Summer internships have dried up because of the pandemic. Here's how to get ahead without one

So, current collegiate or soon-to-be graduate -- you don't have an internship this summer. Now what?

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Personal Banking & Finance
Scottie Andrew
CNN — So, current collegiate or soon-to-be graduate -- you don't have an internship this summer. Now what?

First, it's OK to mope a little bit. Let it out. Feeling sad about this is expected and warranted.

But know that you're not alone in this. Every college student in the US, and most of the world, is impacted by the pandemic. And recruiters and hiring managers are living through this moment with you, so they'll show you some grace.

We spoke to recruiters and career counselors about your options. They said prospective companies know that the pandemic is to blame for that hole in your resume. So fill that white space with other meaningful stuff. Here's where you can start.

Keep looking. There's still time

Start with your career center: If your heart was set on an internship this summer, start here. Some companies still have opportunities up for grabs.

Troy Nunamaker, chief solutions officer and resident "internship guru" at Clemson University's Center for Career and Personal Development, suggested starting with (who else?) your own college career center.

Schedule an appointment with a career counselor, he said -- they're hearing from companies regularly about what's feasible for the summer, and they can pass along opportunities they find based on your conversations.

Take advantage of virtual career fairs: If your college is hosting a virtual career fair, show up! Eileen Buecher, executive director of California Polytechnic State University's Career Services, said she planned a job fair that'll take place entirely over Zoom, so students will meet with recruiters one-on-one or in small groups in break-out rooms.

Scour for postings: Some companies haven't nailed the remote work transition yet, so keep an eye on internship postings, LinkedIn and your college career center. Nunamaker said some businesses may post shortened opportunities later in the summer.

Apply, apply, apply: And if your internship was canceled, check out the start-up Simplify -- it's a common application you can send to several employers at once, and the platform is giving early access to students whose summer plans were dashed.

Be open to a different kind of internship

Virtual internships: If you do score an internship later this summer, it'll most likely be virtual. Yes, you won't be immersed in the work environment. Nunamaker recommends you take the job since it's the next-best thing.

Mini-internships: If you don't find any long-term internships to commit to, consider the "mini-internship." Basically, it's a slice of what a longer internship would look like, but now, you're a freelancer of sorts who completes projects and reports."You can learn about other parts of the business and how your role fits in with the larger picture," says Jeffrey Moss, founder and CEO of recruiting service Parker Dewey.

The mini-internships are open to any student on the Parker Dewey platform. They typically take around 20 hours of work to complete, Moss said -- plus, they're paid.

And if you work for an accounting firm or marketing agency one week, apply to something totally different the next -- now's the time to exercise every creative muscle you've got.

Work your contacts

Reach out to alumni or professionals: Find people whose work you admire. Tell them what you're interested in, ask about opportunities they may have and offer your help if they need it.

You may worry that you're annoying the person you're reaching out to. You're not, he said.

READ MORE: How to work from home without losing your sanity

Moss said his alma mater sent a note to alumni asking them to share opportunities with current students and recent graduates who need them. Many of them have already been more than willing to help.

Contact your would-be hiring manager: Contact your hiring manager -- the person you would've reported to at your internship -- and ask if there are any alternatives for you, Moss suggests. Chances are, your would-be workplace had some projects planned for you. They might still need you.

Take initiative: So be brave. Email them, DM them on Twitter, send a LinkedIn message -- they'll appreciate the effort. They may not have something for you to do right away, but taking initiative and showing your interest can set you up going forward, Moss said.

Create something for yourself

You've looked for internships, you've reached out, you scoured for bite-sized opportunities and nothing's stuck. But you haven't exhausted all your options yet.

Invent your own summer curriculum: You can do anything with your time. Anything! Even if it's not directly tied to your major. Just being productive this summer will fuel your sense of purpose (and look good on your resume).

Volunteer your skills: Chandra Turner, founder and CEO of media networking community Ed2010 and recruiting service The Talent Fairy, suggests you volunteer your services to a local business that may need help with something you're good at, whether that's social media marketing, accounting, logistics -- they'll appreciate the help.

Work part-time (IF you're able): If it's safe and you feel comfortable doing it, you can work part-time to save up and earn what Nunamaker calls "career competencies" -- the same communication skills that made you an excellent clerk could make you a powerful speaker in the boardroom.

Better yourself: Start a blog. Pick up a language. Offer to tutor other students. Take an online class (there are several acclaimed ones available for free). Play the flute! Learn to code! Train for a race! Become a puppeteer! Do anything that fuels your sense of purpose! And who wouldn't want to hire a coding puppeteer?

Finally, don't panic

You may not have an internship this summer. That won't put you at a disadvantage.

Internships were widely considered essential, the stepping stones that lead to your full-time job. But that was before the pandemic zapped most of the internships up.

"Everybody is in this holding pattern," Turner said. "It's not like someone is getting ahead and getting an internship. It's a level playing field."

Take solace in that -- and know that your qualifications for a position aren't determined by the number of internships you have, she said.

Missing out on an internship this summer isn't ideal. But you can take heart in the fact that you're not alone in this moment. You'll get through this time, internship or not.


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