COVID Came For Your Summer Internship. Now What?

Advice, strategies and tips from two career pros

SO: Your internship this summer got cancelled. You have three options: Scream into the void, despairing you’ll ever get a job now; accept that 2020 is a dumpster fire, and devote your considerable genius to Animal Crossing instead; or—and this is the option we strongly suggest—you take a beat, mourn the loss of what might have been, and then make this setback a setup for the best thing that ever happened to your career.

We tapped two career coaches (specialization: Millennial and Gen Z workers) for their hot tips on what you can do right now to make Beyoncé-level lemonade out of these pandemic-grown lemons.

#1 This is not the end of the world

Between record unemployment and doom-and-gloom predictions of a Great Depression-style recession, this is not the ideal time to be trying to get a foothold into the workplace. Or is it? “I can gladly say that employers are still hiring,” says Brandesha Sinclair, a career coach at The Working Millennial. “There’s no doubt that certain positions are on hold, but equally there are still opportunities out there.”

In fact, says Ali Breen, a Halifax-based narrative career coach, “this recession is going to create new jobs and new needs that are completely aligned with the soft skills Millennials and Gen Z have.” They’re the things you take for granted—how to communicate online, how to automate for efficiency—that Gen X or Boomer hiring managers might be desperate to have within their team now that many workplaces have shifted to remote offices, at least for the foreseeable future. Put those skills on your resumé!

#2 Use this enforced pause for some self reflection

Oh great! More time alone with your thoughts. But seriously: If you’re someone who’s maybe taken an internship in a field they’re not madly in love with—maybe because you’re doing a degree you felt pressured into, thinking it would result in a steady paycheck, or you realized halfway through uni this wasn’t the course for you—this might be the universe’s invitation to re-evaluate. “Think of it as a permission slip,” says Breen. “Ask yourself what you want, and then what the world needs. Attach those two things together, and boom! You have a career.”

#3 Polish up your social presence

“If you contact me to ask me for a conversation as an employer, mentor or networking contact,” says Breen, “I will Google you—and so will 96 percent of recruiters.” Use this time to make sure your entire online presence (not just LinkedIn!) is Potential Employer-ready. You can make all your accounts look epic, or Breen says it’s totally fine just to lock them down—but with a great bio and an appropriate profile pic. “Employers aren’t just looking for your drunk pics,” says Breen. “They’re looking for things that give them a sense of who you are, because they hire for [culture] fit.” That means if you’re applying for a job as graphic designer, show off some of your latest illustrations on the ’gram. If you’re trying to get in as a paralegal, retweet some interesting articles on recent judgments. “Be purposeful about what you’re posting.”

#4 Continue your education

“When it comes to your career, learning never stops,” says Sinclair. Not only is taking an online course a way to stay busy, she says, it’s also a way to demonstrate that you’re self-motivated to future employers. It’s also an opportunity to learn many of the skills you anticipated picking up during that internship.

In terms of subject matter, she says to consider something in tech, project management or social media, since these are always useful skills regardless of the job you ultimately apply for. “Even if it’s not relevant to your current goals, it’s transferable and can help with building a side hustle.”

On a related note, Breen strongly recommends having a creative outlet for your passions—say, a Youtube channel for reviews if you’re a book-obsessive, or a Soundcloud where you upload your flute solos. “Not only does it help take care of you,” she says, “ but it will give you something to talk about in interviews when they want to know about you as a person.”

#5 Network, network, network

You’ve probably heard this 9 million times: Networking is the only way to get a job in a world where, anecdotally, 80% of jobs are never advertised. But how do you actually do that? “Gently and with purpose,” says Breen. The gentle part refers to the fact that everyone has a lot going on right now, and just because they didn’t respond to your first email it doesn’t mean they hate you. Feel free to follow up, she says, and even consider pinging them on a social network of your choosing at the same time. “That way you look like a keener, and you’re also in their brain at two different times,” she says.

Purpose refers to the message’s content: “Don’t ask a stranger for something without providing them with something first,” says Breen, saying it can be as simple as writing “I see you’re a thought leader in X field” and then sending them an article that either compliments or challenges it, and then asking them what they think of it. Then, you should make a very specific ask, like “Would you introduce me to three people in your field because I want to do informational interviews?” or “I’m looking for a mentor and this is the kind of mentorship I’m looking for.” As for where you can find these people? Sinclair says to start with your immediate connections, yes, but don’t discount the people you follow or admire on social media. “Every post or share is a chance to connect,” she says. “Comment and further the conversation, exchange opinions and resources.”