Virtual Internships — Tips for Students and Stories of Alumni Success

iStudent Blog

Published: July 20, 2017

Time and time again during your studies at the San José State University iSchool, you hear this advice—“Do an internship!” Director Sandra Hirsh highlights this advice in her Director’s Forums and the Career Development pages talk at length about the benefits of dipping one’s toes into the working world.

A 2015 iSchool Career Webinar still holds relevant and valuable wisdom about internships, working in either physical or virtual environments, and turning that graduate school experience into a career. All of the presenters who spoke during the webinar entitled “Virtual Internships: Pros, Cons and How to Land One,” started as virtual interns before going on to become paid employees and working virtually for their respective organizations.

From Internship to Paid Contract Work
Deanne Fix spoke first, citing the pros of virtual internships including the flexibility of work environments, schedules and the ability to work with people from all over the country, and sometimes the world. Another advantage for both employers and employees or interns is the ability to be self-motivated. Nobody likes a boss peering over their shoulder all the time—the bosses included.

One downside to virtual work, especially as you’re starting out, is being unable to ask a question of your office mate if you run into problems. Since it’s just you in your office at home, or at the local café (or library!), it’s going to have to be up to you to solve most of your own problems. But of course, they hired you because you’re resourceful. As with communication in online classes, emails must be polite and businesslike and the tone of the email must be taken in stride.

Fix went on to recount her internship experience—her training and the regular conference calls with her supervisor and the three other interns for the semester. “I really use a lot of the skills I used during my internship in my full time job,” she said. Those valuable skills included experience cataloging records, creating metadata, and learning more about standard cataloging classification systems. She noted in the presentation that she honed her professional communication skills and learned a lot about time management. After the internship through the iSchool was completed, Fix was hired as an independent contracted cataloger by the same organization.

Since iSchool Alumnus Tom Adamich was unable to be a part of the evening’s webinar due to an emergency, his segment of the presentation was delivered by Fix as well, stressing the importance of and the need for information professionals who are able to manage digital information and are well versed in metadata terminology. Adamich’s slides cited the skills most valued by employers who are looking for catalogers, including the ability to anticipate future trends, being willing to work flexible hours, and the willingness to learn new skills on the job.

Working From Home With Excellent Communication Skills
As an Instructional Technology Specialist at Credo reference, Laura Francabandera interned virtually as well and cited the flexibility of virtual work being good for her because of her family responsibilities. She noted the difference between working remotely and working in public library systems. Working for the private sector and corporations means being flexible and able to learn new skills as your employer reacts to the market. Much of her job also involved communication skills and working as a sort of translator amongst librarians, developers and programmers who might all be speaking English but aren’t using the same jargon or etiquette to describe the same thing. Part of the work she did at Credo involved creating online tutorials for customers and helping to promote and foster digital literacy. Francabandera worked to smooth the communication lines between library clients and software developers. The most valuable part of Francabandera’s presentation were her five Tips for Telecommuting:

  • Be flexible.
  • Keep up with your professional development.
  • Keep a balance between work and life and make sure you have a definitive boundary between the two.
  • Prepare to work in isolation; it’s not for everyone.
  • Communicate very clearly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction.

Plan Your Program, Plan for an Internship and Plan for Success
Last up was Jessica Creighton who worked with Francabandera at Credo, though not in the same building since Creighton too, works virtually from her home. Creighton started off her segment with a quick survey, asking participants to describe their experiences in the library and information science fields. She recommended the iSchool’s career pathways as a good jumping-off point towards shaping your career goals as well as simply enrolling in courses that are in line with your interests.

When Creighton was halfway through the iSchool’s MLIS program, she started looking for internships on the iSchool database that also aligned with her interests, and then she outlined her interests and course work and came up with a plan. “I used the skills I acquired in the courses I chose to look for internships that required those skills,” said Creighton. “I made sure that everything led back to my personal interests.” Credo was one of many internships for which she applied and in doing so, she made it clear in her applications that she was eager to learn more and increase her skillset. “I felt it was important to illustrate to, hopefully, my future employer that I had continued plans for learning and growth.”

The career advice didn’t stop there. Creighton went on to describe an innovative way of writing a cover letter that would match up uniquely for each job or internship for which she applied. “I made connections between what skills the employer was looking for and what I could provide,” she said. As an example, she would chart two or three required or desired skills in the job description and then systematically describe an example of how she possessed that particular skill.

Don’t let your learning stop just because it’s not for class, Creighton said in finishing up the webinar. Seek skills on your own by learning new programs, technology trends, and forms of social media. In a virtual job situation, you want to prove your capability to troubleshoot. Not only does this make you generally more skillful, it proves that you can easily become better at your job and therefore, a better asset to the company. Creighton’s internship blog assignment is full of tips and anecdotes about her experience working as a virtual intern. Plan ahead, keep your passions in mind and go for it!


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