How to Score an Internship During the COVID-19 Pandemicby Jon Schlesinger - Lecturer in the Schol of Arts and Sciences, and Director of the Hiatt Career Center, Brandeis University April 24, 2020
Editor’s Note: Even though unemployment has reached a record high due to business closures and social distancing measures brought about by the new coronavirus, you can still snag an internship if you know how to adapt and get creative. That advice comes from Jon Schlesinger, director of the career center at Brandeis University and also a lecturer in a course designed to get students to think critically about the industry in which they intern. Here, Schlesinger offers five tips for students who are searching for internships or haven’t yet started internships that they’ve secured.
1. Create your own virtual internships
While a poll of 283 employers recruiting on college campuses found that 16% have revoked internship offers, the poll also found that nearly 40% of employers have moved to a virtual internship program.
Although employers moving online means there is no office to go to anymore, this can open up opportunities for you to work virtually. Creating a virtual internship on your own is possible if you were already interviewing, or if you are still networking and making connections. Be prepared to share how you could help the employer working on a specific project or help them fill a gap during this crisis. Take advantage of this unique situation to try out an industry or work with an employer in a location you otherwise couldn’t get to.
Showing initiative in pitching your own virtual internship is one way to stand out to an employer and demonstrate grit. As more employers adapt to the current crisis, you can also find more virtual internship postings from top employers.
2. Try a micro-internship
Micro-internships are short-term project-based assignments. Think of yourself as an independent contractor working on a project for a company. You’re in charge of your own time, as long as you complete the assignment. Parker Dewey, a website that connects college students and recent graduates to short-term, paid, professional assignments, is a good place to search for paid micro-internship postings from companies ranging from the Fortune 100 to emerging startups.
3. Focus on who’s hiring
With all the unemployment claims and business closings, it’s easy to assume that no one is hiring. However, in every down market there are always some employers who are hiring. Look to large tech companies, health care, financial services, business software and consulting services.
There are many websites with crowdsourced information about who is hiring. Sites such as ismyinternshipcancelled.com and candor.co both have regularly updated lists. Handshake, one of the largest platforms connecting students and employers, reached out to its employers to find 500 companies hiring students on the platform right now. No list will be exhaustive. It’s still best to reach out to the individual recruiter or employer to learn about their hiring plans. However, time spent researching employers and networking is more crucial than just sending out resumes.
4. Broaden your prospects
As you start to make any type of career plan, it is helpful to be focused yet flexible. The pandemic demonstrates how quickly even the best plans can change. Expand your thinking and the types of roles or industries you are applying to. If you were focused on a laboratory research position in a university lab that is no longer hiring, consider other places, such as health care, pharmaceuticals or scientific writing and other roles that could be remote.
If you were planning to intern at a consulting firm, you might look to startups, nonprofits or local companies that need help navigating this crisis. The key is to keep brainstorming and expand your thinking. Don’t take anything off the table. Reach out to your network for advice. Get creative and think about past roles you’ve enjoyed. Even a campus activity or social issue you care about might lead you in a new direction.
5. Build career-ready skills
Ultimately, employers will value what skills you can bring to them. So if you are having difficulty finding a formal internship or a part-time job – whether this summer or anytime – use the time to identify and build new skills. The top skills employers seek on resumes, such as verbal and written communication and problem-solving, are skills you can build at home right now. LinkedIn Learning – available through many universities – provides access to expert-led courses great for learning technical and creative skills, such as new computer programming languages or tutorials on image editing and the like. Visit Khan Academy for professional and personal development as well as to learn new academic skills, and check out the personal finance or arts and humanities courses. Massive Open Online Courses, also known as MOOCs, like EdX and Coursera also let you take classes for free with an option for a certificate.
Use this time to create your own projects or independent work: Design an app, write code, create a marketing campaign, solve a business problem, write a research statement or start a blog. To begin, imagine this is a school project, think about a current issue or problem, give yourself a task and come up with your own solution. For example, how would you advise a car company to continue operating during this crisis, or what type of marketing plan would you devise for a fast food company right now?
You can add any of these experiences to a resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter or during an interview to show employers that you’re ready for the opportunity to take the next step in your future career.