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Jordan Patterson - 7/15/2015

For organizations offering mostly electronic work, virtual internships are becoming a popular offshoot of the traditional internship. Lauren Berger, internship expert and CEO of InternQueen.com, spoke with Indiana INTERNnet and shared best practices for successful virtual internships.

Computer? Check.

Internet connection? Check.

With these two simple things (coupled with employer structure and mentorship), an intern can work from any location. The virtual internship is a growing trend, and the convenience factor is attracting both students and employers.

While it’s still a relatively new concept, smaller firms especially – such as technology start-ups, blogs, web sites and even media personalities – are beginning to latch on, Berger asserts. She’s a veteran at designing and executing virtual internships. All of the executives at InternQueen.com (there are four) work from home and bring on approximately two virtual interns every semester.

Internqueen.com, which began offering internship opportunities in 2009, has hired 36 virtual interns.

“It’s crucial that these interns have a set schedule,” Berger explains. “It’s also crucial that I take the time out with my team to strategically plan what the interns are going to work on and that we identify the learning objective behind those assignments.”

Kate White leads millennial engagement activities at Building Tomorrow, a small, Indianapolis-based organization empowering youth to help expand access to quality education in East Africa.

“This is the first time we are trying out the fully-virtual intern model, and allowing spring and fall fundraising and event planning interns to be working on their campus,” she explains.

White contends that communication and accountability metrics will be key to the success of the internship.

“Because it is a virtual internship, we will have a few more accountability mechanisms like weekly progress reports,” she notes. “A lot of work will go over Google Docs, so it will be much the same (as a traditional internship). It will just be a little less face-to-face time.”

Because there’s less in-person interaction, Berger stresses that it’s essential for employers to solidly structure a virtual internship.

“It’s really important that there is constant work flow for the intern,” she comments. “It’s also important for employers to remember that it has to be a two-way experience. Yes, these students are helping you, but you’re helping them in return and you’re giving them an invaluable learning experience.”

Berger, who completed 15 internships, remarks that another challenge that virtual employers and interns face is limited social interaction. With Berger located on one coast and her interns on another, she flies them in for major events such as her summer Intern Queen Party series.

“I know from being an intern, there’s nothing like making intern friends,” Berger notes. “Having people that you’re bonding with and going out with and doing all these things with – I had that at so many companies. Today, 10 years later, some of my internship friends are my best friends.”

Building Tomorrow’s interns will be asked to network and partner with organizations on their respective campuses. White notes that interns likely will have more social interactions there than they would working in the organization’s small office.

By offering virtual internships and eliminating location as a disqualifying factor, she’s able to open up the internship program to more students.

“There are only so many schools around Indianapolis that can have fall and spring interns coming into our office,” White says. “By doing a virtual internship, we can expand to a lot of other campuses and open up our internship opportunities to a lot of students who would otherwise not be able to intern for Building Tomorrow.”