Students Find Silver Linings in Virtual Internship Experiences

Young woman working on laptop

This summer, senior Rachel Helman’s workdays started at 5 a.m. on her family’s farm in Oregon. One could assume her work involved tending to animals, plants, or machinery. In truth, until 2 p.m. she sat comfortably in her bedroom-turned-workspace, interacting with colleagues across the country, programming in Python, and doing research on her Bloomberg Terminal.

Helman had a seven-week virtual internship with Bloomberg’s Global Data division. She did manage to take advantage of her surroundings to break up the day by playing with her puppy and picking snacks from the garden. “I was easily distracted because my parents and pets did not understand that work time was not social time,” Helman said. “But I set clear boundaries, and other than the cat, they usually respected that!”

With many internships going virtual this summer, undergraduates who would have normally headed to New York to build their résumés in finance or consulting have had to create a work environment wherever they were living. Understandably, students started out with some concerns.

“My main concerns were training and feedback,” said senior Sophie Elliott, who had an internship in Blackstone’s Real Estate division. “In previous internships, the training had been very spontaneous, and I could look over my manager’s shoulder, so to speak, or shadow them in meetings. I was concerned that it would be less natural, and I had no idea what my days would look like in the Zoom format.”

Students also wondered how virtual networking would work. Senior Courtney Frauen came into her internship at Bank of America Global Markets’ Sales & Trading division with trepidation about proactively reaching out to schedule face-to-face meetings. As it turned out, she typically spent 70% of her workday interfacing with colleagues and met with her mentor several times a week. “My desk managers gave me projects that allowed me to interact with others on the desk. Everyone at the firm was supportive in terms of meeting and providing guidance,” she said.

Elliott too was reassured by her experience. “I’m naturally not an extremely extroverted person, and a big concern of mine was that this would make it harder to speak up on Zoom,” she said. “However, I found that Zoom actually made it easier to speak up and to connect with others. For example, I was able to easily make calls with the Real Estate team in Hong Kong or schedule 20 minutes with a senior member of the team in a way that might not have been as easy in a normal format of work.”

Andrew Carlins, who will be entering Fuqua’s Master of Management Studies program this fall, did an internship with Ares Management’s Alternative Credit Team. He was pleased to find that relationship building among interns was strong. “The virtual environment allowed for inter‐team connection to occur super easily. The other interns and I had weekly Zoom debriefs after Friday's workday to de-stress and bond with each other,” he said.

While the summer was not what they had expected when they accepted their internship offers, Carlins, Elliott, Frauen, and Helman all walked away from their internships having gained valuable industry experience and widened their professional networks. Among the highlights, Helman counts “getting to know our managers as real people with kids and lives outside of the office.” Carlins commented in a similar vein: “When my dogs distracted me, I reminded myself to smile and laugh, knowing that my co‐workers were dealing with similar things on their end too.”