Things I would’ve wanted to know before starting my virtual placement year
Picture this: You get a phone call from your employer, and he mentions your internship/placement is going to be virtual. You’re going to be working from home. Are you a bit nervous about how this will go?
I am currently a Finance Placement Intern for The Walt Disney Company. I work in the
Financial Planning and Analysis team for the Consumer Products, Games and Publishing
division. This article has been written from my viewpoint and personal experiences; other
people might have a different outlook on this.
All students have a doubt somewhere in their mind as to how their ‘virtual’ placement
years or internships will go. Thoughts going through their heads include the lack of networking opportunities, inability to read body language, communicating and staying on top of work because every single thing has to be done from your desk. You might be worried about whether you’ll be able to fit in or be able to leave a mark. Let me tell you – if you are thinking about these things, you are not wrong in doing so and are certainly not alone. Virtual environments definitely put forward some challenges which could’ve been prevented in a face-to-face setting. But it is surely not the case that you can’t succeed in them or enjoy them as much. Your experience will still be similar, just with some different scenarios.
I have prepared some tips which might help you make the most of your virtual internship experience. These might be points of common knowledge, but let me assure you, they do make a great difference if you follow them every day.
Number one and the most important tip is to be confident. Even though you might have
doubts and are not a hundred per cent self-assured, don’t let that reflect on the people
you’re working with. Everyone is still figuring out the virtual world, and your manager/colleagues will understand if you have questions. Be confident that you will
figure this out, learn something new every day and eventually perform your best. It might
be difficult in the beginning, but putting in your best efforts every day and not giving up
will help you go a long way. Find your motivation – achieving your goal in life, meeting
new people or just working for the organisation you’re going to join; use this motivation
to sit at your desk in front of two or more screens and push through your limits.
The next one is to take notes. Within the virtual environment, I’ve found that you are able
to attend more meetings because they all take place virtually, and you are not required to
be at a certain place at a certain time. Ask your manager if you can attend meetings and
take notes in them. This helps you to stay on track and understand discussions that your
team might have later in catch-up calls. It helps you understand the business better, listen
to behind-the-scenes conversations, and not feel out of place. Your notes don’t have to be
very detailed. It might be difficult to fathom in the first two or three weeks what is important and what isn’t, but try your best to jot down what you think is essential. You can also reach out to the person later and mention that you are interested in knowing more about that topic.
Another important one is to ask questions and request arrangements for individual calls. If you cannot understand something, reach out to your manager or team member and ask
them. Asking questions shows that you are paying attention to the conversation and are proactive to learn more. Also, remember, no question is a silly question. This might be your
first corporate experience, so definitely ask them anything that you don’t understand. If
you are struggling with finding your way through something or with your workload, ask
your manager for a one-to-one meeting and discuss it with them. Working virtually might
feel like you are working 24x7, but to have a good balance, try to take regular breaks and
prioritize work according to deadlines. If a deadline is coming up, you should always tell
your manager if you are running behind – they might get you extra help or take something
else off your plate.
Students also usually wonder what preparation should they do before they start their
internship. I’m sure all of us have heard the usual bits: learn MS Office, reach out to people on LinkedIn, read about your company and division, talk to graduate students there and get your
electronic ‘gear’ ready. But I would say one of the crucial things you should know nowadays (and what people don’t usually mention) is virtual etiquettes. Can I multi-task while attending a meeting? What does my background have to be like? Muting my microphone and turning off my video? Drinking coffee and eating food whilst on a call? Do I wave my hand to say goodbye at the end? You don’t have to be perfect but knowing some virtual etiquettes definitely helps leave a good impression.
The last tip I would like to give is to connect with people from day one (if not before
that). When you are in meetings, try to understand people’s expectations and produce
work that would impress them. You might undoubtedly make mistakes at first, but learn from them and try to avoid them in the future. If there are other interns or grads in the office, try and reach out to them and connect after office hours or have coffee breaks with them. You should set out an aim to try and find your feet in the team and give it your best. Be present, both physically and mentally, in the meetings and enjoy your experience; these opportunities are a big learning curve. You will see yourself develop and grow as a person. And remember, always be on time – punctuality is as important in a virtual setting as it is in a face-to-face one.