Standing out in a (virtual/remote/online) Vacation Scheme

Hi everyone! With the current pandemic going on, many firms are moving their summer vacation schemes online. I’ve been asked for my advice and top tips on how to be successful in turning the experience into a Training Contract. Admittedly, I haven’t ever completed an online vacation scheme before. However, after some brainstorming with peers, I came to the conclusion that many of my key tips do not vary from ‘normal’ Vacation Schemes! So, this blog will give you my top tips of turning your Vacation Scheme into a Training Contract, with an emphasis on where some differences may lie with an online Vacation Scheme. I hope you find this blog useful!

1 – Attitude

Your attitude towards an online Vacation Scheme should not vary from a normal Vacation Scheme. You should still express the same level of enthusiasm, charisma and effort – albeit from a computer screen. Don’t become demotivated because you aren’t interacting with other participants face-to-face. Remember to stay focused during your online meetings and listen carefully to what other participants are saying.

If you’re struggling to hear what others are saying or freeze out due to tech reasons, make sure you notify the moderator as soon as possible! Your ability to still be keen and energetic for an online Vacation Scheme demonstrates to the firm that you’re capable of quickly adapting to changing circumstances. Firms will be looking at how you’ve taken the new online set-up into your stride!

2 – Group work

It’s likely that you might have some form of group work to carry out during your Vacation Scheme. CLICK HERE to check out my blog on the group exercise task that you would normally see at the assessment centre for a Vacation Scheme.

Make sure that you’re still actively participating in team exercises, but not at the expense of overpowering the group! This may be a little trickier in an online call because there may be delays so you accidentally start speaking over someone or vice versa. I suspect that moderators will be lenient of this, as long as you make them aware that there is a lag or that you are having trouble hearing another group member.

KEY TIP – when you’re doing a group exercise, remember that the moderator is not assessing your group’s final product. They’re assessing your ability to work as a team and how you communicate with others in a team!

3 – Standard of work

Depending on the type of online Vacation Scheme the firm has organised, you might be assigned internship work via email and then expected to email it back to your supervisor. Alternatively, you may have been assigned work to complete prior to the Scheme.

Regardless, the standard of work you should be producing should not be any different from a normal Vacation Scheme, and that standard being a high one. Remember to ask questions about the task if you’re unsure of what is being expected of you – don’t just take a stab in the dark if you’re unsure! In my Vacation Scheme, we have open plan offices at CMS so you can just ask the colleague next to you if you’re stuck but in an online scheme, it’s just as important to send a message/email as soon as possible if you need some extra clarification. This shows that you’re engaged and willing to learn!

4 – Socials and networking

On a normal Vacation Scheme, there are bound to be a variety of socials and networking events to get involved in. The purpose of these is usually twofold: for you to network with people in the firm and get a feel for the firm’s culture. What I’ve heard so far is that firms are still planning to have these networking events online. I’ve even heard of pub quizzes going ahead!

Although these may be a bit strange to start with, my advice here is to not skip them! Even if you do feel a bit awkward during the event, it shows that you’re engaged and able to network with new people regardless of the circumstances.

Once your conversation has come to an end, always thank the person for their time and insight – these are probably really busy people who have given up time to be at the event to chat with you. Then, ask to keep in contact with them – ask them if they are on LinkedIn and if you can connect with them. This is a great way to be memorable and stay in contact with members of the firm.

5 – Keeping things as ‘normal’ as possible

Many students prefer to study in their university library, rather than at home. This is usually because their bedroom/home is associated with relaxing, whilst university campus/ the library is associated with work. Unfortunately, these have merged in light of the pandemic. However, I would strongly encourage you to have an organised “work desk” set up and environment in your home for the duration of your Vacation Scheme.

So what does this entail exactly? I’ve had the experience of a Vacation Scheme in an open plan office and a work-from-home set up. I’ve found that mimicking an office set-up and environment as closely as possible at home has been the key to maintaining my productivity!

Desk set-up

  • Try and set up your laptop/computer on a large table, where possible. It can be restricting to have a small table with little workspace for writing notes.
  • Always keep some water beside you. I’d recommend a bottle (rather than a glass) in case of any spills near your tech!
  • Stationary: keep your pens, highlighters, notepads, sticky-notes etc handy.
  • Little bits and bobs – I always keep some eye-drops, lip balm and hair bobbles on my desk in case I need them!

Environment

It can be tricky to mimic an office set-up at home, especially if you’re home with family members etc. However, here are some of my tips to mimicking the office environment:

  • Communicate with your flatmates/family – make sure your family now that you’re busy so no-one comes into the room. If you have a lock on your door like me, make sure you’ve locked your door! Of the many Zoom calls I’ve participated in over the pandemic, we are not usually that bothered if someone’s toddler pops up to say hi. So, don’t panic if you’re not able to totally isolate for the duration of the Vacation Scheme – I’m sure the firm are understanding of the situation and that people may have child-care or other issues (but it would be worth flagging this up to the firm in advance!). However, whilst the firm may not mind too much at any intrusions, it will definitely be distracting and you may lose focus on the task at hand.
  • Phone and social media – whilst working from home may give you the luxury to keep your phone beside you or have your social medias running in the background, I would strongly advise that you put your phone away and only have the apps/platforms open that need to be open. In the office, you wouldn’t have your social media running in the background when proof-reading a document – same thing applies for an online Vacation Scheme!
  • Attire – whilst it may be tempting to just wear your shirt and suit with a pair of sweatpants or pyjama bottoms, I’d encourage you to wear your normal office attire (perhaps with the exception of shoes, especially if you’re indoors). This will help mimic the office environment to ensure you’re being as productive as possible and getting as much out of the Vacation Scheme as you can.

6 – Video professionalism

Although most of you will be doing the Vacation Scheme from your bedroom/living room/dining room etc, and whilst your actual background is less important (and firms are more understanding of this), you still want to make sure you look as professional as possible. CLICK HERE to check out a previous post on video professionalism and pay particular attention to the section on body language!

7 – Firm preparation

Here are some other top tips for being successful in a Vacation Scheme and make sure to check out the related blogs:

  • Commercial awareness – make sure you’re up-to-date on current affairs, the firm’s business and especially now, the impact of COVID-19 on firms. CLICK HERE for my commercial awareness post
  • Interview questions – CLICK HERE for some questions to prepare in advance
  • Firm research – sectors, specialisms, ranked sectors etc. CLICK HERE for my top tips on effective firm research
  • Personnel – find out as much as you can about your interviewer, peers, moderators -> this makes for interesting conversation and networking!

Conclusion

I hope you have found this blog on standing out in a Vacation Scheme and successfully turning it into a Training Contract useful, especially as firms are moving their Schemes online. Many of the key tips are applicable for ‘normal’ and online Vacation Schemes! Don’t panic – remember that this is likely the first time that the firm has ever run an online Vacation Scheme like this and you, and your peers, will all be in the same boat. It’s how you adapt to these new Vacation Schemes and can produce quality work regardless of the circumstances that will make you a great candidate!

Thanks to the LinkedIn users who sent me these questions and I wish you all the very best of luck in your Vacation Schemes! Please do keep in touch and let me know how you get on!

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