Case study

Virtual intern — Zayna Ali

Zayna is currently studying Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Birmingham. She is in the process of completing a virtual internship, working as a business researcher, with Beechwood Cancer Care Centre

How did you find out about the Knowledge Exchange internships at the University of Birmingham?

I signed up to the Career's Network mailing list early on in the academic year to hear about any internship opportunities, so I found out about Student Knowledge Exchange Internships through my email.

Why did you decide to do a virtual internship?

This opportunity was very different to my degree, so I wanted to learn some new skills and experience work in a different industry. I had done a virtual internship before, so I was happy with working independently and remotely.

What was the application process like?

The application process consisted of submitting a CV and cover letter, along with a video interview with the hiring manager from Beechwood Cancer Care Centre.

I really clicked with the manager during the interview stage, and it was one of the main reasons I accepted the offer.

What does your virtual internship involve?

It's a 55-hour internship and it’s you're expected to work six to eight hours a week, so there's plenty of time to enjoy the summer holiday and do other hobbies alongside this role.

As a business researcher, I work in a team of two to research the charity's current fundraising strategy and suggest recommendations as to how they can improve their current processes, as well as provide new ideas they can implement going forwards.

Every fortnight my team has a catch up with Beechwood's finance manager, our supervisor and the retail strategy team so we can feedback what we've been doing. We’re currently writing a report and compiling a presentation to present to Beechwood at the end of the internship.

Are you paid during your internship?

Yes, I was paid for a 55-hour contract at the start of my internship.

What are the benefits of a virtual internship?

It has made me better at managing my time, as there is no one to prompt me or look over my shoulder to see how I'm getting on. There's an emphasis on using your own organisation skills to plan when you'll do certain tasks so you get them done on time.

In your experience what were the drawbacks?

It would've been better if I could physically visit the centre in Stockport and chat to the charity's team, their volunteers and other supporters. This would've allowed me to get a better understanding of the charity's culture, their donor base and wider environment, which, in turn, I could use to inform some of our recommendations. But with COVID-19, this simply wasn't possible.

Describe your internship in five words.

  • interesting
  • creative
  • challenging
  • fun
  • innovative.

What three qualities make a successful virtual intern?

Time management skills, self-discipline and a good level of initiative.

How will your virtual internship help your studies or your career?

Whatever career I end up in, I know I've gained some valuable transferable skills that I can mention in any job interview, from organisation, teamwork and commercial awareness.

What are your career ambitions?

Post graduation I want to pursue a career in chartered accountancy as I can see myself working within business/finance in the future rather than engineering. This internship has improved my commercial awareness as I have learnt about how business is conducted in the charity sector.

What advice can you give to others considering a virtual internship?

Go for it. The post-pandemic working world is likely to retain aspects of remote working, so a virtual internship is an excellent way to show employers you're prepared to work in this environment.

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