Landing Internships During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nathan Wilgeroth / Colleges of Distinction »

After nearly a year of shelling up in your house and staring at a computer screen, you might feel as if you’ve lost valuable time not only to enjoy time socializing, but also to get professional experience by engaging in your field of interest. Colleges are usually urging their students to land internships and gain real-world experience whenever possible, but there’s a bit of a safety issue when it comes to the real world, isn’t there? Vaccines are slowly but surely making their way to us all, but it’s likely that most traditional internships will be impacted through the spring and summer. 

While some of your pre-pandemic plans are deferred, there are still plenty of ways in which to build your résumé, grow your network, and gain valuable career experience no matter your area of study. All you have to do is learn what to look for and how best to pursue your COVID-era internship for the spring or summer of 2021.

First Thing’s First: Visit Your Career Center!

Your school’s career development office is full of useful resources to help you look for jobs and internships as well as prepare for interviews. Visit (or email) your office to get helpful advice from the career counselors on staff. 

One of the simplest yet most valuable ways that the career development office can help you is to review your résumé and cover letter. These two documents act as your first impression to every potential employer, so the experienced and discerning eye of your career counselor is an invaluable resource to make them clear, organized, and suited to the field of work you’re looking for. You’d be surprised to learn how critical résumés and cover letters can be; even a less-than-ideal GPA and a relatively small amount of work experience can be skillfully supplemented by an impressive cover letter. Especially if this is your first time applying to internships, the help of your career counselor can help you stand out regardless of your current amount of experience.

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This is also a great opportunity for you to reassess what you want out of an internship and career. Since your initial idea of an internship may not be available this year, the career development office can help you explore careers and the internships that are available. Skills and values assessments are common features of college career centers, so try looking at all your options to learn about the true scope of your major. 

Take it from the skilled career professionals from Marymount California University’s Center for Academic & Professional Success (CAPS):

In our ever-changing and ever-progressing world, students must ensure their career decision-making processes and career choices align with their personal interests, beliefs, and goals. Career exploration is an integral part of the career development process… Career exploration and selection should be an empowering process for students filled with growth and development on every level; career services practitioners must ensure they are providing the necessary and relevant support and guidance throughout this process.

Your career development office is there to help you, and the staff are passionate about guiding you to the internships and jobs that will be fulfilling. Other exploratory resources, as suggested by Marymount, might include CareerOneStop, O*Net OnLine, and My Next Move.

Use Online Skill Development

If you’re not settled into an internship this year, or if you want a little more experience to add to your résumé, consider additional educational resources to get new, highly marketable skills that employers will want. Coursera, for instance, has a library of free and paid courses that cover a range of topics, including plenty of tech- and business-related topics. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have grown in popularity in the last few years as many working professionals have sought out continuing education without the commitment and cost of a full degree. You, too, can take advantage; a certificate of completion from a reputable MOOC is a great addition to your résumé. While only a few courses are free, some students may have access to a larger library if they sign up with their university email address. Give it a shot to see if your school has a partnership with Coursera to offer additional courses to students.

Another great online resource is LinkedIn’s new Skill Assessments feature, which administers short quizzes that measure your proficiency of different professional skills and software. These provide backed and verified indications of your ability to actually do what your résumé says you can. Study up, and bulk your LinkedIn profile!

Virtual Networking

Even if you’re not on campus, you have a broad network of faculty and alumni who want to help you succeed. Email your professors to see whether they are aware of internships in your field or scour your alumni database to find professionals who might have a place for a student from their alma mater. These relationships are filled with potential, as you may be able to act as a mentor by working with or studying under these leaders in your field. 

Roshni D. Lal of Marymount California University stresses the value of mentorships, suggesting that students can enhance their professional development and career planning by seeking out mentors and establishing an outline and schedule for the mentorship to occur. In addition to valuable advice and guidance offered by mentors, student mentees can engage in networking activities that will connect them with more professionals in their desired field along with opportunities for career advancement.” These collaborations only further solidify your place within the strong, supportive network of your school’s faculty and alumni, forming relationships with those who may also help you launch your career after graduation. 

Scour Job Sites

If you’re ready to start your search for an internship that is hiring during the pandemic, make sure you utilize all your resources to see the true breadth of options that are available to you. Many colleges and universities use Handshake, a near-comprehensive job board for college students seeking full- and part-time work as well as paid internships. Otherwise, more generalized sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Indeed always have new job postings from across the country.

Keep in mind that the pandemic will influence the duties, format, and job expectations of the internships available. Look at the job descriptions: even if a posting is in an entirely different state, you might be able to work remotely. These virtual internships may surprise you in how comparable they are to in-person ones. In truth, the world has been moving into a more virtual setting anyway, so there is growing benefit in learning how to complete tasks and troubleshoot in a virtual format. 

Ultimately, 2021 will continue to look a little different than expected, but that doesn’t mean that your internship prospects are scarce; they’re just different. All you have to remember is to utilize the resources and people who have your best interest in mind. With help from your school, you can shine as a candidate for whatever internship you Zoom into. And really, what’s more of a “real-world experience” than adapting to the wild economic effects of a rapidly spreading virus?