This post was written by Rupert Neaves.
Are you interested in completing a virtual work experience programme?
Whether you’re actively looking for virtual work experience opportunities in a sector that interests you, or you aren’t yet sure what the term even means, this guide is here to help.
We’ll explain everything you need to know about this bold new frontier, and will endeavour to cover all the questions you may have, including:
What is virtual work experience?
Who is it for?
How can it benefit me?
Will I be paid?
How much time do I need to commit?
Which organisations offer virtual work experiences?
How can I make the most out of these opportunities?
What if I can’t get virtual work experience?
Read on to discover how you can use virtual work experience to boost your confidence, develop useful skills and stand out to employers
What is Virtual Work Experience?
As it’s a pretty new concept, you’ll find virtual work experience referred to by various different terms – virtual internships, remote experiences, online work experience, along with a litany of others that are perhaps less likely to catch on (stop trying to make ‘VWEX’ happen. It’s not going to happen).
There’s no need to get bogged down in jargon though, as they all refer to broadly the same thing. Virtual work experiences are online work experience programmes introduced by an increasing number of employers in order to address the reduction in availability of traditional work experience opportunities caused by everybody’s least favourite virus over the past year.
The ‘virtual’ component in virtual work experience simply means that it can be completed on your computer in the ‘comfort’ (if we can still call it that at this point) of your own home. So, you can thankfully banish any frightening images it may have conjured up of fumbling your way through CGI board meetings with a VR headset strapped to your head like some kind of Black Mirror-esque fever-dream.
According to figures released by the Institute of Student Employers, 2020 saw a massive 29% reduction in internship opportunities, along with a 25% decrease in placement opportunities.
However, by moving work experiences and internships online, employers have ensured that not only can students and graduates still gain valuable work experience and skills whilst stuck inside, but that these opportunities are now more accessible, available and flexible than ever.
As for the nitty gritty of what kind of work and activities are involved, this will differ from programme to programme, but virtual work experiences are generally highly structured courses designed to develop your skills through training workshops, mentorship and practical exercises.
You’ll typically be able to have your work and progress appraised through structured feedback and conversations with your supervisor, allowing you to bask in the warm glow of your achievements and target areas for improvement.
Communication will usually be handled over email, phone and video calling, with apologies for those of you for whom the very mention of Zoom triggers cold sweats and flashbacks of an endless tirade of online lectures and riotously entertaining quizzes. It’s worth it, we promise!
Who is Virtual Work Experience For?
In a nutshell, virtual work experience is for any student or graduate with an internet connection and a desire to get a taste of what life is like working in a particular sector or organisation.
Exactly who a virtual work experience is aimed at really depends on the individual programme, but there are opportunities out there for everyone.
Some experiences are aimed at students in the late stages of secondary school, and are designed to give them a better idea of the relative merits of different degree courses and careers.
In this post, we’ll be focusing on those aimed at current university students and graduates. Some are designed to replace exclusive internships, meaning securing a place will be highly competitive. But you’ll find that the majority are open to any student or graduate that is interested in learning more about a particular company or the industry they operate in.
Heads Up! – Online work experiences allow you to try out different careers if you’re not yet sure what you want to do.
The fact that putting a student or graduate through online work experiences is massively less resource-intensive for employers than providing them with a traditional work experience placement means that access to these opportunities have been greatly democratised.
Applicants are able to benefit from a huge range of different work experiences even if they possess no educational or work background in the sector and just want to test-drive a certain career. As if that wasn’t great enough, the fact that it’s all online means you can now complete work experience programmes even if you’re currently living in a different area, or even an entirely different country, than the employer.
What are the Benefits of Virtual Work Experience?
There are a great number of advantages to completing work experience, and the online element of these new opportunities that are now springing up has only added more to this list.
