Virtual internships take the buzz out of the City experience

“I’d say cringey is the best word to describe [the social events],” says one intern at a City investment bank, who asked to remain anonymous so they could speak more frankly.

“They tried to make it as interactive as they could but there are just limitations. The whole Zoom thing is just a bit awkward.”

Another described a quiz event where only a handful of interns showed up, and those who did spent their evening staring silently into a screen as the virtual quizmaster read out questions. “It was really awkward and didn’t really feel right,” they say. 

This made it more difficult for interns to get to know each other and even contributed to a heightened sense of competition at some firms.

One legal intern who asked not to be named says: “It was strange because there was a slightly competitive atmosphere. That was definitely heightened online because you couldn’t go for drinks together – you weren’t really switched off from the work atmosphere.”

Others faced challenges experienced by many employees working from home in recent months. Hana Fletcher, who also took part in Slaughter and May’s scheme, which she says was “really engaging”, adds that the biggest challenge she faced was her “rubbish Wi-Fi”. “I suppose that’s the problem with living in Devon,” she says.

But firms stepped up to the plate by providing computers, monitors and even electricity generators to those who needed them. And despite the lengths of the internships being shortened, most companies still paid interns for the full period they were supposed to spend in the City before the pandemic forced the programmes online. 

Ultimately, working from home has hit early-career employees hardest during the pandemic, and one student said an internship from their childhood bedroom was never going to give them a complete sense of what life might be like in a few years’ time in the City. 

They say: “At this point, I still don’t know what it would actually be like to work in Canary Wharf in an investment bank. Because 10 weeks would have given me time to work out whether this is what I want to do or not.

“But if I get offered the grad scheme and I choose to do it, I am going in a lot more blind than if I was there.”

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