The coronavirus pandemic has left very little unchanged, and internships are no exception. The results of a survey released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in May found that 22% of employers had revoked internship offers in light of COVID-19. Many companies continue to evaluate the situation and make ongoing changes and decisions about their internship programs.
For nearly a decade, I’ve worked with students on all things careers, first at Wheaton College and now at MIT. I’ve helped with everything from answering existential questions—like what do they want to do with their lives—to tackling the job and internship hunt. If you’ve found your dream internship unexpectedly canceled—or are on an internship search that’s severely lost its mojo—I can tell you from my conversations over the last several weeks that you’re in good company.
However, this doesn’t mean there’s no hope! There are still steps you can take to find new remote internships and other opportunities to build your resume during the global pandemic.
1. Take Advantage of Your School’s Resources
Chances are your college or university is thinking about how to help and has a variety of resources you can use. I am admittedly a bit biased, but your career center is a fantastic first stop. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, our office has gathered resources for our students still searching for summer opportunities, hosted a virtual career fair, and reached out to alumni to encourage new internship and job postings.
Your school’s career center is bound to be doing similar things. The staff members there should be keeping up-to-date with the changes happening during this time from both the student and the employer side, and they can share information and point you in the right direction. For example, many career centers have school-specific databases for internship postings, with information about who’s still hiring. (Even if your college’s career center doesn’t have a formal job posting system, a very popular one called Handshake is now available to all students with a .edu address. You can create a free account to check out more than 500 recent opportunities.) As another plus, you might be able to set up an appointment to meet virtually with an advisor on staff who can give you individualized advice for your situation.
Additionally, other offices and academic departments that offer experiential opportunities will be looking into alternative scenarios to support you. The summer research programs at your school may be figuring out how to move opportunities to a remote setup and your public service center may be rounding up nonprofit or volunteer opportunities. So be sure to check in with these offices too!
2. Home in on Remote Work Opportunities
In order to increase your chance of success, laser in on opportunities that are least likely to hit a corona roadblock. Companies that are already advertising an internship as remote are less likely to cancel it later on when they realize social distancing rules will be in effect longer than they had hoped. General job search sites have remote opportunities listed—click here for openings on The Muse—and there are also sites specifically for remote work such as Intern From Home, Jobspresso, and Symba. I recently met with a student who successfully landed a five-week gig through one of these sites!
3. Use Crowdsourced Data to Your Advantage
You can find some useful gems by turning to the hive mind for intel. While there are plenty of places reporting canceled internships and frozen hiring, the trick is to find sources that also have some hope (and leads) to share.
Candor, a startup that helps tech workers negotiate salaries, branched out and started a user-generated list of hiring updates in response to COVID-19’s economic impact. Using the Airtable format, you can sort by a “Hiring” status tag and pop keywords into the search (hint: try “internship”).
If you need another hiring pick-me-up from the masses, follow HIRING20 on Twitter for the latest on who's hiring interns and new grads. If Twitter isn’t your thing, you can also access the information on Github.
4. Find Organizations and Departments Ramping Up Due to the Pandemic
If you can’t beat COVID-19 to get an internship, join the efforts to fight the virus. Despite the disruption and canceled internships COVID-19 has caused, it has also created opportunities.
Many organizations are rallying around ways to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus, or have had to pivot to respond to it. In a recent NACE town hall webinar held for career services professionals and employers, a recruiter talked about how quickly they ramped up hiring at their small biotech company. They turned to their local community and networks, hiring college students into temporary and limited positions without ever posting the opportunities. If you have local companies influenced by the pandemic, it can’t hurt to reach out to their recruiting team or HR department to see if they might have any projects, internships, or temp roles available or to ask how you could contribute to the cause.
This doesn’t just apply to health-focused startups, but any organization that’s had to adapt or whose services are in high demand. Online learning has gotten a boost during this time, as you well know, with most students finishing out the academic year remotely. That also means there could be opportunities there: My university recently listed Learning Technologist summer roles for students to support faculty in the development of online courses. Supply chains have also been in the news lately—whether for masks or meat—and there are still active internship listings popping up in this area of logistics as well.
The coronavirus may have knocked some internships out, but it’s definitely created opportunities in other areas. Don’t be afraid to investigate an industry or role you didn’t originally think of—there are still skills to be gained and you might find something new that you really enjoy.
5. Stay Alert and Be Ready to Act Fast
It can be easy to get discouraged hopping from job board to job board when you see few opportunities. Keep in mind things are changing fast right now. Internships are still being posted daily. While you’re staying in the know by checking back for new listings and signing up for alerts, you can set yourself up for success in advance for the moment something catches your eye. Employers posting internships are likely looking to hire quickly, so one of the best moves you have is to submit your application materials ASAP.
You can be proactive by making sure your resume is ready to tailor and submit on short notice. Update your LinkedIn profile with your most recent experience, add a summary and skills, and seek out recommendations from your last gig. Recruiters and hiring managers may request additional materials with your application that showcase your project work if you’re applying for roles in a whole slew of fields, including graphic design, journalism, architecture, or mechanical engineering. Now is a good time to update (or create) a portfolio with examples of your work, whether they’re from class or independent projects or from previous jobs or internships. Tailored cover letters might be more difficult to do before knowing the company and role, but read through our advice on writing internship cover letters now to make the process faster when you get to this stage.
Preparing your materials will ensure you can click apply quickly, and it’s especially advantageous to be in that first pool of candidates if recruiters are reviewing applications on a rolling basis.
