Here’s how college students whose summer plans fell through can line up virtual internships.
Morgan Peterson was living her dream. A student at North Carolina State University, she was spending the spring semester of her junior year in London, studying the business of fashion and interviewing for an internship that would keep her abroad for the summer.
Then Covid-19 happened.
Within days she was back in her childhood home in Raleigh. No European summer. No exciting internship. And frankly, no prospects.
“I was pretty disappointed because I felt that I would get an amazing experience in London. And it’s my favorite city so it was pretty hard to leave,” Ms. Peterson said. She called her academic adviser, who urged her to assess her skills, search broadly for companies related in any way to her interests, even if she didn’t know if they were hiring, and offer creative ways she could help their businesses.
Ms. Peterson sent out almost 80 query letters and applications, offering employers specific ways that she could help them. Within two weeks, she had heard back from 15 and now has patched together four part-time virtual internships in public relations and social media.
Like Ms. Peterson, many college students saw their internships or post-graduation jobs thrown into flux this spring — 75 percent, according to one survey. Many internships have been canceled. Even those that were converted to virtual programs have often been condensed or delayed.
Many students who were looking forward to reaping some of the benefits of internships — work experience, networking opportunities, college credit, summer income and even potential job offers — are devastated.
But recruiters say it is not too late to secure a virtual internship for the summer, keeping in mind that you will need to try many approaches and apply broadly. A recent survey of 110 employers by Handshake, a recruiting platform focused on college students, found that 60 percent planned to offer virtual internships.
Following are some ways to seek virtual summer internships.
Start with your school.
When internships began to disappear in March, Denison University in Granville, Ohio, quickly pivoted and, with the help of its alumni and the corporate community, created a five-week free summer business course that culminates with a one-week internship. A third of the university’s students enrolled. “Students can’t afford to let a summer go to waste,” said Adam Weinberg, the university’s president. “They need to continue marching toward their career launch.”
Colleges have been working overtime since March canvassing job sites, as well as their alumni and parents, to find and help create meaningful virtual internships.
“What we have been telling students is that this is not a time to be picky or overly choosy,” said Andy Chan, vice president, innovation and career development at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “This is a time to get experience.” He urges students to work closely with their colleges’ career centers to keep track of new postings, polish their resumes and practice virtual interviews. “We have a team of people who are contacting alumni, as well as searching the job boards and finding jobs that are hard for students to locate. Over these last few months we have found a thousand more jobs than a student could find on their own and are putting them in front of students,” he said.
Scan the job sites daily.
Experts recommend sites such as LinkedIn, Handshake, Indeed, Vault, WayUp, Internships.com, ZipRecruiter, Intern from Home and Parker Dewey. Temporary agencies may also have jobs in your region. Handshake, which connects more than 500,000 employers with over 900 colleges, updates the list of the top 500 employers hiring on its platform every week. Using vetted companies can help you avoid fraudulent sites that seek personal information for scams.
Micro internships are short-term, paid, professional assignments that you can undertake remotely. They allow you to explore career options with different companies, in various cultures and industries, and can be a foot in the door at companies that don’t recruit on your campus, said Jeffrey Moss, the founder of Parker Dewey in Chicago, a pioneer in developing micro internships.
If your internship was condensed or delayed, round out your work experience this summer by creating your own micro internship by reaching out to alumni through your college’s career office or contacts on LinkedIn. You can also ask to job shadow virtually and join in meetings or client presentations with follow-up discussions afterward.
Follow up on past leads.
If you were offered an internship or had a couple of positive interviews with a company, reach out again. The work the interns were going to do may still need to get done, and employers who liked you then may want you now.
“Make it easy for the employer to say yes,” said Christine Y. Cruzvergara, vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake. “You might say, ‘I know I was supposed to have a 10-week internship doing X, Y and Z, but would it be helpful if I took this one project that I was probably going to be working on off your plate?’”
Look where the jobs are.
Handshake is seeing the most active hiring for virtual internships in health care, education, government, technology, nonprofits and professional and financial services. Other industries still hiring interns include some start-ups or companies whose businesses help people work remotely, or enable the supply chain or e-commerce.
Look where the need is.
Many nonprofits have found their services in even greater demand and need interns in a variety of functions. While these may be lower paying or volunteer positions, many colleges have stipends to supplement the income of students who work for nonprofits. Check with your college’s career center.
In the past, you might have started your networking as a way to gather information for a later job search. But now this needs to be done simultaneously and virtually.
“There is tremendous empathy for what college students are going through,” Dr. Weinberg said. “Never was there a better time to contact alumni, friends of your parents, or friends of your college. They are really open right now to spending time virtually explaining their career path.” Contact your professors as well, as they may be able to connect you with helpful industry contacts or former students.
Gain skills virtually.
Even if you don’t land an internship, you can still spend the summer making yourself more valuable to future employers. Explore the skills you will need to further your career and find low- or no-cost sites like LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft, Bloomberg Certification or Inside Sherpa to gain them. If your career path is uncertain, acquire more general skills like Excel or data analysis. Search for innovative skills programs that companies are providing because internships have been canceled, such as AT&T’s Summer Learning Academy, a fully virtual curriculum for 100,000 college students that includes professional development and business acumen.
Given the likelihood that college courses and campus activities will be very different this fall, you may have more free time than usual during the school year. Consider setting up a virtual internship in the fall. This gives you more time to network and find or create a rewarding opportunity, a longer period to do that internship, and less competition for positions. Parker Dewey has just as many micro internship opportunities outside of the summer months.