Virtual work experience can give you the opportunity to:
Gain insight into working in a company or industry that appeals to you
Learn technical skills that will aid you in your future career
Impress employers if you perform well – in some cases paving the way to further opportunities or even a job
Transform your CV, demonstrating your skills and experience to employers
Work at your own pace and build the workload around your existing commitments
Boost your confidence by getting a taste of the types of work you’ll be doing and the office cultures that you are likely to encounter as you enter the workforce
Experience multiple different careers regardless of your educational or work background
Network with established professionals and peers
Differentiate yourself to employers by showing them you have initiative, self-discipline, and an interest in their field – all key employability skills employers want
Access work experience regardless of location, all from the safety of your own home
Practise time management and self-discipline – key soft skills that are highly useful
Get FREE access in most cases, although a few programmes do entail a fee
Will I Be Paid?
Unfortunately, in most cases the answer is no. Online programmes introduced by big companies for the purpose of replacing their traditional internships will typically still be paid, but for the most part you’ll be working on a voluntary basis. Some schemes even entail a fee, though the majority are free.
But don’t worry, nobody’s expecting you to do work experience out of the goodness of your heart. As well as availing yourself of the long list of benefits detailed in the previous section, you should bear in mind that giving up your time to engage with some of these opportunities will literally pay off in the long run, as you dazzle employers with your impressive CV and skillset.
You’re playing the long game here!
How Much Time Will I Need to Commit?
As you can imagine, this is another area that greatly depends on the specific work experience that you’re considering. In almost all cases, the programmes’ websites will provide you with general time guidelines.
In general, though, the good news is that virtual work experiences tend to require a far smaller total time commitment than traditional work experience, with many requiring as little as a few hours.
What’s more, many are highly flexible and encourage you to work at your own pace, which means you’ll still have plenty of time for any other commitments and dubious lockdown hobbies you’ve taken up.
You could even take advantage of this less time-intensive approach to work experience by trying out several different programmes, allowing you to get the lowdown on a variety of different career options or to solidify your experience in a chosen field.
Which Organisations Offer Virtual Work Experience?
Employers are increasingly wising up to the benefits of virtual work experience for both themselves and for students. Subsequently, you can now find virtual work experiences across a really diverse range of industries, including architecture, digital marketing, healthcare, law, banking, and video game development – just to reel off a few.
It’s not only the employers themselves who are developing remote work experience opportunities; Educational charities and foundations have also joined in on the action, and there are even websites that act as central hubs for a hugely diverse range of different programmes.
Continue reading for our list of some of the best virtual work experiences currently available online.
Forage, formerly known as InsideSherpa, is one of these websites that act as a hub for a variety of different virtual work experience programmes. Whatever sector you’re interested in, Forage is likely to offer a number of highly relevant opportunities for you.
It’s a great platform with an excellent user interface that matches you up with suitable work experiences based on information you feed it about your interests and educational history.
Hosting programmes from some huge companies like Deloitte, Accenture, Microsoft and KPMG, it’s highly worth checking out due to the great variety of different opportunities that are being constantly added.
Springpod is another major hub for virtual work experiences.
Just like Forage, you sign up, plug in your own info and the algorithm presents you with opportunities it reckons would appeal to you.
The list of organisations that have partnered with Springpod is highly impressive; you can expect to find opportunities from some leading industry names like Siemens, Vodafone and Airbus amongst many others.
It’s a good idea to keep regular tabs on the Springpod website, as they have a section where you can view a list of upcoming programmes before they’re launched.
Bright Network is a career network which has partnered with Universities and employers to offer three-day online simulated work experiences across a number of core sectors including investment banking, tech, business, marketing, financial & professional services, consulting, and law.
Their first round of virtual internships ended in January and were hosted by a stellar array of employers such as Goldman Sachs, Amazon and EY.
If you missed out the first time around, there’s no need to fret. Applications for brand new experiences are scheduled to open in May this year, so watch this space (and their video below if you’re interested).
Barclays Life Skills
Barclays have launched an interactive virtual work experience video as part of their ‘Life Skills’ programme.
Designed to give you a sense of what it’s like working in an office, the video gives you a virtual tour around the headquarters of a digital transformation agency, and is shot from a point-of-view perspective (think Peep Show, except I promise nobody will try to make you eat a dog).
The acting is surprisingly convincing, and the video is set in a suitably fashionable modern/rustic office, complete with the inexplicably ubiquitous presence of moss murals adorning the exposed brickwork.
