For college students and recent graduates, an internship often is a first foray into the professional world. It’s a time to learn from professionals and begin a career path–all while working and socializing in a new city.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that. With 16 percent of employers revoking internship offers and PR layoffs, few are fortunate to be interns this summer.
In a way, we’re making history. Not only are we among the first completely remote intern class, but we are learning to provide professional support in a virtual workplace.
An endless series of Zoom meetings
Instead of rushing from urban apartments to work, we awaken in the bedrooms of our childhood homes. From 9 to 5, we sit with laptops in makeshift offices–okay, our cluttered bedrooms or noisy family kitchens–answering email, monitoring media, writing pitches and drafting releases.
Although we took online courses this past semester, working in an office atmosphere from home is new territory. It requires patience and concentration. We deal with the constant distractions of pets, parents, siblings and household chores while convincing everyone around us that yes, we really are working.
Even working remotely, we’ve found opportunities to interact with high-level professionals, partners, and VPs. Virtual brown-bag lunch meetings provide opportunities to pick the brains of the pros.
We may not be exploring a city, but virtual interactions provide networking opportunities that are vital to internships. In addition to the basics of PR, we’re learning how to adapt.
Here are lessons that have kept us motivated and tips for PR pros to interact with us:
Remote work means long days–and a few nights–in front of a screen. Standing, stretching, walking, or even dancing between Zoom meetings or assignments keeps your brain focused. In addition, it motivates your work, and allows you to provide the best content.
Virtually grab coffee
Staff want to see interns succeed. If you send a simple email asking to pick someone’s brain or just get to know them, you are building your network and showing interest in that person.
Invest your time and energy in someone and they likely will do the same for you. Virtual internships lack personal connection, but there are ways to make up for that. Virtual coffee may not be exactly like the in-person experience, but it provides a fun way to get to know someone outside of everyday work calls. Also, it’s important to remember that they're stuck at home too.
Always come with a question or two
Throughout the online internship experience, it’s especially important to ask questions. Always. You’re not being a pest. Everyone is dealing with working from home and is still trying to figure out the ropes. As interns, we've learned that you can never ask too many questions. You get the information you need and the senior professionals often are flattered that you sought their advice.
What you put in is what you get out
Doing all your work at home emphasizes the need for self-motivation. The temptation to stray is there, even in an office. Yet working and communicating virtually really puts your diligence to the test. Go out of your way to make connections. Take on extra responsibilities. These are keys to building an impactful and professional internship experience.
Tips for PR pros
If it’s not too cheeky, here are the promised tips for PR pros trying to communicate with interns, or anyone starting remotely in the communications field:
Talk with us
Young people are looking for a chance to grow and talk to someone who has made it. Make time to get to know those working for you. Find creative ways to make interactions more personable. Brown-bag lunches via Zoom, Skype chats or conference calls will work. Even if we can’t communicate face-to-face, making the experience as close as possible will really have an impact.
Create a free space in which we can ask questions and over-communicate on Zoom or Slack. We especially like to keep track of our tasks on specialized Slack channels.
Schedule regular meetings to teach us about the company and the profession. Create happy hours to connect employees with us, and to foster an inclusive environment.
A great experience
We thought we’d be in Washington, DC, instead of at home. And interning without exchanging a handshake or attending a professional lunch has its drawbacks.
But remote work has shed light on the importance of fighting distractions and unplugging at day's end. The pandemic also has adjusted our priorities: spending time with family, being healthy and staying informed have taken on new meaning. All in all, this experience has been incredibly rewarding.
And so every day, we log on to our laptops in search of a chance to make brilliant mistakes and implement these small lessons, learned remotely, that will help us build successful careers.
Ireland Betta, Kenley Green and Kelly Palacios are research associates at kglobal