking part in a virtual internship will impress recruiters, especially if it was during lockdown when so many work experience opportunities were cancelled. When writing up your experience, stress what you have learned and what you actually did, including if you have become familiar with any new apps or programs.

Gain more tips on how to write up your work experience in our big CV writing feature , which includes a template CV.

Where can I find virtual internships?

You can find virtual internships advertised in the same places as in-person opportunities: targetjobs , employers’ websites and your university careers service. Look out for the word ‘virtual’ or similar in the title of the posting and also check those that don’t explicitly mention this in case the location is listed as ‘remote’.

As well as looking out for vacancies, you could try applying speculatively . However, bear in mind that not all employers have the resources or technology to run virtual internships, especially small organisations. So, you may need to be flexible: expressing your willingness to do either a virtual or in-person internship depending on what suits their needs.

As with all work experience opportunities, a virtual internship should be paid unless it’s either volunteering for a charity, work shadowing without doing any work yourself or included as part of your degree. See our guide to unpaid internships to understand your rights and what to look out for.

When applying for a remote internship it’s likely that the interview process will be virtual too: our video interview advice will help.

As for which virtual internship is best for you, it depends on the sector you’d like to start your career in and what you hope to get out of it. How much time can you commit? What kinds of projects would you be keen to get involved with? Do you like the idea of sampling another culture from your own home by completing a virtual internship with an organisation based overseas, for example?

While not necessarily representing what is on offer right now, the employers that switched to virtual internships in the UK during the first national lockdown included:

  • Amazon
  • Bloomberg
  • Clifford Chance
  • Hogan Lovells International LLP
  • IBM
  • Lloyd’s (the insurance market)
  • Macquarie Group
  • Marsh & McLennan
  • Schroders
  • Sky.

What if I haven’t carried out a virtual internship?

As we say in our feature on internships, work experience and the coronavirus , don’t worry about not having done an internship during lockdown; it would be a rare employer that would expect students to have done so. If you would like tips for how you can impress recruiters through your other experiences during and after lockdown (even if you’ve just been brushing up on your cooking skills), take a look at our article on filling a coronavirus-shaped gap on your CV .

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