It’s all done in a pretty engaging and interactive way, pausing occasionally for you to answer questions that appear on screen. These moments offer you a chance to provide your input on a project to colleagues, giving you a sense of involvement and immersion in proceedings.
The video won’t take you long to work through, but you’ll get the most out of it if you follow the links to other sections of the Life Skills website that pop up periodically throughout. Through engaging with the video and supplementary content, you’ll learn about key employability skills and gain an insight into how a modern workplace works.
icanbea is a Norfolk and Suffolk-centric career website aimed at young people from the ages of 12-25, offering virtual tours of businesses in the area.
Whilst this may seem a little bit niche, you don’t have to be within broadcast range of Alan Partridge’s pre-breakfast show to benefit from the virtual experiences on offer.
Featuring fully interactive, 360-degree tours of a number of large organisations, this resource can offer you an insight into what it’s like working for the likes of BT, EDF Energy and even Ipswich Town Football Club!
The Lawyer Portal
The Lawyer Portal is an educational consultant for aspiring lawyers.
Recognising the merits of virtual work experience for law students, they’ve compiled a
guide to virtual work experience for law students. Featuring a roundup of some of the best remote opportunities this sector has to offer, the guide includes programmes by big names like Linklaters and Clifford Chance.
Whilst this list is a great resource, it’s by no means exhaustive. As with almost any sector you can name, you’ll find great opportunities on Forage and Springpod too, from prestigious employers such as Kennedys and Baker McKenzie.
Designed to give young people the skills they need for a successful career in the gaming industry, sidequest is for anybody that builds games or would like to do so, even if you’re a total n00b.
The programme, along with the software required, is all completely free, providing budding developers with weekly live-streamed masterclasses and bi-weekly ‘quests’ set by some of the UK’s biggest development studios.
No prior knowledge of coding, or monstrously powerful, liquid-nitrogen cooled gaming PC is required, which means there are no barriers to entry that can stop you getting involved and building the next smash-hit indie game!
Think Pacific is a Leeds-based volunteer organisation that is running an online virtual internship in collaboration with the Government of Fiji.
At £495 the programme isn’t exactly cheap, but the website does promise a lot of bang for your buck (full pricing information including a breakdown of where the money goes is available on the website).
Choosing one specialism from of a variety of fields including health, psychology, international development, environment, and marketing, interns will work on real projects related to their chosen sector in conjunction with Fijian Government Ministries, NGO’s, social enterprises or local charities.
Receiving mentorship from advisors, NGO leaders and academics throughout the internship, Think Pacific promise applicants the chance to make an actual impact in the country, contributing towards the Fiji National Development Plan and UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The workload is flexible and can be adjusted around your current commitments, with 4, 8- and 12-week iterations of the same programme available depending on how much time you can spare.
You may be wary of the ‘Voluntourism’ Industry given that it has developed something of a mixed reputation and there are certainly pitfalls to be avoided in this area.
However, the fact that Think Pacific work so closely with the Fijian Government, along with the impressive figures listed on their impact page, together suggest that they are having a really positive impact in the island nation.
Heads up! – With any internship or work experience that costs money, you should be extra diligent about doing your research and making sure the opportunity is right for you!
Cyber Discovery is a free UK government programme, designed to teach 13-18 year olds the skills required for a career in cyber security through a vast online training game that will apparently see participants waging virtual war against cyborgs in volcanoes.
Admittedly, this sounds uncomfortably close to a plot setup for a dystopian sci-fi film about a government mind control programme. The website assures us, however, that those students who perform well enough in the initial game section will unlock the ‘essentials’ stage, providing them with access to hundreds of hours of advanced educational content on cyber security, giving a real edge to those with an interest in building a career in the burgeoning field of cyber security.
I can’t promise this isn’t all a front for turning you into a sleeper agent in anticipation of the great cyborg wars of 2053, but if you’re prepared to risk it, consider registering your interest to be kept in the loop about when the programme will be restarting.
10. Speakers for Schools
Speakers for schools is a charity founded by ITV political editor Robert Peston in 2010 to match young people aged 14-19 with work experience opportunities.
