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Summer Internships Are Going Online

06 May 2020

Many summer internships are being moved online as a means of keeping up the tradition of on-the-job training and months-long job interviews in the time of social distancing. An April 24 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 78 percent of employers say they are making changes to their internship program with the most common change being a transition from face-to-face to virtual programs.

Typically, both MBA and undergraduate students spend their summer vacations working for companies in a variety of roles. The purpose is for students to apply what they have learned during their studies to a real-world organization while also learning about the culture on the job.

At the same time, employers get to know the students from different universities and colleges and determine where to focus their recruiting efforts and who they want to hire full time.

Now, like everything else, the summer internship is getting flipped on its head because of the global coronavirus crisis.

A new type of internship

The transformation of internships is happening across functions, including in consulting and finance, which have traditionally relied on face-to-face meetings. Schools are training students for this different kind of internship in much the same way as they did for in-person internships.

Jeff Tang, senior director for Marketing and General Management Careers at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business said: "We are preparing students to focus on a lot of the classic elements of completing a successful internship: being structured, thorough, and collaborative in completing projects and asking questions, building relationships, and learning more about company culture and the processes.".

In addition, the school stresses the importance of students distinguishing themselves through their contributions and differential thinking, he adds. And this is the exact same advice they would have received before the coronavirus struck.

Tang and other experts say they expect students to still gain much of the same experience they would have had during a face-to-face internship, but there will of course be more to the experience than usual.

"I think students will get a chance to get comfortable in the 'new normal,' where an increasing amount of work is done virtually instead of in person," says Tang. "Ultimately, fluency and comfort in this space will be a valuable asset."

Change of expectations in business

When the pandemic arrived in the United States and lockdowns began to take effect, employers swiftly changed their outlooks and took action, NACE reports.

"Initially, 90 percent of responding employers expected to maintain their internship programs without change," according to NACE. "By the last week in March, that number was down to 74 percent." By April 2, the organization reported that only 35 percent of employers were moving forward with their on-site internships as planned, and by April 24, that number was down to 22 percent.

There are other changes, too. About 40 percent of respondents to the April 24 survey said they will be shortening the length of internships, but one bright spot is the fact that these programs are still moving forward. The results also show that 59 percent of employers who responded are maintaining their offers to interns or graduates for full-time positions. The truth is that the figure is down 5 percent from the April 10 survey NACE conducted. And 22 percent are considering revoking offers, but it hasn't happened yet, and some US states are beginning to reopen for business with regulated precautions and standards in place.

Undoubtedly, internships amid the coronavirus crisis will look vastly different, but employers will still get additional help and be able to vet potential future employees. And anyone who is lucky enough to have work during this time will surely make the most of it whether the experience is online or not.

Tang said: "In times of great uncertainty come great opportunity. Students should embrace the challenge of adapting and demonstrating excelling during the summer internship. In an environment where norms and 'the way things have always been done' have gone out the window, don't be afraid to try new things."

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