The world of virtual internships may seem new, but USC students are finding that time-honored strategies for success — like working hard and taking initiative — still pay off. They’re also learning about the unique benefits and challenges that come with interning from home.
“The best part was I had control over my schedule,” said Nancy Liu, a public relations major at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She interned with Finnish company 3D Group over the summer as part of the USC Career Center’s Global Fellows Internship Program.
The program, which typically sends USC students to intern for Asian companies, changed gears due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and started connecting students to virtual internships worldwide.
“In Finland, the work culture is very different,” Liu said. “Workers are very autonomous, and interns have a lot of independence. I wouldn’t have experienced that had I gotten an internship in America, so it was a valuable experience.”
Students navigate pros, cons of virtual internships
That level of cultural independence paired with working remotely initially tested Liu, who managed the social media for the company’s suite of creative apps from her home in Baton Rouge, La.
“The best part was that I had a lot of control over my own schedule. The hardest part can be being productive from home,” she said. “My tip for students considering a virtual internship: You have to have self-discipline and time management. I would plan out a schedule every night for the next day and tried to stick to it.”
That system worked for Liu, who also gained invaluable experience in data collection and market research — skills that will give her an advantage when looking for full-time public relations work after graduation.
USC senior Stephanie Cendro first connected with the elevator company Otis Worldwide at the on-campus, in-person career fair. The Connecticut-headquartered company brought Cendro on to intern in its L.A. office. When the global pandemic began, Otis went fully remote.
To prevent interns from feeling lost or disconnected, the company implemented a “buddy system.” In addition to check-ins with their managers, each intern had an Otis employee assigned to guide them and answer day-to-day questions.
Cendro noted that constant back-and-forth is especially critical in a virtual work environment: “It’s important to communicate often and to not be intimidated about asking for help. It will benefit you in the long run.”
There were also unexpected advantages to working virtually, added Cendro, who interned from her home in Huntington Beach. “There are benefits to being virtual and remote,” she said. “While it may seem challenging not being able to speak in person, I was able to talk to more customers because I wasn’t driving from location to location.”
In fact, she impressed her employer so much that she received and accepted an offer for a full-time sales position with the company last month.
USC Career Center offers options for hopeful interns
“Once limited by location, virtual internships allow for greater flexibility and increased digital communication and time-management skills, which can further expand your career and professional development,” she said.
Cendro, who first connected with her current employer at USC’s career fair, endorses virtual opportunities for all curious students.
“I definitely recommend a virtual internship. I learned so much,” she said. “Utilize the resources USC offers. If you’re looking for a job or internship, USC has the resources to help you find it.”