Internships in the Age of Corona
Finding a great internship is a challenge in “normal” times. There’s so much to think about. What company is the best fit for me? Where do I want to go? What do I hope to learn or achieve? In the current pandemic, it can be an even greater challenge. Currently, many companies have temporarily suspended their internship programs, or reduced the duration of the programs that they offer. 40% of the respondents to a recent poll by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in the USA have switched to virtual internship programs. In Germany, only about half of the internships that were available at the same time in 2019 are still available now. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to spell bad news for current students – there are still quite a few options out there!
What are internships for?
This might seem like a strange question, but if we take a closer look at why we’re really doing an internship – beyond “it’s a requirement for my program” or “everyone else is doing one” that can help us find a way to achieve the goals we have for our internship even in these really challenging times. Two of the main reasons internships are a great resource for students is that they provide you with an opportunity to test-drive working in a professional setting and to network with people in your field.
In an internship setting, you can test your skills and find out what you’re great at, and develop an awareness of areas in which you might need to build your skills/knowledge. That might apply to your knowledge in your field, concrete skills like working with Excel, or interpersonal skills, like how to navigate challenging supervisors. You can also learn what work environment fits best with your work style – do you thrive in settings with a flat hierarchy? Do you work better with lots of direct input from your supervisor? How important is structure to you in the workplace?
Knowing people in your field and building professional relationships is very important for your future career – it can make a big difference in your job search later on. Many entry-level positions are filled by former interns – and having those contacts means that you have someone to touch base with when you start your job search. You might have better access to jobs that aren’t as widely posted, and you’ll likely find that your application has a better chance of being seen by the right people.
Finding an Internship in the Corona Pandemic
Your first option is to look for a “regular” internship. You’ll probably do best if you focus on specific companies that are a good fit for what you hope to do in the future (remember, many companies are open to unsolicited applications for interns) and on job boards like Connecticum that focus on internships. Craft each application carefully. Remember, quality is way more important than quantity. Keep in mind that as internships become more competitive, things like language skills may matter more now than they did in the past. If you’re looking for an internship in Germany, it might be a good idea to brush up on your German skills. Sign up for a (virtual) tandem partner, switch your day-to-day life into German (from Netflix to your computer settings), and start reading as much as you can in your free time.
Building your network and your knowledge about the job market in your field is always a great way to boost your internship search. An informational interview is a great strategy to find out more about working in your field and to expand your network. Remember, in an informational interview, you never want to ask for a job or an internship (don’t do it!). Reach out to professionals in your field – you can find them in alumni networks, linkedin, or xing – via email (it works best if you use your university email address) and ask them if they’d mind answering a few questions and helping you learn more about the career path they’ve chosen. You can start with questions like:
- What internships did you do while you were a student and how did they prepare you for the job you have now?
- What do entry-level jobs in this field look like and what are the most important qualifications?
- What one thing do you know now that you wish you knew as a student/young applicant?
- What skills/knowledge are most important for the job you have today?
If you still can’t find a really great internship, you can create your own! Think about the skills and background that would be the most helpful for you to have in order to achieve your career goals. For example, you might find that most job postings for your dream career path require you to have certain experience – maybe you need experience in managing projects or in social media marketing. Think of a project that you could do that would help you get that experience. Write a plan/pitch and approach a local non-profit or a small company. For example, you might write a pitch to develop a social media marketing strategy for a local non-profit that wouldn’t normally be able to hire a social media manager, or offer to develop a website or app. Remember to keep the resources required from the company to a minimum and to be very clear about what you expect and what you will provide. You can also try doing a DIY internship project in your community – launch your own local or digital project.
Getting the Most out of Virtual/DIY Internships
Doing a virtual or DIY internship will mean that you have less face-to-face contact with the people you’re working with. When you start out, clarify your expectations for feedback in the beginning. Know how and when to best contact your supervisor – via email? a slack channel? – and find out where you can go when you have a question. Remember that many of your colleagues are dealing with a lot of stress in these unusual times and may be balancing working from home with childcare or other obligations, so be empathetic. Make sure to speak up right away if you feel lost or uncertain – don’t wait for your colleagues to notice that you’re having trouble. (This is also a good idea when you’re not working virtually but is so much more important when you’re hidden away on the other side of a screen).
Do your best to build your network and connect with your colleagues. When/where appropriate, try to engage them – ask questions about their careers and be memorable. In virtual meetings, make sure that your background is professional, but not cold or blank. Leave colleagues with an impression of you as a person. Make sure to follow the rules of video etiquette. Set clear networking goals and try to follow through – if you’re having trouble reaching them, reflect on what might be getting in your way. Are your goals unrealistic, or are there strategies you can use to help you achieve them?
In a virtual or DIY internship, you are responsible for your own career development. Career journaling can be a great way to keep track of your success and of the things you’d like to improve on. Take some time daily – or at least once a week – to reflect on your progress. Sit down with a pen and paper – or a digital journal – and write out a career journal using career journal prompts. That way, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ve working towards and what you’ve achieved!
If You Get Stuck, Ask For Help
The stepping stones on your way to a great career are almost always help and support from people along the way. Reach out to friends, family, fellow students – if you aren’t having success in finding an internship, your university likely has a career service department. See if they have virtual counseling hours. Get in touch with your university’s student union and see if they have resources for you. And of course, I’m always here to help with career counseling – please feel free to get in touch!