Interning: Not Just for Students Anymore

This month we’re talking about Finding Your Global Path, and one thing that can help you do that is though a virtual internship! Carrie Niesen, who is a virtual intern with Small Planet Studio, shares her thoughts on the benefits of virtual internships below. We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section!  


For the past three years, I’ve been scouring books on careers in international exchange, dissecting job description after job description, and asking anyone and everyone I come across in international education how they landed their first position.  I was hoping to uncover the ‘magical recipe’ and which ingredient I was missing from my diligent, intentional career plan.

Upon asking the career break question, the typical responses I got were, “I was in the right place at the right time”, “I just fell into it”, “I studied abroad/was an international student”, etc.  I rarely heard a story of someone strategically planning to enter the field and becoming gainfully employed because of them.  I was hoping mine would be different.

As an undergrad, I studied abroad three times, majored in Spanish and Communication Studies (the study of human interaction as opposed to journalism/broadcasting), and then immediately pursued a master’s degree in intercultural communication.

As I was finishing my last year of grad school, I thought I had the right foundation to immediately start in my desired career field of international education.  I was ready and eager to start my career facilitating global learning experiences for students and I assumed I’d get a job in the field right off the gate.

Boy, was I wrong.

It’s not that I didn’t have the right international experiences.  It’s not that I didn’t have the right education.  It’s not that I didn’t have the passion.  Nor skills, gumption, or go-get-’emness…the problem was I didn’t have direct experience in the positions that asked for…direct experience.

Hmm.  I was puzzled.  How was I supposed to get experience if I couldn’t get hired without it?

Even after finishing a four year degree, dedicating my heart and my soul to a master’s program, and working at a university, I realized I needed to do more to increase my competitive edge in a field that was starting to feel impossible to break into.

That’s when I discovered the concept of virtual internships.

It was a perfect solution that I didn’t even realize existed.  Much like the rest of the folks in the field in their positions, I somewhat stumbled across such opportunities and took full advantage.  When I give my elevator spiel at conferences (most recently NAFSA 2013 in St. Louis), most folks are taken aback at this notion.

“Virtual intern?  What does that even mean?” was a common response I’d get.  Most wondered about logistics and many were flabbergasted that I collaborate with eleven other folks on global team with Melibee Global, and I work with Cate here on Small Planet Studio.

The beauty of the internet is it’s incredibly conducive to virtual, real time collaboration.  While I’ve been lucky to have met Cate inInterningNotJustForStudents-DONE person, I have yet to meet Missy Gluckmann, the founder at Melibee Global, and eight other interns at Melibee Global.  While it’s helped me increase my tech based skills, it’s also skyrocketed my team building skills by working with folks that I’ve never even met in real life.

Even though ‘intern’ has specific connotations, typically envisioned as a student, coffee-runner, photocopier, go-for-what-needs-to-be-done-type, that connotation is quickly dissolving (in all types of internships, virtual or not).  This is fantastic news for those paving their global career paths!

While serving as an instructor at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, internship proposals came up nearly every faculty meeting.  We discussed what the interns’ specific duties would be, how communication studies theories would relate to their positions, and what key foundational careers skills they would gain.

I gathered quickly that in order to market our major as a lucrative option, the stereotypical idea of an intern wasn’t going to drive students to declare.  In fact, it’s now a common competitive edge that university and program providers alike offer to help students build their professional base.

But what about those that already have education and experience and want to break into a globally focused field?

The best answer I can provide is to do a virtual internship with an organization that fits the bill.  My virtual internships were a perfect solution because I wasn’t able to move and had a full-time job, I needed to gain experience in the field, and I wanted to shop around the different arenas of the field to determine the best fit before I made that next big career move.

While developing my skills, learning more about the field, building up my international education field vocabulary, I was also cultivating my network.  Plus, I could set my own hours, work on my own time, and do my work in a variety of different environments to appease my need for novelty.

If you’re interested in a virtual internship, here are 3 tips:

Tip #1: If you’re interested in a virtual internship, follow organizations that pique your interest on Facebook and Twitter.  Social media sites are phenomenal, untapped resources to discover these types of organizations.  Additionally, they will oftentimes require some sort of social media promotion as part of a virtual internship.

Tip #2: If you have an organization in mind and don’t see any virtual internships offered, don’t be afraid to reach out (but do your homework first!).  Peruse their site and all of their social media handles to get a good feel for what they might need or where you could offer assistance to help them grow.

Tip #3: See if the organization you’re interested in is willing to chat with you more about what they do (people love to talk about themselves!) and if they have a project that could use an extra hand.  Even something as small as 2-4 hours per week can make a huge difference in your long term career development!

Do you think internships are just for students?  Or are they valuable learning experiences regardless of career level? What are your questions about virtual internships?

Niesen Photo

Carrie Niesen is a proud intern with Small Planet Studio and with Melibee Global.  A former public speaking instructor, Spanish speaker, and intercultural communication expert, Carrie is hoping to translate her virtual internship experiences into her next step on her global career path, and aspires to help students fulfill their goals related to global learning.



(photo credit here)