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How to Get Creative with Your Internship Search during COVID-19

by Addie Linn | Jun 28, 2020

While internship programs may look vastly different this summer, there's still plenty of opportunities for students to network and gain experience. Anne Palmer, DMA, current Career Development & Internship Program Manager at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus, has some advice for students this summer. 

With the current state of flux of in-person internships, a lot of students are asking the question, what can we do now? Maybe your internship has been canceled, delayed, or you’re trying to figure out what you can do for the upcoming academic year.

Uncertainty brings lots of questions, many that we simply don’t have the answers for. I get it. Trust me when I tell you that we WISH we had clear-cut answers to give you. But, what if we looked at this time as a giant experiment? ANYTHING you attempt will be appreciated and applauded. Find new ways to connect with organizations and their people. Remove previous expectations of what your ideal internship looked like -- and just try something! When was the last time you were allowed the freedom to do that? It’s scary to be in uncharted territory, but it can also be incredibly liberating.

Time to get creative
My background is in music, and at times like this I realize just how it well it serves me. Musicians are used to being told “no” so much more than we hear “yes”. We audition over and over and over again, and are constantly told how we need to improve. Most importantly, we are always working to create opportunities for ourselves through collaborating with others.

Going back to the idea of this being a giant experiment, what if you began to think more like a musician? Here’s what I mean…

Where can you improve?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to assign you a new aria to add to your audition repertoire. But I am going to ask that you start by taking an inventory.

Let’s start with your resume:

  • Check for the 3 C’s: clear, concise, clean
  • Does it show all of your latest, up-to date experiences
  • Was it written for a previous position, is it targeted for your current search
  • Ditch the template and start over – have you heard of applicant tracking systems? 99% of Fortune 500 companies report using ATS to electronically screen applicants. ATS can’t read most templates, which means it can’t search for keywords in your resume. This could be a reason your resume isn’t making it past the initial round of screening.
  • Speaking of keywords, you should be optimizing and tailoring your resume specifically to the position for which you’re applying. Make sure you’re using keywords that the position is looking for.
    • If you haven’t already discovered Jobscan, definitely check it out! You can copy your resume and the description of the job you’re applying for side-by-side. Then, it helps you identify keywords you are using, or should be using.
  • Make sure you’re showing your experiences, not telling. Speak in action statements and show specific results (i.e., the project you created increased productivity increase by 24%)

After reviewing your resume, what gaps do you see?

  • Additional training or certifications – what kinds of training could make you more competitive? For example, AT&T has launched a free, self-paced online learning “externship” certificate program called AT&T Summer Learning Academy
  • Add to your portfolio – is there a project that you’ve been meaning to finish?
  • Ask for additional feedback (reach out to career services, faculty/advisors)
  • Take some personal assessments (Clifton Strengths, Myers-Briggs) and really consider how your strengths align with potential opportunities.
    • Where do you hope to stretch?
    • What do you hope to gain from an internship?
    • Who do you hope to learn from?

Get ready to pitch

  • When given the opportunity, what do you tell people about yourself? How do you introduce yourself? What are your unique skills, strengths, experiences? Practice OUT LOUD. It’s amazing how hard it can be to talk about yourself in a clear, concise manner.
  • If you don’t know why someone should hire you, how will anyone else?
  • Take the time to fine tune and practice your pitch
  • Sign-up for a mock interview through your career center
  • Virtual and phone interviews can feel very strange, consider how you will prepare.

Research and Network

  • How can people find you? Check to see if your school uses platforms like Handshake or Symplicity where students can post their resume and search for internships and employment
  • Do you have a LinkedIn profile? Many recruiters heavily use LinkedIn to search for new talent. Not sure how to get started? Here is some great resources created by LinkedIn for College Students
  • Update your social networks to reflect your new mission
  • Does your school have an alumni mentoring program? This is a great way to meet professionals who want to help others get their start

What else is possible?
If you only take one piece of advice, I hope that it would be to embrace flexibility and keep an open mind. Just because you always envisioned yourself interning with Company X -- but their program has been canceled -- doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fantastic opportunities out there! It also doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually intern with Company X, you just may be on a curvier road than you originally expected.

  • Consider paid micro-internships or project-based work with a company of interest. Organizations like Parker Dewey specialize in connecting college students and companies for this type of work. Often, this has the potential to lead to a full internship.
  • Volunteering is a great way to get a clearer sense of the company’s mission and receive valuable insight from people within the organization.

NPR recently wrote an article called, “There’s Still Time to Get a (Remote) Summer Internship” that lists all kinds of fantastic resources. Some that I’ll highlight are:

  • You can check on to see the status of more than 500 companies’ internship programs
  • offers some great COVID-19 support articles and, as always, is a centralized hub to search for internships. They also have a section dedicated to finding 2020 Remote Internships

  • Another out-of-the-box option for aspiring interns this year is the Virtual Student Federal Service. This program has been around for a decade, offering month-long remote, and unpaid, assignments with dozens of different federal agencies, from NASA to the Smithsonian Institution.

Keep showing up
Okay, just one more thing. Even if there isn’t a specific opportunity posted, you can still reach out and ask. In fact, staying in touch with internship managers and other organizational contacts via LinkedIn or email shows tenacity and resilience during some very tough times. They want to see that! Landing these opportunities will take more than one career fair, email exchange, application, and interview. Think like a musician. If you don’t get the gig after you audition with one company, does that mean you never audition again? Musicians don’t get to perform until they land the gig, and they must audition for EVERY performance opportunity. Thorough preparation and auditioning well is a huge part of being a successful performer, and they do it dozens of times every year. If you can tap into that mentality, I am confident you will eventually land the gig.


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