6. Network Like It’s Going Out of Style
If you haven’t already, it might be time to let your network know you’re searching. Reach out to family and friends as well as connections you’ve made at school to see if they have any advice or recommendations for who you could connect with.
Faculty may have connections in industries you’re interested in, colleagues with research in need of a hand, or alumni in the workforce who might have a project for a student who comes with their favorite professor’s recommendation. For example, maybe your professor collaborated with a big tech company on a research project and knows a department manager well, or maybe in a previous job, they worked for a major NGO or nonprofit and still have contacts there. Don’t discount adjunct faculty either, as they are even more likely to currently work in industry and have a wide professional network. I once landed a healthcare internship by expressing interest to my professor who was also in an executive-level role at a hospital.
When you reach out, start by reconnecting, sharing your situation, and then asking for some advice. Here’s a quick example of what that might look like:
Dear Professor Higgins,
I hope you and your family are staying healthy and doing well. I made it back home safely after the semester went remote and have been finishing up my classes online from here.
I greatly enjoyed your Healthcare Foundations class last semester, and the class projects on the Affordable Care Act were particularly useful in understanding system structures and the effect they have on patient care. The knowledge I gained in your class was an incredibly useful foundation as I took Economics of Healthcare this spring.
I hope to continue learning and building on my experience as a Healthcare Administration major this summer. Unfortunately, the internship I originally had lined up was canceled due to COVID-19. I always appreciated the examples you shared from your work at Boston Children’s Hospital, and I was wondering if there might be opportunities for me to contribute to your research this summer, or if you have any other ideas on where I might be able to gain some healthcare project work this summer? If you have a few minutes to share some advice by phone or email, or if there is someone else you think would be good for me to chat with, please let me know. I would really appreciate it!
I hope you are well, and thanks for your time.
People in your close network (think your academic advisor, a professor you’ve taken multiple classes with, or a previous internship manager you worked really well with) are usually excited to help you in any way they can, so I highly recommend starting there. However, you can also reach out to people you don’t know as well (or at all). The trick is to align your interests with theirs, share skills you could contribute, and ask about the potential to talk further about how you can help them. If you’re polite, the worst you’ll get is a, “No thanks,” or no response at all. The middle ground is you expand your network—possibly even for future opportunities—and the best outcome is you identify an internship or project. And if it didn’t exist as a posting before, that means no one else is applying for it!
7. Consider a Micro-Experience
Keeping an open mind on where your experience comes from can be liberating and useful. If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at shorter experiences that can help you explore different careers and build your resume. Below are a couple of resources you can use to find one or more bite-sized opportunities:
- Inside Sherpa partners with companies to offer (unpaid) virtual work experience programs. It allows students to learn what a role and typical work would be like at those companies, including big names such as BCG, GE, and Citi. The platform is free, and programs usually take about five to six hours to complete. Some of the experiences include human rights law, software design, consulting, and data analytics.
- Parker Dewey offers short-term paid experiences. Once you set up a profile, you’ll be able to see what micro-internships are available, the details of the projects, and how much they pay. Opportunities range from user experience testing to API script writing to social media marketing and usually entail five to 40 hours of work.
8. Opt to Volunteer
Volunteering can be a great way to work for a company or organization, and there may be less competition than for internships. Admittedly, you have to be able to afford to not get paid, which understandably can be a limiting factor. (In some cases, your school may have supplemental funding or grants to help support you, so check with your career center or the public service office.)
There are volunteer opportunities across industries and for a wide range of interests. Maybe you’d like to help with the copywriting on a documentary film or leverage your Spanish major while working for a human rights foundation. Or perhaps you want to give back to the community during this pandemic. Try searching on VolunteerMatch and Idealist, which have thousands of virtual and local volunteer opportunities listed.
9. Pursue an Independent Project
Independent projects are some of my favorite things to see on a resume. I tend to work with a lot of mechanical engineering students, and employers who hire them tell me the same thing. Recruiters and managers get excited to see what you can do through self-initiation and the projects themselves are usually unique and interesting.
Maybe you’ve had an idea for a while that you haven’t actually started on, like coding your own website from scratch, writing a novella, or building a robot? (OK, maybe you don’t have a machine shop to build a robot right now, but you could certainly create it in a design software—and that can go in your portfolio!)
Options that don’t have the word “internship” in the title—like micro-experiences, volunteer work, and independent projects—are still valid and valuable experiences. You can just as easily explore different careers, learn about something that’s always fascinated you, and gain skills.
10. Take Online Courses
If an internship and other more traditional experiences just don’t seem feasible or right for you this summer, continuing to build on your education can only help—whether through your school’s formal summer course offerings or another educational platform.
Ultimately, when you speak with employers about opportunities in the future, they’re going to be looking at what you did with your time and they’ll be pleased to see you actively sought to learn and grow. Online courses are a great way to show initiative and an ability to pick up new and useful skills. Here are several places you can get a free knowledge boost:
- Coursera offers courses from a wide-range of universities and companies, with options including classes on game theory from Stanford University, data science from Johns Hopkins University, and IT automation with Python from Google.
- edX, founded by Harvard and MIT, also has an impressive array of options—from marketing to software engineering to education to design.
- Tableau is a powerful and popular data visualization software used across many disciplines and the company is offering a free year for students.
The internship search may be more complex and challenging these days, but the good news is there are still opportunities out there. If you can be persistent and flexible about the kinds of opportunities you’ll consider, you’ll be able to find a way to gain valuable experience —even if it’s not exactly where or how you’d hoped. Keep at it, stay safe, and good luck!