Coronavirus is upending summer internships — how to make your mark if your internship is now virtual

When essential businesses were ordered to close in Maryland in mid-March, Judge Douglas Nazarian didn’t hesitate to find a way to keep his interns on.

“I never considered pulling the plug on these interns,” said Nazarian, who serves as a judge at the Court of Special Appeals in the Second Appellate Judicial Circuit in Baltimore and Harford County in Maryland.

But many companies have done just that, and now many college students’ summer plans are up in the air. Some 30% of college juniors and seniors have had their summer internship offers rescinded entirely, according to a survey of over 1,000 college students conducted by Handshake, a job-search site.

Elsewhere, internship programs at some of America’s largest companies have been postponed or will operate remotely. The changes are upending a key rite of passage for college students taking their first steps into the working world. For many, internships are a pathway to job offers.

“Internships are extremely crucial to getting a full-time job,” said Joshua Kahn, assistant director of research and public policy at the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a nonprofit professional membership organization for college career services based in Bethlehem, Penn.

Making it work virtually

Nazarian expects to take on well over six interns this summer, partly because other courts of law don’t lend themselves to remote internships but also because he knows how important internships are in terms of landing a full-time job.

He knew it wasn’t going to be nearly the same experience for interns who typically are in their first or second years of law school, but some way or another he was determined to find a way to make it work.

‘The thing that will be lost is those moments when we’re all there in one room and someone reads something or hits a point or a question and has the opportunity to raise it right then and there.’

— Judge Douglas Nazarian

Typically, interns write at least one official memo over the course of their internship. On a more daily basis, they’re responsible for fact checking official court decisions posted online. Because interns are not handling any sensitive materials, there aren’t many barriers to performing the normal duties that are expected of them remotely, he said.

“The thing that will be lost is those moments when we’re all there in one room and someone reads something or hits a point or a question and has the opportunity to raise it right then and there.”

Sometimes, he will alert interns when he notices something unique about the way a case is written or argued. “Everything will stop and we all talk about it together.”

Judge Douglas Nazarian, pictured, has kept all of his interns on amid coronavirus and says he has the ability to take on even more than usual this summer.

Douglas Nazarian

Now he tries to facilitate these types of interactions on morning video chats, but it is harder to coordinate when he can’t gather everyone together on a moment’s notice, he said.

He’s been able to learn from his experience working virtually with his spring interns and said he plans to take on more interns than ever this summer. Usually during in the summer he has about six interns who work part-time jobs because the program is unpaid.

Like Nazarian, many large tech companies have made their summer internship programs remote.

It’s easier for companies in the technology sector to adapt to remote internships, as opposed to research internships that take place in a lab, for example, said Emily Cardner, manager of campus recruiting at MongoDB
a company that specializes in making document-based software for app developers.

“As a software company, many of the tools we already use are the same whether you’re in an office or working remotely,” Cardner said.

‘About one-third of our current engineering organization has come through this [internship] program.’

— Emily Cardner, manager of campus recruiting at MongoDB

The company, whose headquarters are in New York City, pushed back the start date and shortened its internship program by four weeks to buy more time to implement a new remote version for all 85 interns, Cardner said.

The company didn’t consider getting rid of the program, she said, because it “is one of our most successful pipelines for talent. About one-third of our current engineering organization has come through this program.”

All interns will have the opportunity to participate in weekly social activities such as “a virtual ‘escape the room’ challenge and coffee roulette where interns will be randomly paired with a MongoDB colleague for a 30-min coffee meeting.”

Like MongoDB, a slew of big tech companies including Google
and Microsoft
 are also shifting to virtual internships.

“With new public-health advice, travel restrictions, and shelter-in-place orders being implemented across the globe, we’ve made the decision to make our summer internship program virtual,” a Google spokeswoman said. “They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and we will be doing everything we can to make the 2020 summer internship at Google an incredible experience for all our interns.”

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Amazon said “the vast majority” of its 8,000 interns summer interns, the company’s largest intern class to date, will be working remotely across the globe.