The charity has now introduced a free virtual work experience programme, with the aim of providing students with meaningful, structured work experience online.
Some of the opportunities on offer include ‘inspiring remote insight days’ to give students a window into exciting potential careers, and ‘Vtalks’ – virtual talks from a wide array of successful people on their careers.
University of Birmingham
The University of Birmingham is offering ‘bespoke virtual internships’ to its current students and recent graduates.
There are a wide range of opportunities available across a variety of sectors, with successful applicants able to gain valuable work experience alongside UK and international employers.
These internships are a bit more involved than some others on this list, typically lasting up to 55 hours, but can be structured flexibly around candidates’ availability.
The University is even offering students bursaries of up to £1000 as part of the programme.
Whilst this opportunity obviously will only apply to a small section of our readership, other universities are well aware of the virtual work experience movement.
Most have begun to maintain website pages linking to virtual work experiences from external providers, so it may be the case that, in time, more unis begin to follow Birmingham’s admirable example.
National Council for the Training of Journalists
The NCTJ have created a free online summer school through YouTube, designed to provide an introduction to the career of journalism for beginners.
Featuring videos on a range of journalism fundamentals like newsgathering, interviewing, media law, sports journalism and broadcasting, contributing guests include Sky News Special Correspondent Alex Crawford and Rianna Croxford of the BBC. As an NCTJ alumnus himself, even Piers Morgan has gotten involved, but don’t let that put you off.
The video series doesn’t take up much of your time to complete, and provides a great initial step towards thinking about a career in journalism.
How to Make the Most out of Virtual Work Experience
Compared to traditional work experience, virtual work experiences have two obvious major drawbacks, and squeezing the maximum amount of value out of them depends on your ability to deal with these downsides, and perhaps even turn them into positives.
The first drawback is that communication tends to not be as easy, nor as readily available, as it would have typically been in a traditional pre-covid placement.
Whilst some schemes will be better than others in this regard, it’s vital not to be afraid to reach out with an email if you need guidance, clarification or feedback on your performance.
Your supervisor or course operator will usually be more than happy to help somebody who has demonstrated initiative and a desire to succeed. After all, don’t ask, don’t get!
On the topic of communication, it’s also a good idea to take part in any networking opportunities provided by your online work experience programme, as you never know when connections you make could bear fruit in the future.
The other obvious pitfall of virtual work experience is that it requires you to be highly self-disciplined and motivated due to the fact that there will be far less external pressure on you to perform tasks punctually and to a high standard.
This is a great opportunity to learn how to be more productive as a student if this is an area that you struggle with. Developing time management skills and establishing a routine are absolutely essential to succeeding at a remote work experience, and learning these skills now will set you up very well for managing your workload during your future career.
In addition, when employers see virtual work experiences on your CV, they’ll have concrete evidence of your ability to self-motivate and manage your time effectively – skills that they’re hugely interested in.
Speaking of your CV, it’s a great idea to keep a journal of your achievements as you progress through the tasks your work experience involves, as listing these on your CV is key to demonstrating your aptitude to prospective employers. Check out our handy guide for more tips on how to write a great CV.
What if I Can’t Get Virtual Work Experience?
If you haven’t managed to get accepted onto any virtual work experience programmes, or you’re an incorrigible hipster whose chosen field is so niche that you can’t find any that are relevant, there’s no need to panic.
New opportunities in this area are springing up all the time, and there are plenty of other ways that you can boost your employability skills. For instance, you may want to enlist the services of a graduate coach to provide one-to-one interview coaching and career guidance.
Alternatively, you could explore the huge variety of free online educational courses that are now out there, such as those offered by the Open University with their OpenLearn programme. These will give you a chance to upskill yourself and will look fantastic on your CV, just like virtual work experiences.
Heads Up! Wanna study at Oxford Uni Online for FREE? Check out our guide!guest
That’s it, you’ve made it to the end! We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it’s given you a clearer picture of this brave new world of virtual work experience. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, we’d love to hear from you.
Read more: savethestudent.org