Whether your internship or placement is conducted virtually or in person, good preparation and understanding a few workplace basics will help you make a good impression from day one of your internship or placement.
Before you start work
- Make sure you know precisely where you will be based and where you need to report to on your first day. This is especially important if your employer has multiple offices or is based in a vast complex. Find a map, get directions, and print out a hard copy in case your mobile or satnav fails on the day.
- Plan your journey. Incorporate contingency time for bad traffic, public transport delays or getting lost. If you’re driving, find out where you can park and if you’ll need a mountain of coins to pay for this.
- Arrange accommodation if necessary. Your employer may be able to make suggestions. If you’re staying in a university area outside term-time, you might be able to rent a room in halls or find a short-term let while a student is away.
- Check your finances. Even if you are being paid, this is unlikely to be until the end of your first week or month, so make sure you can cover all your expenses till then.
- Revise any specialist knowledge or skills you will need to do the job.
- Ensure you have enough appropriate outfits. Don’t forget odds and ends such as suitable socks, tights, ties or bags.
- Check whether there is anything you need to bring – for example, should you supply your own lab coat?
In the workplace
- Find out quickly how the office phone system works and whether there are any rules you need to follow, eg answering with a particular greeting.
- Likewise, find out what internal and external communication methods the company uses (eg WhatsApp, email, FaceTime) and any protocols. For example, are you expected to use a particular sign off or signature? Remember to remain fairly formal, even if the communication method appears informal. For emails, don’t send a message without subject lines or put kisses after your name!
- Check for any other communications policies, especially regarding contact with people outside the company.
- Watch your language. It’s safest not to swear or to use words that could cause offence.
- Ensure you know who to contact if you need to take a day off sick or are delayed getting in to work.
- Double-check that you understand the hours you are expected to work, for example if you need to take your lunch break at a particular time.
- If invited to attend meetings with colleagues or clients, clarify beforehand whether your input would be welcome or if you are expected to sit and observe.
- When briefed on a task, take notes of what you need to do and ask questions to clarify this if necessary.
- Your manager and colleagues are likely to be willing to help you, but attempt to judge when is and isn’t a good time to bother them.
- Make sure your colleagues know where you are, for example if you are going into a meeting or out for lunch; it is useful in case there is a fire alarm. Saying goodbye at the end of the day lets people know you are leaving, as well as being good manners.
Just like in-person internships, make sure you have revised any knowledge or skills required for a virtual internship. Have your clothing along with anything you'll need to bring prepared beforehand, too. It’s a good idea to dress as you would for an in-person internship, including the bottom half. If you forget to plug your laptop in, for instance, you might stand up while your camera’s on; you’ll make a better impression in smart trousers than pyjama bottoms!
There’s also some preparation specific to virtual or online internships, not mentioned above. You should:
- Decide on the device you will use, check that it's working well and make any arrangements that will avoid temperamental tech or internet (eg you might want to make sure you can tether to your mobile phone in case of emergency or consider the room in which your internet works quickest).
- Make a few notes if you think they will be a help rather than a distraction. As explained under in-person internships, revising the required knowledge and skills should help you to get off to a strong start. If you know that there are one or two things you often forget (this could be a formula to use in Excel or how to sign off an email, as examples), you might make use of the space around you to write them down as notes. Only refer to them if you need them, however, and remember that you’re there to learn – you will be expected to ask questions and make mistakes.
- Inform the people around you. By letting those you live with know that you’re undertaking an internship, you may face fewer distractions.
Virtual internships: at work
Although you might be working in your bedroom, you should follow the ‘in the workplace’ advice points above during a virtual internship. It might not be relevant to let your colleagues know every time you go for lunch or finish work but you’ll have to weigh this up. Part of this will be down to the working culture and expectations of the employer.
As one example of how you might make sure everyone’s informed, perhaps you’re allowed to go to lunch at any time but tend to go at 1.00 pm. Most of your colleagues know this and take lunch at the same time, so there’s no reason to let them know that you’re going to lunch every day. If you decide to go at 2.00 pm on one day and it’s possible that someone might want to get hold of you during the break, however, informing your colleagues might avoid appearing to be slow at responding.
Here are at work tips specific to virtual internships and placements:
- Stay calm and let someone know if you’re struggling. Don’t sit in silence if your tech isn’t working for you on that day, for example, or other issues are becoming barriers to your work. As long as these are genuine and can’t be avoided, colleagues are likely to be understanding. Remember that they would be more likely to pick on such issues if you were working close to each other in an office, so it’s arguably even more important to maintain clear communication during virtual internships.
- Use virtual workplace etiquette. This will be something you’re likely to pick up as you go along and you should be able to take cues from those you’re working with – but do consider how you’re coming across on screen. Depending on the platform, you might have a ‘hands up’ function or similar – which will allow you to let people know that you want to speak without interrupting the current speaker. Keeping your camera on when possible can also help to show others that you’re engaged.
Last updated: May 2021