“The experience will include mentorship with tenured Amazonians, moderated group discussions, opportunities to connect with other interns, weekly fireside chats with senior leaders, and a variety of networking events,” an Amazon spokesman said.

Apple said it plans to keep all 1,000 interns over the course of this year. Many of the summer interns will be working remotely, but a select few will be working in-person at Apple campuses, primarily in the Bay Area, a spokesman said, declining to give further details.

When you’re working remotely, ‘it’s easy to get comfortable in your own spaces and not show up to meetings you may have otherwise gone to in person.’

— Amanda Nachman, publisher and CEO of College Magazine

“We believe it’s important to keep this pipeline of opportunity going, and we will extend to our interns the same precautions and care that we’re extending to all our other personnel as a part of the ongoing COVID-19 response,” an Apple spokesman told MarketWatch.

All IBM interns will be working remotely this summer, Jennifer Carpenter, vice president of talent acquisition at IBM said.

“We’re all navigating in unprecedented times, but our first priority is to provide these new interns a safe and meaningful work experience.”

IBM shared that interns will have the ability to participate in “a virtual hackathon focused on IBM’s Call for Code COVID-19 response efforts and host their own ‘Intern Radio Hour’ show for fellow interns to tune in and ask questions and share their experiences.”

How to make your virtual mark a lasting one

When you’re working remotely, “it’s easy to get comfortable in your own spaces and not show up to meetings you may have otherwise gone to in person,” said Amanda Nachman, publisher and CEO of College Magazine, an online college guide featuring articles written by college students.

“Just showing up on the screen with energy and intention and communicating ideas with your supervisor and asking questions is probably one of the best ways to make your mark.”

If the company you’re interning for doesn’t organize social events, you should try to put in the effort to plan one yourself, said Nachman, whose book on how to navigate through the job search process “#Qualified: You Are More Impressive Than You Realize,” comes out this summer.

“Doing virtual coffee meetings or lunches with other interns or even happy hours and drinking water if you’re underage can really go a long way in terms of making lasting connections,” she said.

Another way to stand out is to come to meetings prepared with questions in advance and make sure all of your technology works so you can actively participate, said Christine Cruzvergara, vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake.

If the company you are interning for doesn’t provide you with the technology you need to participate you should be proactive and reach out. Cruzvergara suggests interns asking employers “if there might be extra equipment that the company may be able to loan them to ensure you can get to participate fully.”

More than 215 internship programs have been cancelled altogether

Not every internship can be converted into an online internship, Cruzvergara, who previously worked as a career coach at Wellesley College, said. The same applies for full-time work.

“It comes down to will and creativity to create a new model of an internship,” she said. “That takes a lot of energy, time and effort and you have the hunger to do it.”

Over 215 companies have cancelled or postponed their internships programs this summer, according to an ongoing list of companies that have made changes to their internship programs on GitHub.

Many of the companies that have cancelled their internship program are in sectors such as transportation, travel, beauty, fashion and entertainment — all of which have been hit especially hard by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Also see: Coronavirus erases almost all the 23 million new jobs created since the Great Recession

Kelsi Fulton experienced having her internship canceled firsthand.

Over the course of the past semester, Fulton, 20, a junior at Spelman College, took classes on Google’s Sunnyvale, California campus as part of the company’s Tech Exchange program. The computer science and systems major from Detroit expected to spend her summer in Atlanta at a paid internship with Delta Airlines

She was going to make $17.50 an hour working on the in-flight tech services team. She was told she’d have the opportunity to help develop new technology that would be used by flight attendants in-air.

Kelsi Fulton, pictured, took classes at a Google’s Sunnyvale campus this past semester. She was expecting to intern at Delta Airlines this summer but found out recently that the program was canceled amid coronavirus.

Kelsi Fulton

But as she was returning back to Sunnyvale from spring break, a Delta recruiter informed her the internship was off. “She told me that due to pandemic and the hiring freeze they would have to rescind the offer,” Fulton said.

