The virtual intern

Graphic by Astrid Hernandez | Mercury Staff

The onset of the novel coronavirus caused many summer internships to be truncated, cancelled altogether or shifted online. In response, students and faculty have focused on learning digital skills.

As COVID-19 cases rise this summer, the number of internship opportunities for students has dropped, with about 16% of employers having rescinded internship opportunities. Computer science sophomore Alex Cantu Soto is currently in a virtual Facebook internship which was originally supposed to be based in-person in California. Soto said the first three weeks were a structured program for learning within online groups and meetings with the manager.

“After that it was more independent, where some days you have a meeting in the morning and some days you don’t, and you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want to do,” Soto said. “You still have to complete your tasks, but you manage your time however you want, and then you have to update your manager on what you did that day through a text message.”

Director of JSOM career management center Tom Kim said the most difficult aspect of online internships is that students do not get to be inside an office area to get a detailed view of the environment. Instead of internships, companies are now leaning toward leadership development programs.

“What they’ll do is they’ll bring in their managers to talk about what they do during the day, what products they’re working on and what projects they’re working on,” Kim said. “It’s kind of like a job shadowing virtually and less of the actual work inside of the company. We’re seeing a lot more of those types of leadership programs versus the paid internships where you’re actually going to go in there and you’re going to work on a project.”

ECS internship coordinator Kori Farley said that companies will be flexible when referring to the expectation that jobs will have in regard to internship background.

“Everybody’s going through this together,” Farley said. “It’s not something that’s just affecting students, so hopefully they will be pretty lenient in the future and say, ‘Oh, well, I noticed you didn’t have any work or work experience for summer 2020, but maybe you did take some online classes or maybe you were working on a personal project during that time to fill your time during that.’ I don’t expect them to be too severe about that.”

In a calendar year, ECS typically holds one intern fair per fall and spring semester. Farley said in light of COVID-19, these fairs will not be in-person, but the department is currently trying to figure out a way to hold them virtually. They also offer virtual workshops every week.

“We are encouraging students to email us with any questions that they might have and just let us know how they’re doing in their internship, how we can support them,” Farley said. “We’re here even though we’re not physically on campus right now.”

Kim said JSOM has always emphasized networking as a great tool of getting an internship or a full-time position because you get to be face-to-face with an employer.

“We’re actually teaching our students how to virtually network properly,” Kim said. “How do you make that initial introduction to somebody on LinkedIn? (…) What we’re doing is we’re teaching our JSOM students how to use the like button and how to comment. We’re changing to the market where we’re telling students what else they can do. We’re actually going in and looking at companies that are hiring.”

Kim said researching companies and acquiring certifications can increase students’ chances of getting hired. Companies in the travel, cruise and airline industries will not be hiring, whereas companies like Walmart, Amazon, SpaceX and Raytheon are still hiring.

“If you’re one of those students that maybe had their internship cut short or canceled, you should be looking at finding another internship, whether it’s remote, whether it’s non-paid, whether it’s a leadership development program, you should still be looking,” Kim said. “There are still internships out there.”