Internships, work experience and the coronavirus

Are there any internships or placements available in 2021? What if Covid-19 means I won’t be able to get any work experience?

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No matter how urgent the application, still make time to undertake employer research and to check your submission carefully for mistakes.

The coronavirus put a halt to many work experience programmes in the spring and summer of 2020. For many sectors, however, opportunities seem to have been opening up again in 2021. Much to do with the pandemic and its long-term impact on work experience opportunities remains unclear, but in this feature we tell you what we currently know and we will update it as we find out more.

There are internships to apply for right now…

Opportunities to gain work experience are more widely available this year. According to a survey by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), more than half of employers are taking on the same number of interns as last year and 24% are hiring more. As you can find on our internship search, some employers are also offering insights programmes, many of which are also offered virtually, and placement years.

…but they are going fast…

We are hearing that employers are receiving high numbers of applications for their work experience vacancies. As a consequence, some employers are having to bring their deadlines forward and close their schemes early, so that they can properly assess the applications they have received.

Don’t let this news deter you from applying; the only way you can be certain of not getting work experience is by not applying. But do get on with your application straight away – don’t wait until nearer the deadline in case you miss out.

However, no matter how urgent the application, still make time to undertake the employer research that employers expect and to check your submission carefully for mistakes. Under-researched and error-filled applications will be automatically rejected.

Find out how to apply for internships with graduate employers.

...and some sectors may have more opportunities than others

Although many employers across different sectors have developed their understanding and expertise to enable them to switch to virtual, some sectors arestill seeing limited numbers of work experience opportunities – either due to the economic repercussions of the pandemic or logistical difficulties. For example:

  • we are seeing a good number of vacancies in technology, in engineering, with solicitors firms and with professional services firms.
  • we are seeing fewer with barristers chambers (which traditionally rely on a lot of in-person job-shadowing to train students up), and few in non-food, in-store retail and hospitality.

Find out more about virtual internships and how they work.

What if I don’t get any work experience?

Our advice is not to worry overly if you’ve been unable to secure a formal work experience opportunity such as an internship. It would be an unusual and unreasonable employer that would not, when considering your future graduate job application, take into account the difficulties of undertaking an internship during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nonetheless, it’s likely that many other candidates for competitive positions will have spent or be spending some time bolstering their CV and industry- or role-specific knowledge. So, it might help to improve your chances if you’re able to do so. As we explore below, however, there are plenty of ways to go about this.

Ultimately, recruiters seek evidence that you would make a good employee (that is, someone interested in the sector and who has desirable skills and qualities). That evidence does not have to come from an internship in a related sector. As well as more informal opportunities such as work shadowing there are things you can do to develop further skills and knowledge from home. For example, you could:

Volunteer (digitally if not in person)

Volunteering could be a great addition to your CV and help you to develop employability skills such as flexibility and adaptability. You can volunteer online or over the phone. Check to see what your university’s RAG society is doing – and bear in mind that Amnesty International, Be My Eyes, Missing Maps, The Granny Cloud, The Prince’s Trust and Zooniverse are just some of the organisations look for online volunteers all-year-round.

Use moocs or other online courses to develop skills and knowledge

There are tonnes of both free and paid-for massively open online courses (moocs) covering all sorts of different topics and skills. If you have had a hankering to learn more about a subject or even a new language, now is the time to pursue it. If you go on to Coursera or similar, you will also find moocs run by employers on different business topics, such as PwC’s introduction to data analysis and presentation skills.

When you complete these, write about them on your CV (you can add them to your ‘Education’ section along with the dates you took them). Our article on online courses gives further examples of providers, along with advice for using these to advance your job search.

Find out more about learning a language in lockdown and beyond.

Stay up to date with the news and employers in your chosen sector(s)

Follow the social media accounts of employers and professional bodies, read the ‘industry press’ (specific news publications/websites catering to the sector) and browse the financial pages of at least one broadsheet or a publication such as The Economist. Your university library should be able to provide you with access to sites behind paywalls. Alternatively, many news outlets – and indeed some employers – are producing podcasts.

For each piece of news, think through what the implications might be for the sector as a whole and for the employer. Being able to talk informedly at interview about what is happening in your chosen sector or industry is one of the best ways to show enthusiasm for the sector – and this ability does not come over night.

However, mental health organisations recommend limiting exposure to news (especially if you find it triggering), so perhaps look at news updates for specific, short periods of time.

Watch and take part in webinars

Webinars have really taken off during the pandemic; it feels like everyone and their dog are running them on a variety of topics. Seek out ones run by employers or professional bodies for industry insights and career-focused ones to gain tips and knowledge on getting a graduate job. In fact, here at TARGETjobs we are running our own series of webinars with leading employers. Register for webinars here.

You can add them to your CV in order to show you have been keeping busy – depending on the topics, they could go under a section of ‘Interest in [the sector]’.

Build your network

Join LinkedIn and get networking. As well as connecting with your university alumni group, you might be able to connect with speakers in the webinars you’ve seen. You never know: if you build up a good relationship with professionals in your chosen sector, they may be able to recommend you for any work experience opportunities in future. Our advice on first how to create the perfect LinkedIn profile and then how to use LinkedIn for networking will get you off to a great start.

Focus on taking care of yourself and those around you

We suggest the above activities because it will help your future job applications if you can demonstrate that you have used your time under lockdown or other social distancing restrictions to further develop your skills and knowledge. However, please prioritise taking care of your own physical and mental health (and minimising the risks to others) over pursuing CV-friendly activities.

If you are unable to do any of the above suggestions because of the pandemic, try not to stress too much. Employers are aware that this is an unprecedented and anxiety-inducing time for students. Remember that any previous part-time jobs or involvement in extracurricular activities will provide examples of your skills. It’s not all about what you have done in 2020 and 2021.

Last updated: May 2021.

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