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My Summer Internship Was Canceled. What Next?

Hayden Field  |  June 5, 2020

If your summer work plans were sidelined by COVID-19, you’re not alone. Here are some options for moving forward.

The job market has changed drastically over the past three months. Since the onset of COVID-19, at least 42.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment — and as companies cut their workforces, internships are also being canceled left and right. 

If you were banking on a now-canceled summer internship as a career move, it’s okay to feel disappointment — and it’s important to acknowledge that before you take any next steps. “Reflect and reset before you relaunch,” says career coach Maggie Mistal

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When you’re ready for your next move, take another look at the opportunities that could align with your goals, and make an action plan to move forward. Here are some suggestions. 

Reframe the situation

There can be no “bright side” to this period of worldwide uncertainty, but it is possible to identify growth areas — lessons you can learn and use for the rest of your life. Take the time to self-reflect, and only start to make moves once you’re coming from a meaningful place of purpose. Look back at times of “ecstatic engagement,” says Mistal, when you were so engaged with an activity that you lost track of time, and then look forward — how can you find that again in your next endeavor? It boils down to the question: How can you use this time to learn more about yourself and what you want, so that you can approach the rest of college and your career with even more purpose? 

“Those skills of adaptability, resilience, and courage… are transferable across industries,” says Mistal. “Those are the things people need to be thinking about: How do I live my life… during this — be of service in a way I feel really great about — while also demonstrating the values and the skills and talent that I have?”

Keep in mind that the rise of remote work might mean access to more opportunities that you might not have been considered for in the past due to location. “The downside is that everything’s virtual, and the upside is that everything’s virtual,” says career advisor Allison Cheston

Expand your search by sector and location

Cheston has been directing her clients to pursue opportunities in sectors that weren’t as negatively affected by the pandemic, or that are even seeing a boost in business, such as healthcare technology, e-commerce, cybersecurity and more. Revisit your interest areas, and aim to be a bit flexible “in terms of going where the jobs are,” she says.

Even if you feel like you’re late in the game, you can still search for a virtual internship (even a short-term one) on platforms like LinkedIn, Internships.com, Intern From Home, WayUp and Handshake. There are also volunteer-specific opportunities on sites like VolunteerMatch and NetImpact. In-person gigs related to the outdoors, seasonal field work and conservation seem to be opening up, too — Cheston suggests looking for listings on the Conservation Job Board and, interestingly, the Texas A&M Department of Wildlife job board. If you see unpaid opportunities you’re interested in, check to see if your school has a limited scholarship program offering summer stipends. 

Since the job market is changing so quickly during this time, it’s smart to direct your energy first towards jobs listed in the last week, then in the past two weeks, and then in the past month. If a listing is over a month old, says Cheston, it’s likely safe to assume it’s either no longer viable or already has a flood of applications. 

Create your own internship

Think about your interests, college major and potential career path. Then, Mistal suggests, write a breakdown of your “ideal day” as it stands now: What kinds of things would you spend time on, which types of projects would you prioritize, what environment would you be in, and what are the overarching goals you’d work towards? Identify figures you admire in those areas — whose daily duties are likely close to your ideal day. Then, take action and reach out to some of them. 

You can reach out on LinkedIn, social media or email — just do some digging to see if they clearly state how they prefer to be reached (site contact forms or emails are often a good bet). Demonstrate you’ve done your research on what they do, and ask them questions about their journey. You can also ask directly about a virtual internship — or suggest working for them or their organization on a project-to-project basis. If you make your own internship or summer work opportunity, says Cheston, then you’re your only competition. It’s important, though, to lead the way in creating this type of opportunity for yourself: Offer clearly laid-out suggestions, an action plan, for how you could help the person or organization and make their lives easier. 

“You have to do the work to define what it is you know how to do, what you’re good at,” says Cheston, “and give people specific suggestions about the kind of internships you believe you would excel at.” 

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