“We made the difficult decision to suspend our internship programs as we manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to our business,” a Delta spokesman said. “Given our current focus, and that our headquarters is largely closed to all but critical work functions, we wouldn’t be able to provide these individuals with the experience they deserve.”

Suddenly, Fulton’s plans changed in a big way: she wouldn’t be going back to Atlanta, where her college is located, and she’d be stuck paying for the apartment she rented there for an entire year, assuming that she’d be living there during the school year and during her internship.

“I’m not sure at all what things are going to look like,” said Fulton, who’s now sheltering in place with her family in Detroit.

“I made a post on LinkedIn about losing my internship but it didn’t get a lot of traction,” she said. “People commented names of recruiters to reach out to and when I did, they told me that they don’t have any roles available, which is really stressful especially because it’s finals time.”

She’s been applying non-stop for internships and already has two interviews lined up. “I just have to keep persevering,” she said. She’s hopeful she will land another position.

Like Delta, Southwest Airlines
also slashed their summer internship program.

“As we began working through the impacts of COVID-19 on Southwest Airlines we were forced to make some tough business decisions including suspending our summer 2020 internship program,” a Southwest spokesman said. “With the current situation, and with the majority of our headquarters-based jobs working remotely, we felt it was best to suspend the program until we can once again offer the world-class internship experiences for which Southwest Airlines is known.”

Similarly L’Oréal
 said that “it would not be possible to welcome our summer interns,” with its offices closed.

“We know how important professional development opportunities are to students and we remain committed to supporting them and helping them build their resumes,” Stephane Charbonnier, chief human resources officer at L’Oréal USA, said. “We are currently creating a virtual learning series sponsored by our executive leaders this summer, in addition to guaranteeing an internship to all accepted students for the 2021 program year.”

Students with a paid internship received nearly 50% more job offers than those who had either an unpaid internship or no internship

Sling TV, an online streaming platform owned by DISH
 said it would be “impossible to deliver a safe and productive experience for both our interns and their mentors during the COVID-19 pandemic,” given the “collaborative and group-oriented nature of our internship program.”

(Several other companies who have cut their internship programs including Airbnb, Ticketmaster
Under Armour
 and United Airlines
  did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for a comment.)

“I’m devastated about the decision, both because I turned down many competitive offers in favor of Airbnb and because they made the decision so late that it will be incredibly difficult to find new opportunities in such a short time frame,” Ray Iyer, a computer science major at Stanford, told TechCrunch.

People like Iyer and Fulton whose offers were rescinded are at a significant disadvantage from those who were able to maintain their internships, said Kahn.

Students with a paid internship received nearly 50% more job offers than those who had either an unpaid internship or no internship, according to NACE’s 2018-19 Student Survey of over 22,000 college students.

In general, white students get more paid internships than black or hispanic students, Kahn added.

“With fewer paid internships available, it serves to reason that these students from underserved populations will find it even more difficult to find a paid internship,” Kahn said. “The downside to that is that they get less experience and fewer job offers in their chosen field of study.”

But students aren’t the only ones who lose out.

“Companies are at a disadvantage because they view their internship programs as a pipeline for their early talent to enter and progress through the company. Without internships, their pipeline is drier than they’d like.”

What to do if your internship gets cancelled

The good news is that there are still 500 and counting companies that are hiring for full-time positions and internships on Handshake’s site.

The bulk of the positions are within sectors such as technology, education, nonprofit, health care and government. But even if you’re unable to find an internship for this summer there are still ways to effectively gain professional experience.

The easiest way is to create a LinkedIn profile or update your existing one so that it best reflects your passions and professional interests, Nachman said.

“You don’t need to have the formal construct of internship to make connections and learn about people’s jobs.” She recommends reaching out to at least one person a day for a virtual coffee meeting.

That’s especially important for people whose offers were rescinded, she said. “The more connections you make the easier it will be to get your foot back in the door.”

You should also take the time to really explore what your passions are.

“Hit the pause button not just on Netflix
 but on what’s next for you. Start thinking about something you could do for hours on end, without even thinking about it.”

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