What to do if your summer internship was waylaid by a global pandemic

Robin Meyer

A traditional summer internship can help you test-drive a job and develop resume-building skills, and often serves as a stepping stone into a full-time job offer. Unfortunately, this summer is anything but traditional. Many companies have paused or canceled internship recruiting as they struggle to figure out how to survive in a virtual world. A survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers early on in the pandemic found that 22 percent of employers had canceled their summer internship programs altogether. 

So, what can you do if COVID-19 waylaid your summer internship plans?

First, don’t take it personally. Your internship plans were altered by a global pandemic of unimaginable proportions, and it’s OK to be disappointed. It’s also important to know that future recruiters will 100 percent understand that internships were challenging to land this summer. This doesn’t mean that it is the summer to hang out on the couch. Instead, when you apply for future opportunities, recruiters will evaluate your resiliency in light of rapidly changing times and the creative ways that you used your time to develop and practice new skills. There is a lot that you can do right now from the confines of your home.

If your internship was canceled, stay in touch with your employer and inquire about potential projects or any opportunities to work remotely. It may also be possible to start an internship later in the summer or keep your offer on the table for the following summer.  

Seek out alternate opportunities, including remote internships or project-based work, and be open to exploring new industries or job functions that you may never have considered. Now is the time to really embrace the incredible Williams network to which you belong to help make that happen. Using our trio of tools, including EphLink, the LinkedIn Alumni Portal and the Alumni Database, reach out to people that work in the industries that interest you and schedule informational calls. When you explain your internship situation and that you are still eager to learn, you will be amazed by the people who will give you 20 minutes of their time.  

Fourth, despite what the news headlines say, there are employers that are hiring. We have created two brand new filters in Handshake that let you search for opportunities that have been posted by alumni and specifically for remote options. The College’s alumni have recognized that students need additional support during this pandemic summer and have created more than a dozen new internships for students over the past two weeks. I’m confident additional opportunities will present themselves. 

Finally, embrace your problem-solving skills and create your own self-designed summer. Ask yourself what an ideal internship would look like, who you would be working for, what you would learn, and how you can create this for yourself this summer.

Then, pick a passion project or learn new skills that support your goals. Consider ways that you can demonstrate your new skills to an employer, through independent projects, virtual volunteering and pro-bono work, all of which can and should be added to your resume. The Career Center has compiled a list of alternative summer experiences to help you get started, and our Career Advisors are here to provide support.

These are truly unprecedented times, but being able to affirmatively talk about how you personally chose to adapt and respond in light of a global pandemic will benefit you in future internships and job interviews.  

Robin Meyer is the Associate Director/Director of Employer Relations at the ’68 Center for Career Exploration